Urban Bodies
Vol. 7, No. 1, (September  2002)    



___Oxana Makhneva
  Ledoux Style of Bodily Identity




Claude-Nicolas Ledoux was a follower of Jacques-François Blondel. He met his first success and the beginning of fame after a particularly successful interior design of a “military café” in Paris. In 1773, he became a member of the Royal Academy of Architecture.


In the period of terror, Ledoux was put in prison, where he wrote his treatise “Architecture as regarded in relation to art, customs and law”. The treatise is an outstanding work of an architect with a clear view of the power of word and image.


“Unfortunate is the one who fails to see in reality what he is being made to see, who is unable to imagine that: from plans to plans” (C.-N. Ledoux, 1994:101).


Claude-Nicolas Ledoux completely identified architecture and man, considering architecture as social relations implemented in stone. Talking about architecture, Ledoux speaks on man, his emotional movements which cause architecture and are products of architecture themselves. He compares a fragile order with folds of a lady’s dress. Décor description harmoniously turns into a description of the virtues of a Muse – the source of inspiration, and who also adorns life. The essence of Ledoux’ architecture is in people and the relations between them.


“I will not insult the educated people if I forget about them: I will depict a dwelling of a scholar who dedicates his vigil to the happiness of the society. Here, the splendor of art will be banished: a simple façade corresponds to modesty of a person giving up all his fame to the good of his neighbors” (C.-N. Ledoux, 1994:113).


Ledoux studies human customs and family traditions. He writes:


“To improve people with good example, one must be aware of their vices and virtues; one must caress some of them to make adore others. The father was a miser: the idea of a big house scares him; the foreboding of expenses troubles his mind. A useful case, it is you who is now going to overthrow the delusion by indulging a low passion (miserliness).

He had three children; one loved exclusively himself; the other would spread discord in the most drought-afflicted field which he had fertilized. The daughter had never known love; I feel so sorry for her! She had never known friendship, oh how unhappy she was. She was permanently irritated with the loss of tenderness which so admiringly link childhood with adulthood; her disappointments, incessantly arising at any moment through reminiscences, painful for her bile, and the dark colors, usual on her figure, gave out the secret of her heart. What to do? An architect embraces the knees of Minerva, and says his prayer; he has been heard; he has been inspired. Like a modern Aesculapius, he feels the vein that carries blood to the extremities, consulting with it before he prescribes a medicine. Ah, so! Is it always necessary to part, when a harmless trick is able to strengthen the bonds tied together by nature itself?

Four small houses are proposed, where communication and coming together are made possible by means of closed galleries; the father approves the project, which brings down daily expenses, and makes each member of the family support the project.” (C.-N. Ledoux, 1994:143).


Architect Ledoux creates buildings, like Prometheus making people from clay and giving each creation a spark of the fire of life. An architect uses visual metaphors: he depicts a human eye in which an interior of a theater is reflected. It is a symbol of interaction of the social environment with the architectural surrounding. Besides, this is a symbol of the all-seeing eye, which Ledoux mentions in his treatise many times (fig. 1).


Fig.1 Kopie.jpg (108913 Byte)


“Believe me, my bail is this piercing pupil which keeps watch over everything.” (C.-N. Ledoux, 1994:110).

It is worth noticing that Ledoux´ buildings are impregnated by the freemasons’ symbolism. Freemasons set themselves the task of reconstruction of the world and create a new man to live in. For freemasons and for Ledoux, God is the Architect General of the Universe.


“Architect, in his wisdom, disposes; he rules the artistic world, and in his proud solitude he puts to motion the lightnings of the divine will.” (C.-N. Ledoux, 1994:83).


The city of Chaux is an alchemic symbol of a salty drop (fig. 2), and a symbol of creation of a new man living in a new world. According to Daniel Rabreau, a researcher of the art of Ledoux, the latter’s way of thinking and surrounding leaves no doubt as to his being initiated. The fact is testified to by Anthony Widler, as well as Michael Galle making reference to Englishman Beckford who had visited the “secret garden” of freemason Ledoux


Fig.2 Kopie.jpg (159717 Byte)


“Hermeneutics of Architecture, which Serge Conard had shown, combined with the testimony of William Beckford about the theosophical preferences of Ledoux, allow us to believe, with definite clarity, that the architect had been initiated to a freemason’s lodge close to the Scottish, where, like in the lodge of Rose and Cross, symbolic freemasonry is enriched with occultism and reflection of alchemic and cabbalistic kind…” (Rabreau, Daniel, 2000:363).


We often come across allusions to the freemason’s symbolism in the works of Ledoux. Such, for example, is Ledoux’ description of the Evaporation building (fig. 3), which bears semblance of Noah’s Ark:


Fig.3 Kopie.jpg (144655 Byte)


“Like a floating city put on a flowing plane, I assumed to see (imagined that I see) an ark keeping humankind, which has become booty of the Deluge.” (C.-N. Ledoux, 1994:65).


Noah’s Ark is a biblical image playing an important role in the freemason’s lexicon. James Anderson, one of the authors of freemason’s constitutions published in January 1723 (Encyclopédie de la franc-maçonnerie , 2000: p. 20) reminds that a mason should behave like a “true noahite”. Anderson also clarifies that the Ark had been built “in compliance with the geometry and rules of freemasonry” (Encyclopédie de la franc-maçonnerie, 2000:82).


A freemason’s lodge of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux exists in France at present time, which is also an important proof of the high status of this architect among freemasons.


In accordance with the lexicon of freemason’s symbols, salt is one of the three main elements, on whose base a new world will be created. The city of Chaux is an embodiment (according to D. Rabreau) of an alchemic symbol – a drop of salty water walling from the sky…


Really, the idea of royal salt-works must have inspired Ledoux. Because salt, in alchemic tradition, is a symbol of wisdom and science, salt realizes unity, crystallization between mercury and sulfur, presenting the passive and the active respectively, and salt presents a synthesis of both. Continuing alchemic symbolism, sulfur and mercury modify metal, and this process of dissolution and fixation symbolizes a neophyte’s transition to the initiated. In this aspect, an allegory of marriage of a king and a queen, at which a priest gives orders, in a naïve and poetic manner, presents this union of mercury and sulfur executed by salt (Encyclopédie de la franc-maçonnerie, 2000:811).


In this respect, it would be true to say that the city of Chaux is materialization of the initiation. The process of salt crystallization is the process of generating a new quality, similar to promoting a layman to the rank of the initiated. It is for that reason that the cemetery of the city of Chaux is treated as a planetary system, a symbol of a road to perfection via death.


Ledoux likens the design of the city of Salt to the creation of a new Universe.


“The author of nature has composed the world of rivalry of the atoms, chaos developed, and giving space to the world, it gave the atoms an attracting impulse, organized an azure dome, dug out the depth of the seas; today, the fight of floating substances marks a new center and provokes birth of new inhabitants of the earth. Legend tells us that a drop of water falling from the breast of Juno makes the Milky Way; here, it is a drop of water hanging in the air, which, falling, acquires all the greater value and starts a city, whose general plan may be seen drawn on the general map of the country” (C.-N. Ledoux, 1994:88).


The royal salt-works Arc-et-Senans, the only built element of a Utopian city, is one of essential components. The architect meant to make this works producing salt the heart of his city. In the center of the salt-works there is found the director’s house – a magnificent, impressive, decorated with multiple pillars building with a chapel. This is the seat of the Supreme Being, the priest supervising salt production. The director’s house with a chapel glorifies the might and the blessing of royal power, the emanation of the will of the Supreme Being. It shines and is seen from all quarters as a true heart of salt-works (D. Rabreau, 2002:137).


From each, along the circle diameter, two more austere buildings are designed for salt use, the line continues with the smallest in the ensemble clerks’ houses. The buildings designed for workers of the salt-works are organized in a regular semi-circle, in perfect symmetry. The other half of the semi-circle is the location of projects, unfulfilled dreams; here, architect’s sketches place the city hall and the barracks. On the periphery of the city are located private houses and “utopian” monuments dedicated to virtue, the house of pleasant meetings “Oikema”, the house of pleasure or “Peacemaking” and the “Temple of memory” etc. Due to this dream city, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux is compared with Rousseau or Fourier (Alain Chenevese).


In his treatise, Ledoux writes about the power of an architect, forming the environment of people’s living, morals, art and law.


“In its wisdom, the city hall establishes equilibrium of individual interests: here, awards are granted, and crime is punished. Public schools put in the seeds of virtue and teach moral health; barracks offer rest to the children of Mars.” (C.-N. Ledoux, 1994:94).


Ledoux accuses the Architects of the existence of disharmony: ”Where do these violations come from, who brings these insults to mankind? The Architects. They abandon the profession of investigators who might have deserved credit in the field of rural construction; their negligence is the source of all the commotion.” (C.-N. Ledoux, 1994:71).


Ledoux, in his treatise on Architecture “Architecture as regarded in relation to art, customs and law” described people’s customs and scenes from their lives. He calls architects to rely on observations of people’s customs and life.


Each one can live independently, and live well, even with preferences opposing the majority.


Consult people, observe the nuances of their taste based of their way of life. They will guide realization of our talents, as varied as human characters, in the necessary direction, promoting the creation of their values; they will correspond to changeability, variability of art, generating sweet memories, which will develop new taste preferences” (C.-N. Ledoux, 1994:120).


Ledoux incessantly finds the points of intersection of the architectural and the social. Lie in the human society is personified in gilding and excess of décor. True greatness is characterized not by the value of the material, but by the harmonious and clear proportions of the forms “of the space of glory of the monarch”. Ledoux’ architecture is a monumental enclosure for man. The city of Chaux bears a similarity with the model of a new world created by means of alchemy.


The second – as if missing – half of the city symbolizes permanent quest for an ideal. The ideal is invisible. The symbolism of the invisible corresponds to a symbolic meaning of the “fourth pillar” in the freemason’s rituals. This fourth pillar symbolizes perfection, it must be located in one of the corners of a rectangle – extended square. Three pillars personify the notions of power, wisdom, beauty, and (Oswald Wirth, Le Livre de l’Apprenti, p. 171) the triad: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; Soul, Spirit, Body; the Active, the Passive, the Neutral, etc.


The fourth pillar directly links the Visible with the invisible. The Supreme Mind, but not materially; it exists invisibly for the earthly eyes (Jules Boucher, 1948:100).


Dark and light, day and night are the indispensable elements of the world’s order. That is why we see the «lit» half of the city of Chaux. The other half are shades, which will disappear in daylight, but without which it would not exist. According to the geometry of freemasons, dark and light are the two cathetuses of a triangle, the base of which is time itself.


That is why the Method of Ledoux´ freemason is the method of contrasts. It opposes virtue to vice, knowledge to ignorance, and life to death...


"a perspective view will offer you the arrangement of masses of  the buildings contrasting one to the other and joining in picturesque charm calling to life the sleeping feelings" (C.-N. Ledoux, 1994:112).


Thus, following his creative method, he opposes emptiness to mass. The city of Chaux, as a synthesis of emptiness, setting off the laconic expressiveness of the existing mass, personifies the synthesis of dark and light, and resurrection through death, i.e., the ritual of initiation and birth of a new man.


Ledoux was a unique person – a poet and an architect simultaneously, perceiving the power of the word and seeing architecture as poetry in stone.


"Among other professions, architecture is like poetry among fine arts".

Ledoux draws the power of the work in one phrase : "What is worth a word is often worth a whole poem." (C.-N. Ledoux, 1994:86).


We can thus say that Ledoux style of corporal identification is materialization in the text of the city of Chaux of the process of salt crystallization personifying birth of a new man. So, Ledoux style of corporal identification embodied in the city of Chaux may be described as materialization of the freemason’s ritual of initiation. According to Ledoux, work is a reflection of the character of its creator. As it has been noted, we have many, though indirect, evidences of the fact that the architect had occupies a definite position in the freemason’s lodge. Hence, the city of Chaux, as well as the beautiful and exalted description of the essence and functions of architecture in the treatise by Ledoux disclose to us, primarily, the inward life of the artist himself. The city of Chaux is the road to perfection of Ledoux himself. The architect ‘s treatise is filled with sincere feeling. It bears an epigraph : «Love overcomes all difficulties». Serge Conard found this known Latin phrase in the «Dreams of Polyphil», in a passage where the hero attacks the isle of Citere, another ideal city. The influence of this esoteric book published in French in 1546, in translation of Jean Martin on Ledoux. This work is rich in references to antique history, which is treated in a mystic and exalted manner, in consonance with the fantasies of the young architect.


Daniel Rabreau points to the role of the metaphor, which identifies the Royal Salt-works with breaking of a drop of water and the beginning of the Milky Way. He also notes that mythology is a source of poetic dream, a spiritual and cosmic idea, which could not have emerged from the sketch Map of the environs of the city of Chaux only, i.e., when read by a «non-initiated» reader. The depiction carries other hidden symbols, which, when perceived by a reader with a developed imagination and erudition, lead the initiated one to secret enlightenment (D. Rabreau, 2000:368). So, the city of Chaux, the salty water drop, is surrounded by four zoomorphous figures, outlined by the shadows of the green massifs or sketched by roads or relief of the country: a whale, a crawfish, a hare and a dog. «Dog, Hare and Whale», writes S. Connard, «are the three infrazodiacal constellations located under Cancer: Cancer, Gemini, Taurus and Ram» (S. Connard, 1978 : 171-172).


So, astrological, alchemic and cosmic metaphors combine with the images of history, mythology, and philosophy… Even the number of pages in Ledoux’ treatise presents a number, suitable for describing the Sun City: 365 pages, by the number of days in a year (Rabreau, 2000:369). The mystical city of Ledoux offers corporal identification of this lofty creation with the initiated Demiurge. The city of Chaux is an architectural description of the process of initiation, when secrets are gradually disclosed to a novice. It is the materialization of initiation, leading to gradual and complete identification with architecture of a person brought up in the environment of an ideal city of Chaux, created by the Architect General of the own Universe, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. Ledoux’ Demiurge has created in his own image the Universe of the city of Chaux, presenting a complex tool of initiation of the uninitiated, their bringing closer to the ideals of good will and beauty.





C.N.Ledoux,  L’architecture considérée sous le rapport de l’art, des moeurs et de la législation, t. 1, Verlag Dr. Alfons Uhl, Nördingen, R.F.A., 1994.


Encyclopédie de la franc-maçonnerie. La Pochothèque. Librairie Générale Française, 2000. Sous la direction d’Eric Saunier


La symbolique maçonnique. Jules BOUCHER, DERVY,1948.


Daniel Rabreau La saline royale d’Arc-et-Senans. Un monument industriel : allégorie des Lumières, Belin-Herscher, 2002


Daniel Rabreau, Claude -Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806), L'architecture et les fastes du temps, Annales du Centre Ledoux, tome III , William Blake & Co. Edit. / Art & Arts, 2000. 438 pp., 302 ill.



- translated by Marina Yakhontova -