The masterpiece of Ledoux
The decision was made under the reign of Louis XV and the design of the new Saline royal was commissioned to Claude Nicolas Ledoux, an architect close to the royal court and undoubtedly one of the most prolific of the late 18th century.
First an engraver and then an architect, he become known to the king’s entourage, the high aristocracy and the grand bourgeoisie by building numerous mansion houses in Paris.
In addition, as he was very familiar with the saltworks of Eastern France, in 1774 he was commissioned with the task of building a new saltworks between the villages of Arc and Senans. After his first project was rejected by Louis XV, Claude Nicolas Ledoux proposed a collection of buildings arranged in a perfect semi-circle, with the East-West diameter formed of salt production buildings, the director’s house and the Clerks and Gabelle lodges.
It was a rational project with a specific purpose for each building (work, administration, workers’ accommodation, security guards and control) and space (allotments for the workers, boundary wall). The semi-circular shape with the director’s house built in the centre of multiple radii illustrates Claude Nicolas Ledoux’s aim to give the Saline royal a “form as pure as that of the sun in its course”.
The unit was also designed like a theatre of industry built to the glory of human progress and labour. It unfolds with rigour, balance and a play of proportions, the respect of which must generate beauty for the architect. This beauty and strength are emphasised by the bossages and westworks, columns and Palladian windows, pediments and roofs which, day after day and season after season make the stone come alive and vibrate with constantly changing colours and lights.
To achieve this strength of composition, Claude Nicolas Ledoux uses an architectural vocabulary borrowed from the heritage of Greco-Roman antiquity and that of the great creators of the Italian Renaissance (Palladio and Serlio). This influence did not come from travelling (he never went to Italy), but from the profusion of reports, surveys of ruins, sketches and etchings and descriptions of monuments published by the dozen in 18th-century Europe.