On form and meaning : Claude-Nicolas Ledoux and the Saline de Chaux

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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. This thesis contains 3rd party copyright material. ----- Claude-Nicholas Ledoux was recognised as a significant architect in his own time, not only for his contribution as a practising designer but also as a theoretician. Unlike his architecture, his theoretical treatise, L'architecture, has remained, since its publication in 1804, enigmatic. Begun as an oeuvres complétes soon after the design and construction of the Saline de Chaux, the folio was progressively reconceived as a treatise on how architecture could be used to achieve social reform. This was a highly novel subject for an architectural publication. Presented in the form of a voyage pittoresque, Ledoux's agenda has confounded readers ever since. This is due to incongruities in the text and the multiplicity of confusingly presented engravings. What in its day was unique about L'architecture, and makes so ideal a subject for study today, is the way in which its author had almost exclusively restricted the content of the treatise to the documentation of a single building project : the Saline de Chaux and its evolution into the grand, theoretical project for the ideal town of Chaux. Ledoux also used the designs illustrated in L'architecture to explore the architectural concepts of 'form' and 'character' in order to find an appropriate means of expression, particularly in relation to the new building typologies of his day. This study examines the complex relationship of 'form' and 'character' as evidenced in L'architecture and the Saline de Chaux. This study sets out with five intentions in mind. The first is to examine the context in which Ledoux's project at Chaux emerged, how it was illustrated in L'architecture, and how the concept for the treatise was modified over the period of its preparation. The second is to systematically collect and examine all known designs for the Saline, built and projected. The third intention is then to make a detailed comparative study of these designs in order to disentangle the confusion that surrounds the chronology of the engravings and then to propose a new chronology for the designs themselves. The investigation focuses on issues related to composition, 'form', spatial references and architectural iconography. The fourth is to evaluate Ledoux's proposals for Chaux in the context of the development of architectural theory in late eighteenth century France. The fifth is to collect all of the built and projected designs for the Maison du Directeur, the building which Ledoux saw as the symbolic, geometric spatial and organisational centre of the Saline and the Ville de Chaux, and to present for the first time, a comparative analysis of the designs in detail. The findings of this study are significant in relation to how the theory of architecture (the classical system) and architectural space were reconceived in Ledoux's project at Chaux. For Ledoux, 'form' became a multilayered series of planning and spatial hierarchies within the plan of the project directly related to functional activities and to the expressive 'character' appropriate to the use of the building. These qualities were established and reinforced in the successive designs for the Saline and the Ville de Chaux. However, it is not until the conceptual boundaries are removed from the design, as presented by Ledoux in the engraving "Vue perspective de la Ville de Chaux", and the dynamic qualities of the geometry of the plan allowed to filter out into the surrounding landscape of the Franche-Comté, that Ledoux is able to realise the full and radical potential of the 'form' - one in which the proposal is ultimately and dynamically sited in its locality. It is Ledoux's approach to the creation of new typologies, however, that marks him out from his contemporaries. This study reveals how Ledoux distinguishes between building types for which precedent already existed and those, like Chaux, for which there was none. Here Ledoux selected the 'form' based on functional relationships and hierarchies, set it within a formal geometry (the half circle) and matched it with an existing form (the exedra) appropriated from Palladio and Serlio. In this context, the design-porti of the Saline can be viewed as a complete geometric figure, the half circle, and at the same time as an arrangement of separate components. Spatially, the dynamics of the arrangement act both radially and concentrically, symbolically drawing in the source of the wealth of the town, the brine, establishing order and authority, then returning it outwards into the natural environment. Under these conditions it is the 'experience' one has of the landscape which is critical to this 'new' architecture. No where is this more evident than in the Premier Plan for the Maison du Directeur, the ultimate focus of the Saline and of this study.
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