Violletleduc

Meanwhile, Viollet-le-Duc must hold our attention longer than anyone else, for among all theorists he undoubtedly made the greatest and most creative use of historical architecture. Indeed, from it he derived most of the principles that he thought should govern architecture. The greater part of his ideas on the subject were set down in the lectures for the École des Beaux-Arts that later became the first volume of the Entretiens (Discourses). In those essays he dealt with a large range of historical material, but in the final analysis his positive interest was focused on the Greek Doric temple, the Roman bath, the French Gothic cathedral, and the French Renaissance chateau. His negative assessments were reserved for the decorative aspects of Roman architecture, most Italian Renaissance buildings, and virtually all baroque designs of any locale.

Greek peripteral temples constructed in the Doric order possessed two supreme virtues compared to all other buildings (fig. 3-6). Viollet-le-Duc regarded their structural composition—in appearance, if not in fact—to be unsurpassed in clarity and rationality of expression. He judged the various members to have been ideally conceived to serve their respective functions in the construct. The temples were not only ideal in form but also suited to the material, the building methods, and the nature and quality of the workforce that made them. Their elemental structure—a pitched roof held up by vertical supports surrounding a rectangular enclosure—he judged to be a sublime formulation. The individual parts seemed to take into consideration their formation from the lithic material, especially the necessity of rolling the larger pieces to the building site. The block-and-tackle method, which, he conjectured, was employed to put them into place, he associated with Greek seafaring technology. And the employment of highly skilled craftsmen in all aspects of the construction he attributed to the availability of professional artisans who were freemen of a democratic society. Indeed, he found this integrated explanation so compelling that he argued, contrary to Vitruvius, that the orders had not been translated from wood into stone but manifestly were conceived from the outset in stone. Although the peripteral format was rigid, allowing no flexibility of spatial development, he regarded the Doric temple as the supreme instance of an architecture conceived in terms of structure.

Figure 3-6

Viollet-le-Duc's structural diagram of a Greek Doric temple (Discourses).

Figure 3-6

Viollet-le-Duc's structural diagram of a Greek Doric temple (Discourses).

Roman architecture was, for Viollet-le-Duc, almost opposite in character. Fixing upon the great baths of the third century as the highest and best realization of the Roman tradition (fig. 3-7), he regarded their format of many and varied spaces as the sophisticated resolution of disparate functional requirements into a formally coherent sequence. Each of those spaces had its distinctive structure, expressly formulated to serve the peculiar technical needs of that unit. This flexibility fostered both technological diversity and spatial creativity, involving different kinds of structural coverings, ranging beyond flat ceilings to barrel and groined vaults and domes.

The greatest virtue of this architecture was that its design derived from a functional program, with a structure responsive to specific needs of individual spaces rather than a preconceived formula. By corollary, it was more about space than form. Like Greek architecture, the character of the Roman was intrinsically related to the materials and construction methods used and the nature of the workforce employed. In contrast to the large blocks and drums of stone in Greek architecture, Roman buildings were erected of small baked bricks and mortar molded in forms. They were constructed by small armies of unskilled slaves, working under the direct supervision of professionals, in contrast to the moderate-sized Greek workshop, staffed by men of high skill. Also unlike Greek architecture, in which the stones provided the finished surface, Roman masonry provided only a structural core which needed a decorative veneer. It was precisely in this area that Viollet-le-Duc withheld approbation, for he regarded surface decor as inherently dishonest, and in this case all the more so because it was usually made up of elements from the Greek orders, which had traditionally served a structural function. Despite this flaw, he viewed Roman architecture as a supreme achievement in rational planning.

Figure 3-7

Viollet-le-Duc's plan of a Roman bath (Discourses).

Figure 3-7

Viollet-le-Duc's plan of a Roman bath (Discourses).

The French Gothic cathedral (fig. 3-8), for Viollet-le-Duc, synthesized the virtues of the Greek temple and the Roman bath. Its cross-shaped plan juxtaposed tall spaces with lower aisles, which formed a processional path all around, with chapels radiating from the center of the main apse. In addition, there were usually towers flanking the main entrance, possibly galleries above the aisles, and often a crypt beneath the choir. Altogether these various spaces represented a complex accommodation of many different liturgical functions. The skeletal structure, supporting ribbed vaults above and balanced by flying buttresses on the exterior, involved coordination of shafts in response to arches in three dimensions, thereby creating a skeletal structural system in which isolated vertical elements are

Vaulting Gothic Blueprint

Figure 3-8

Viollet-le-Duc's structural diagram of a Gothic cathedral (Dictionnaire raisonné).

connected by arcs and stabilized by mutual reinforcement. To realize such a system, the architect of the Gothic cathedral had to resolve a number of interrelated structural problems with an unprecedented degree of sophistication.

Gothic construction, composed of moderate-sized stones assembled by a large workforce of both skilled and unskilled workmen, mediated between the situations of Greek and Roman architecture. Like the Greek it was about form, but like the Roman it was also about space. And it seamlessly integrated the decorative arts into the structure, with more telling effect than the Greek and more honesty than the Roman. Throughout, he saw Gothic construction as a completely rational formulation, ironically employing logic to convey a mystical aesthetic effect. For Viollet-le-Duc no other architecture in human history equaled this level of achievement.

By comparison to these three architectural paragons the French Renaissance chateau as a type amounts to a more modest accomplishment (fig. 3-9). The excellence Viollet-le-Duc perceived in it was neither structural nor decorative originality but a resolutely rational approach to planning. His singling it out for praise allowed him to dwell upon the complex demands imposed by the manifold functions of domestic buildings and to hail their accommodation in a plan in which exterior form was dictated by interior needs. Accordingly, he delighted in the asymmetry of both the structural massing and the placement of openings. In addition, the virtues of this building type set up the opportunity to damn the insistent bilateral symmetry of similarly grand domestic structures of the Italian Renaissance tradition and especially those of the baroque era. His strongest objection was the extent to which functional needs were routinely compromised in a plan for the sake of formal regularity in the elevation.

Pencil Drawings Haunted Houses

Figure 3-9

Viollet-le-Duc's isometric view of a French Renaissance chateau (Dictionnaire raisonné).

Figure 3-9

Viollet-le-Duc's isometric view of a French Renaissance chateau (Dictionnaire raisonné).

As a result of his analyses of historical architecture, Viollet-le-Duc asserted that principles of design as opposed to conventions of design were the fundaments of architectural theory. These principles were the application of rational methods to all aspects of planning, including formulation of structure, use of materials, and construction practice. That his analyses of historical architecture were inaccurate or at least controversial does not actually affect the validity of the principles them selves. And although his analyses represented earnest encounters with actual historical buildings, they had, by the time he wrote his essays, long been subsumed into his theoretical thinking. It is probably fair to say, then, that the lessons he articulated concerning historical architecture resulted from a symbiosis of analysis and projection of fixed ideas.

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