Labrouste and Ledoux.
Henri Labrouste and Claude Ledoux were French architects during the 18th and 19th centuries and are pioneers of modern architecture. Henri Labrouste was born in 1801 and was the product of the renowned Ecole des Beaux Arts School of Architecture. He believed that architecture should reflect society, and his work reflects the rationalism and technical aspects of industrial society. His work also embodies the ideals of writer Victor Hugo, who believed that architecture is a form of communication, like literature, and that in the beginning phases of construction it expressed the generalization of society and social commonalities.
Claude Ledoux was born in 1736 and was one of the earliest exponents of neoclassical architecture. He gained architectural relevance after marrying the daughter of someone who worked for the royal court and was offered a job for the courts Water and Forestry Department. He was considered a utopian architect and had some very modern ideas about industrial production, urban planning, and territorial intelligence. Henri Labrouste was one of the first architects to master using iron structure in an aesthetically pleasing way.
Iron had already been used in structures like train stations, but never in a formal interior environment, as in a library. One example of his skillful use of iron is in the library, Bibliotheque Ste. Genevieve, where he incorporated past masonry construction practices with iron. He kept the huge arches of past churches, but instead of using heavy stones he used iron trusses for support. With this new design, the exterior walls no longer had to hold all of the forces from the arches, and the iron supports could simply rest on top of the walls.
The walls were also modified with the use of iron by essentially applying reinforcement bars encased with plaster to make thinner walls, that had just as much strength as previous thicker walls. Since the new iron arches are so strong, Labrouste was able to take pieces out to create a design and pattern out of the support itself. Even the connections between the arch and columns or walls were made to look decorative and light while keeping a strong connection, which he also did in Bibliotheque Imperiale, but with domes rather than barrel vaults. In another one of his libraries, he Bibliotheque Nationale de France, he once again used massive arches and domes of antiquity, but manages to make the dome look very light by inserting oculi and supporting it by thin, reinforced columns. The dome is made from plaster, but has a web of steel to allow for it to be thinner and to support the massive openings that are covered in glass. Unlike Bibliotheque Ste. Genevieve, he hides almost all of the steel structure so that it looks like a feat of engineering and design to have such a large dome that is so thin and supported by such thin columns.
Labrouste was on the forefront of integrating new technology with past materials and design concepts. Rather than using new materials like Labrouste, Claude Ledoux used new ideas to establish a new architectural language. He designed many tollhouses around the walls of Paris through his connection to the royal court. Many of them resembled Greek and Roman temples but had new elements that gave them a modern look. He travelled to England in 1769 and became very familiar with Palladio and since then usually used a cubic style with a broken portico that allowed any structure to look important.
He built several homes during his time in England, including the King’s mistress, who became a good connection for Ledoux in later years. In his work, Barriere des Bons-Hommes, he simplifies architecture down to its purest form by essentially placing a large cube on stilts, much like later architect Le Corbusier did in his Villa Savoye. One of Ledoux’s most notable works was the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans where he explored the concept of an ideal community. He located the community near a forest, rather than a source of salt water because it would be more efficient to transport water than wood for the furnaces.
It was constructed in 1775 and was intended to be a multi-phase project, but after 1778 construction stopped with only the first phase complete. The design still functioned as intended with a central building for the controllers that was between the two furnaces and had a view of all of the housing. All of the buildings would act independent from one another but were still placed in a logical order to allow for maximum efficiency, such as the placement of the blacksmiths near the furnaces.
The perfectly circular design was also intended to evoke the harmony of the ideal city. Ledoux was one of the first architects to design such thought out communities and maximize efficiency through the use of architecture and explore the concept of a self-sustaining utopian society. As he put, “unfortunate is the one who fails to see in reality what he is being made to see, who is unable to imagine,” showing how ahead of his time he was with his concept of designing ideal societies.
Claude Ledoux and Henri Labrouste were two of the most important neoclassical architects because of their innovative thoughts and designs. Labrouste successfully experimented with the use of iron to innovate his designs and change the way buildings were built forever. Through the simplification of design and studying of geometries, Ledoux pioneered the concept of utopian communities and maximizing resources and efficiency. Ledoux and Labrouste were at the forefront of modernity and their concept of design are still used and perfected to this day.