Transformation and the Causa Sui: Claude-Nicolas Ledoux's Cannon Foundry
Excerpt from a larger research proposal under Dr. Martin Bressani in Montreal, QC.
... This raises perhaps the principal issue of Ledouxs architecture: the image or symbol latent with didactic, rhetorical, and emotive force. The pyramidal smokestacks are emotive of a terrible sublime character, this being an abstract affect of their monumentality, symmetry, and geometry provided by, though outside of, symbolic imagery. The Cannon Foundry shown in the perspective of fig. 5 takes on a sublime character that has more to do with the mass, form, and distribution of the elements in space and less to do with the flattening effect of images. This is where Ledouxs work is most powerful: the images, relationships, and juxtapositions discussed thus far have been in service of the overall character of the building as containing an ethereal, Freemasonic and mythic spatial character. The Cannon Foundry seems mystical and ritualistic because it essentially is: the forces which guided its decision making were more alchemical than rational.
The perspectival etching (shown below) perhaps best describes the project as a struggle for an essential relationship between geometrical, analogical, and rhetorical devices. The smoke blasting into the air possesses the same bulbous and heterogeneous character of the trees below; the pyramids echo the background's mountain range; the cross plan extends itself into the landscape, but is held back in order to preserve the geometrical figure of the organization. The Foundry seems to have been born from the ground and ancient practices: its pyramids carved by the production cycle of molten steel, its grid a latent and ideal form of organization merely culled from the earth. A familiar monument in the pyramid becomes a symbol of agrarian reform; a cross-plan type becomes the unfolding of mechanical production, mythical allegory, and a moralizing sociability.
It is here where Ledouxs work can be understood as a complete transformation, a totalizing reconception, of social life through architectural representation. Ledoux writes, 'You will see that the only means allowed by the economy of art will lead you to the sublime' (Ledoux, 204). The poetic character of the sublime, visible in much of Ledouxs work, is the result of an alchemical experiment performed of the disciplinary rhetoric of a profession that found itself dismantled after the fall of ancien regime. Ledoux found his task as a constructor, a material mater, and positioned himself between the universes aether and a universal ethos.