A Civic Utopia: Porta

Porta looks at the city limits through a series of cabinet drawings that celebrate the metropolitan grandeur of an ordered waterfront (a model followed by William Chambers here at Somerset House); the enjoyment of movement and promenade as open space in the approaches to the city replaced its walls, inhabited bridges, and citadels; and the new dignity accorded to hygienic functions such as hospitals or burial grounds as they moved to its perimeters.

Georges Michel, Place and Barriere de la Nation, verso, c. 1830, COURTAULD, IN SET – Drawing Matter

Georges Michel (1763-1843), View of the Place and Barrière de la Nation (verso), c. 1830. Black chalk and watercolour on paper, 300 × 184 mm. The Courtauld Gallery, Witt Bequest 1952

Georges Michel, Place and Barriere de la Nation, recto, c. 1830, COURTAULD, IN SET – Drawing Matter

Georges Michel (1763-1843), View of the Place and Barrière de la Nation (recto), c. 1830. Black chalk and watercolour on paper, 300 × 184 mm. The Courtauld Gallery, Witt Bequest 1952

This was the largest of the infamous barrières designed by Ledoux in 1785 to enforce the farming of taxes as goods entered the newly walled city.  Ledoux had conceived them as classical propylaea, or ceremonial markers of the city’s porta, and Michel’s sketches show them, long after their official purpose had ended, in much that light, moving us toward the city from the its eastern periphery, with its market gardens and country houses, and showing the site as an open space of rest, conviviality and recreation, as the widening route to the country carries the panoply of urban life and traffic, from an empty farmer’s wagon to a coach and carriage. – Nicholas Olsberg

Fontaine, Proposed development for Place de la Concorde, Paris, 1811 DM 1654 IN SET – Drawing Matter

Pierre-Francois-Leonard Fontaine (1762-1853), Vue de la place de la concorde en regardant le pont et la façade du Palais du corps législatif, 1811. Pen, and black ink with grey wash and watercolour over pencil on paper, 248 × 277 mm. Drawing Matter Collections

This huge open square, which became known as ‘Place de la Concorde’ in homage to the idea of reconciliation after the upheavals of the Revolution, was completed in 1775 to Ange-Jacques Gabriel’s designs as part of a vast plan for the embellishment of the city, its expansion to the open land in the west, and the widening of its streets and bridges, exemplified by the extraordinary masonry engineering of the bridge (1786–91) in Fontaine’s view. Gabriel’s largely open square had become a contested site, and in this unbuilt proposal Fontaine presents a carousel and fountain with an essentially neutral classical iconography. Focusing attention on Bernard Poyet’s new façade for the national assembly across the river, on the passage of urban traffic, and on the play of water, Fontaine’s drawing celebrates the vitality of the city square, the bridge, and the rond-point so that a huge monumental ensemble becomes a dynamic parade of urban life, perhaps to demonstrate the civil ‘concord’ it was now named to represent. – NO

Louis Combes, Place du Chateau Trompette, Bordeaux, 1789, DM 1383 IN SET – Drawing Matter

Louis Combes (1757–1818), Place du Château Trompette, Bordeaux: project in honour of the Republic, elevation, c. 1797. Pen and black ink, grey wash and watercolour on paper, 730 × 175 mm. Drawing Matter Collections

Louis Combes, an architect from Bordeaux trained in Parisian academic circles, submitted this competition design for a large square on the river Garonne to serve as a monumental entrance to replace an old fortress, the Château-Trompette, that the government had wished to demolish since the mid-eighteenth century. This porta, evoking a vast Roman antique circus, was intended to host patriotic celebrations, while the green park was to function as leisure space by his fellow citizens. – Basile Baudez

Pierre Desmaisons, Design for the place du palais de justice, 1785, DM 1796 IN SET – Drawing Matter

Pierre Desmaisons (1711-1795): Project for the Place du Palais de Justice, Paris, c. 1785. Black ink and coloured washes on paper, 245 × 186 mm. Drawing Matter Collections

After large portions of the Paris Palais de Justice were destroyed by fire in 1776, Pierre Desmaisons, member of the Académie d’architecture, rebuilt the entrance court façades and its monumental gate between 1783 and 1786. Wishing to transform the dense and impoverished île de la Cité on which the building stands, he projected, to no avail, a formal public square linking the Palais de justice with the church of Saint Barthélémy and uniting them with a modern façade. – BB

Bernard Poyet, l'Hôtel-Dieu, c. 1788, DM 1091 IN SET – Drawing Matter

Bernard Poyet (1742-1824), View of the proposed hôtel-Dieu for the Ferme Ste-Anne, c. 1788. Watercolour, pen and black ink and grey wash on paper mounted on board, 240 × 90 mm. Drawing Matter Collections

The late eighteenth century saw a broad movement for the reform of the hospital system, in which ideas of comfort, separation, hygiene and cure of the sick replaced that of simply removing the infirm and indigent from society. Based on reports to the academy of sciences of severely crowded and unsanitary conditions in the old public hospital, or hôtel-Dieu, Poyet, the city architect, was commissioned in 1785 to produce plans to replace it, on a more healthful site on the perimeter of the city. His initial proposal for a vast circular building on the river was rejected, but this design for one among a proposed set of smaller hospitals on the city perimeter, perhaps for incurables, followed many of its ideas in rectangular form, including narrow aisles of small chambers, each with an arched window scientifically designed to maximise light and air. Construction was authorised in 1788 but suspended with the Revolution. Poyet revived his circular plan in a later and highly influential publication. – NO

Francois-Joseph Belanger, Folie St James LEFT AND RIGHT 1787 DM 1416 IN SET – Drawing Matter

Francois-Joseph Bélanger (1744-1818), View of a wooden garden folly for the Baron Saint-James at Neuilly-sur-Seine, 1787. Pen and black ink and watercolour over pencil, 360 × 165 mm. Drawing Matter Collections

Belanger designed two extravagant parks for great estates on the western edge of Paris bordering the Bois de Boulogne – the Bagatelle for the comte d’Artois and this response by his neighbour the baron Saint-James.  Both were ornamented with follies connected by underground passages. This proposal, probably for a menagerie of exotic animals on the public perimeter of the estate near the Champs-Elysees, was presented on two sheets that would have opened to show the scene within. – NO