Thursday, February 5, 2009

Designer/Designed Housing

No class last week due to a snowstorm, so the new start begins for real today.

We ended class last night by watching a little of a documentary on the French royal saltworks at Arc-et-Senans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (amazing photos of it here). The architect, Claude-Nicholas Ledoux, designed the saltworks complex in a very conscious, Enlightenment-inspired way. He intended the set-up of the factory buildings and worker housing to communicate a number of very specific things. Much of this relates to new ideas about hierarchy and rationality. However, the complex was built in 1775, just fourteen years before revolution, and the ensuing chaos that the Revolution created ensured that the saltworks was abandoned much sooner than its architect had envisioned.

Here in Portsmouth, we have another example of a government funded housing complex intended for workers. It's called Atlantic Heights and it was built in 1919, just after World War I. It was the first federally funded housing project in the United States and it was intended to house workers from the Atlantic Corporation, a company contracted to build ships for the federal government. It was modeled after the designed garden communities then popular in England. Despite the early 1920s collapse of the Atlantic Corporation, Atlantic Heights is still an active, lived-in neighborhood.

Obviously, the French Revolution and the collapse of a sponsoring corporation are far from comparable. Additionally, the royal saltworks was built in the country, on the edge of a great forest, and far from any major cities, while Atlantic Heights is less than two miles from downtown Portsmouth. Still, it's interesting to compare the fates of government-funded, worker housing complexes at very different moments in history.

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