A product of detailed research into late-eighteenth-century cultural and social history, this book examines the controversial architect's life and work in the context of the Revolutionary period.
The work of the French architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux has fascinated art historians, social critics, and architects alike since the French Revolution. Criticized in his own time for extravagance and megalomania, Ledoux has since been hailed as a visionary and utopian, and as a radical neoclassicist. In the 1930s Ledoux's designs were seen as anticipating modernist abstraction in architecture, and more recently they have been mined as a source of postmodern imagery. A product of detailed research into late-eighteenth-century cultural and social history, this book examines the controversial architect's life and work in the context of the Revolutionary period. It discusses Ledoux's education, early career, and the development of his personal idiom as a domestic architect. Vidler analyzes what was, perhaps, the most significant of Ledoux's public works, the Saline de Chaux, one of the most celebrated factory towns of its time and the only work of Ledoux to survive at the scale of its conception. The building of this rural factory, in conjunction with its proposed social and technical program, serves as a case study of Ledoux's early speculations on the relationship of architecture to industrial management. Ledoux was deeply involved in urban projects as well, and Vidler studies a number of them - most notably, the Palace of Justice of Aix-en-Provence, the Theater of Besançon, and the tollgates around Paris - as examples of Ledoux's attempt to create a "modern classicism" that would reinvest ancient forms with contemporary meaning and ultimately fashion an aesthetic for the representation of the public realmIn the book's final section, Vidler turns to the more explicitly utopian designs that Ledoux proposed for the "Ideal City of Chaux," which he imagined growing up around the saltworks in France-Comté. It was an entire city of symbolic and functional institutions, and Ledoux invented an architectural language to express their social and moral significance.
Anthony Vidler is Dean and Professor of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union, New York. He is the author of Warped Space: Art, Architecture, and Anxiety in Modern Culture (2000), and The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the Modern Unhomely (1992), both published by The MIT Press, and other books.