Walter Benjamin reads Emil Kaufmann, From Ledoux to Le Corbusier (1933) 

The whole reason I started going back, for the first time in years really, to reading sections of Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project, was because I learned there is no English-language translation of Emil Kaufmann’s Von Ledoux bis Le Corbusier (1933). Besides the first section of Histories of the Immediate Present by Anthony Vidler, also a good read, it’s extremely hard to find even extended quotations from the book rendered into English. So I’ll start off by posting these, as they’re a bit harder to come by than most.

From The Arcades Project, pg. 143:

Kaufmann places at the head of his chapter entitled ‘Architectural Autonomy’ an epigraph from Le Contrat social: “a form…in which each is united with all, yet obeys only himself and remains as free as before. — Such is the fundamental problem that the social contract solves (p. 42).” In this chapter (p. 43): “[Ledoux] justifies the separation of the buildings in the second project for Chaux with the words: ‘Return to principle…Consult nature; man is everywhere isolated’ (Architecture, p. 70). The feudal principle of prerevolutionary society…can have no further validity now…The autonomously grounded form of every object makes all striving after theatrical effect appear senseless…At a stroke, it would seem,…the Baroque art of the prospect disappears from sight.’” E. Kaufmann, Von Ledoux bis Le Corbusier (Vienna and Leipzig, 1933), p. 43.

“The renunciation of the picturesque has its architectural equivalent in the refusal of all prospect-art. A highly significant symptom is the sudden diffusion of the silhouette…Steel engraving and wood engraving supplant the mezzotint, which had flourished in the Baroque age…To anticipate our conclusions,…let it be said that the autonomous principle retains its efficacy…in the first decades after the architecture of the Revolution, becoming ever weaker with the passage of time until, in the later decades of the nineteenth century, it is virtually unrecognizable.” Emil Kaufmann, Von Ledoux bis Le Corbusier (Vienna and Leipzig, 1933), pp. 47, 50.

Cover to Kaufmann's Von Ledoux bis Le Corbusier (1933)

Cover to Kaufmann’s Von Ledoux bis Le Corbusier (1933)

Pg. 600:

“Among the dream architecture of the Revolution, Ledoux’s projects occupy a special position…The cubic form of his ‘House of Peace’ seems legitimate to him because the cube is the symbol of justice and stability, and, similarly, all the elementary forms would have appeared to him as intelligible signs of intrinsic moment. The ville naissante, the city in which an exalted…life would find its abode, will he circumscribed by the pure contour of an ellipse…Concerning the house of the new tribunal, the Pacifère, he says in his Architecture: ‘The building drawn up in my imagination should he as simple as the law that will he dispensed there.’ Emil Kaufmann, Von Ledoux bis Le Corbusier: Ursprung und Entwicklung der autonomen Architektur (Vienna and Leipzig. 1933), p. 32.

Pg. 601:

“Ledoux, Temple de Mémoire (House of Women): ‘The narrative relief on the triumphal columns at four corners of a country house was intended to celebrate the glory of the bestowers of life, the mothers, in place of the customary monuments consecrated to the bloody victories of generals. With this unusual work, the artist wished to render thanks to the women he had come to know in Iris life.” Emil Kaufmann, Von Ledoux bis Le Corbusier (Vienna and Leipzig, 1933), p. 38.

On Ledoux: “Once the distinctions of rank within architecture fall by the wayside, then all architectural orders are of equal value…The earlier thematic eclecti­cism, which was taken up almost exclusively with churches, palaces, the ‘better’ domiciles, and of course military fortifications, retreats before the new architectural universalism…The revolutionary process of the suburbanizing of domes­tic housing parallels the disappearance of the baroque assemblage as art form…A more extended complex, apparently conceived as a development at the entrance to the city, consists in a number of two- to four-room dwellings ranged around a square courtyard; each of these residences possesses the necessary closet space, while kitchen, pantries, and other utility rooms are located in a building at the center of the courtyard. We have here, probably, the earliest instance of the type of dwelling that is current today in the form of the apartment with shared kitchen.” Emil Kaufmann, Von Ledoux bis Le Corbusier (Vienna and Leipzig, 1933), p. 38.

Pgs. 649-650:

Claude-Nicolas Ledoux: “Like all the communal dwellings envisioned for Chaux, the hospice (a low-rise structure ringed by arcades and enclosing a square court­yard) has the task of furthering the moral elevation of humankind, insofar as it carefully tests the people it shelters, allows the good their freedom, and detains the had for compulsory labor. To what extent t.he artist was gripped by the reformist ideas of those days can be seen in the peculiar project of the ‘oikema.’ Already quite eccentric in its outward aspect, this elongated building with its Greco-Roman vestibule and windowless walls was to be the place where a new sexual ethic was pioneered. To reach the goal of higher sexual morality, the spectacle of human dissipation in the oikema, in the house of uninhibited passions, was supposed to lead to the path of virtue and to ‘Hymen’s altar.’ Later, the architect decided that it would be better…to grant nature its rights…A new, more liberated form of marriage was to be instituted in the oikema, which the architect wanted to situate in the most beautiful of landscapes.” Emil Kaufmann, Von Ledoux bis Le Corbusier: Ursprung und Entwicklung der autonomen Architektur (Vienna and Leipzig, 1933), p. 36.

Pgs. 823-824:

The postrevolutionary tendencies of architecture, which gain currency with Ledoux, are characterized by distinct block-like structures to which staircases and pedestals are often appended in ‘standardized’ fashion, One might discern in this style a reflection of Napoleonic military strategy. With this goes the effort to generate certain effects by means of structural massing. According to Kaufmann, “Revolutionary architecture aimed to produce an impression through giant masses, the sheer weight of the forms (hence the preference for Egyptian forms, which predates the Napoleonic campaign), and also through the handling of materials. The cyclopean embossment of the saltworks, the powerful ordonnance of the Palais de Justice at Aix, and the extreme severity of the prison designed for this city…speak clearly of that aim.” Emil Kaufmann, Von Ledoux bis Le Corbusier (Vienna and Leipzig, 1933), p. 29.

Ledoux’s planned toll-helt for Paris: “‘From the beginning, he set his sights as high as possible. His tollgates were intended to proclaim from afar the glory of the capital. Of the more than forty guardhouses, not one resembled any of the others, and among his papers after his death were found a number of unfinished plans for expanding the system.” Emil Kaufmann, Von Ledoux bis Le Corbusier: Ursprung und Entwicklung del autonomen Architektur (Vienna and Leipzig, 1933) , p. 27.

Shortly after 1800, things were already so far along that the ideas which appear in Ledoux and Boullée — elemental outbursts of passionate natures — were being propounded as official doctrine…Only three decades separate the late work of Blondel, which still…embodies the teachings of French classicism, from the Précis des leçons d’architecture of Durand, whose thinking had a decisive influence during the Empire and in the period following. They are the three dec­ades of Ledouxs career. Durand who announced the norm from his chair at the Ecole Royale Polytechnique in Paris,…diverges from Blonde! on all essential points. His primer begins…with violent attacks on two famous works of classic Baroque art. St. Peters in Rome along with its square and the Paris Pantheon are invoked as counterexamples…Whereas Blondel warns of ‘monotonous planimetry and would not he unmindful of the function of perspective Durand sees in the elementary schemata of the plan the only correct solutions.” Emil Kaufmann, Von Ledoux bis Le Corbusier (Vienna and Leipzig, 1933), pp. 50-51.

2 thoughts on “Walter Benjamin reads Emil Kaufmann, From Ledoux to Le Corbusier (1933) 

  1. Pingback: Architecture in revolutionary times | The Charnel-House

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