Claude Nicolas Ledoux, a prominent French architect and urban planner of the 18th century, is known for his unconventional and enigmatic projects. Among these are his propositions for a House of Pleasure in Paris and the ideal city of Chaux, both of which are recognized for their unmistakably phallic configurations.
Ledoux’s phallic floor plan of the Oikema offers a valuable piece of information to decipher the ideal city of Chaux as a fragment of the human anatomy. However, unlike the classical anthropomorphic analogy, Ledoux dismembered and replaced it with a hybrid plan that was designed to react to the exigencies of the revolution.
The ideal city of Chaux, which was intended to be a model city for the post-revolutionary society, was to be a self-sufficient community where the residents would live in harmony with nature. Ledoux’s design for the city featured monumental structures with phallic columns, which symbolized the power and strength of the community. The city was organized around a central axis that represented the spine, with a series of circular buildings that resembled vertebrae.
Oikema House of Pleasure Technical Information
- Architect: Claude-Nicolas Ledoux
- Location: Chaux, France
- Status: Unbuilt / Utopia
- Typology: Residential Architecture / Houses
- Project Year: 1780
- Drawings: © Claude-Nicolas Ledoux
The eye easuly oversees the shortest line; the work crosses it with a rapid step; the burden of the passage is lightened by the anticipation of a swift return. Everything obeys the scheme that perfects the law of movement.
– Claude-Nicolas Ledoux
Oikema: House of Pleasure Plans
The Oikema is the informal title for a ‘House of Pleasure‘, and is a part of Claude Nicolas Ledoux’s plan for the Ideal City of Chaux. The phallic-shaped house was to be an integral part of the city. The drawings first appeared in L’architecture considérée sous le rapport de l’art, des moeurs et de la legislation, Tome 1, 1804. There, under the heading “Oikema. Fragments d’un monument Grec,” is a text on the utopian brothel:
L’Hymen et l’Amour vont conclure un traité qui doit épurer les mœurs publics et rendre l’homme plus heureux…
(Hymen and love will conclude a treaty which should purify public mores and make man happier…)
In 1769, a few years before the French Revolution, Nicolas Edme Restif de la Bretonne published his epistolary essay Le Pornographe. Its subtitle, as rendered in English: A Gentleman’s Ideas on a Project for the Regulation of Prostitutes, Suited to the Prevention of the Misfortunes Caused by the Public Circulation of Women.
Restif de la Bretonne argued in Le Pornographe for the seclusion and the regulation of the “street women” of Paris in a network of state-administered whorehouses, thereby developing the first architectural proposition to reform prostitution practices in European cities. This small (and today extravagant) essay had immense influence during the eighteenth century. A few years after Restif, the eminent architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux developed two projects for building “museums of vice” and “institutions of public love.” In the first volume of his treatise L’Architecture considérée sous le rapport de l’art, des mœurs et de la legislation (Architecture considered with art, morals, and legislation), Ledoux presented, in “Fragments of a Greek Monument,” the project for Oïkema at the Saline of Chaux. Similarly, in 1803, Sade, who elaborated parodic, critical, and hyperbolic responses to Restif’s utopian administrations, developed his proposal for an urban plan of whorehouses (which has today been unfortunately lost).
In Le Pornographe, and the course of forty-five articles, Restif de la Bretonne develops a “pornognomonie,” “une Règle des Lieux de Débauche,” and “a rule for the spaces of vice”: a series of regulations for a brothel run by the state and dedicated to lust and virtue, which he called Parthénia (referring to ancient Greece’s Mount Parthenon, or “Mount of the Virgin”).
The establishment is defined as a hospital-prison for prostitutes intended to work as a hygienic device to stop the spread of the most feared sickness of the seventeenth century, the “vérole,” the “mal vénérien”: syphilis.
In Restif’s essay, pornograph refers not to a writer or consumer of representations of sexual, antireligious, or antimonarchic pamphlets but rather to an expert in legal and medical techniques of public hygiene within the modern city. For Restif, pornography is the branch of urban planning and hygiene dealing with the management of prostitution within the modern city and the preservation and maximization of the nation’s health.
A new concept of classicism
During the French Revolution, a new ruling class arose above the decrepit feudal society in Western Europe: the free bourgeoisie. In terms of architecture, the outcome of this historical crisis was a new concept of classicism as a product of joining Jacobins, the encyclopedic, and good sense.
In his 1804 utopian plan for the workers’ city of Chaux, the architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux drafted the fantasy version of the institutional administration of male sexuality. Declaring, “That which a government does not dare to do, architecture confronts,” he made graphic the preceding half century’s musing about degeneration, male desire, and the power of institutions.
The publicly administered ideal brothel or Oikema that be planned would “enforce heterosexuality, foment desire and develop the powers of population,” even as it sought to refocus the menacingly potent male body on productivity. Viewed from the city that it cleansed and fueled, the brothel building would appear modestly shielded by a mysterious and suggestive grove of trees. An aerial view, however, the Oikema would be revealed as a gigantic set of male genitals (approximately 160 by 220 feet in size), exuberantly rendered with neo-classical geometric rigor and inscribed within a rectangular marble precinct. Ledoux’s apotheosis of the male sex, immured yet erect with discipline, was an earnestly absurd digest of Enlightenment aspirations for the institution’s regenerative powers.
At last, Ledoux’utopia is, in any case, a social one. Much the same as Rousseau, he dreams about an ideal society where relations would be peaceful and in harmony with nature…But the evenings around the fire, in the common reunion halls, were certainly less delightful for the saline workers than Ledoux had believed them to be… His great project of “achieving the happiness of the most” (Vidler, 1987) employing architecture remains artistically an ideal world.
About Claude Nicolas Ledoux
Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (21 March 1736 – 18 November 1806) was one of the earliest French neoclassical architecture exponents. He used his knowledge of architectural theory to design not only domestic architecture but also town planning. The French Revolution hampered his career; much of his work was destroyed in the nineteenth century. In 1804, he published a collection of his designs under the title L’Architecture considérée sous le rapport de l’art, des mœurs et de la législation (Architecture considered with art, morals, and legislation). In this book, he took the opportunity of revising his earlier designs, making them more rigorously neoclassical and up-to-date.
Works from Claude-Nicolas Ledoux