New Book | A Civic Utopia
Nicholas Olsberg and Basile Baudez, A Civic Utopia: Architecture and the City in France, 1765–1837 (London: Drawing Matter, 2016), 52 pages, ISBN: 978-0995630901, £20.
This large format, finely illustrated edition is published to coincide with the exhibition A Civic Utopia at The Courtauld Gallery of Art. In addition to the ‘Introduction’, it contains an essay entitled ‘Law, Order and the Beautiful’ by Nicholas Olsberg and ‘Case Studies’ by Basile Baudez. The essay explores the Enlightenment themes: A New Rome, Porta, Ratio, Lex, Sanitas, Spectaculum, Lexicon, and Exemplum. The case studies examine the work of Louis Combes, Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine, André Sainte-Marie Châtillon, Paul Piot, François-Joseph Bélanger, François-Joseph Bélanger, and Louis-Pierre Baltard. The book expands on a selection of architectural drawings from the exhibition that show public building and public space in Enlightenment-era France. The drawings served as models for the expression of an ordered and open civic life as the foundation of an ideal polity. They responded to the urgings of writers, critics, and philosophes to make a systematic effort toward civic improvement, or what Voltaire entitled the “embellissement de la ville.”
The book traces how, over the next century, a new model of the modern French city emerged, one that deployed a consistent architecture capable of expressing the liberal qualities of the civic life within it: ordered, open, and dignified. These ideal forms, the methods of visualising and realising them through drawing, and the techniques of design and construction developed to build them, were circulated through engravings and compendia throughout the world. With their new emphases on turning their principal face out towards the street and square, on the horizontal line, and on the evident entrance, these models established an international aesthetic for the architecture of public life, and a universal system of architectural training.
Basile Baudez is maître de conférences at Université Paris-Sorbonne, Paris IV and visiting professor at the Ecole nationale des Chartes. His main areas of research are the history of architectural schools and the Beaux-Arts system and the history of architectural representation in the Western world. Recent publications include, Les Hôtels de la Guerre et des Affaires étrangères à Versailles (co-editor), and Chalgrin, architectes et architecture entre l’Ancien Régime et l’Empire as well as numerous journal articles. His current book project addresses the history of colour in architectural representation.
Nicholas Olsberg is an historian, archivist, curator and writer. As Editor of the Colonial and State Records of South Carolina from 1967–74, he published numerous studies on political and civic life in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and as Archivist of the Commonwealth from 1975 to 1979 produced a major exhibition on the 1790 constitution of Massachusetts. His recent published works in architecture include major monographs on Cliff May, John Lautner, Arthur Erickson, and Ernest and Esther Born; a series of essays on Frank Lloyd Wright; and regular contributions to journals of architecture.