Reconstructing a Geological Monument: Le Massif de La Vedette, carte dressée à 1:40,000
180 gsm paper, natural white, pearl/satin finish. Scored forty-six times with bone folder and stylus embossing pen. A single cut with a blade, then forty-six folds.
In 1874, French architect Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc constructed a home for himself in Lausanne, Switzerland. Sometime after the completion of La Vedette, he installed a painted panorama of an Alpine landscape spanning the north and west walls of the home’s front room, the Grande Salle. As determined by architectural historian Jacques Gubler, the landscape depicted was not an existing site. Rather it was an idealised landscape, synthesized through Viollet-le-Duc’s geological knowledge and artistic technique.1 Painted in tempera on canvas, the triptych wrapped around the corner of the room. This single fold transformed the scene from a flat picture plane to an immersive, synesthetic landscape, transporting the viewer to a remote, elevated outcropping. The panorama was lost at an unknown time and La Vedette was demolished in 1975. The Grande Salle and panorama exist today only in scattered fragments: a few plan and section drawings of limited accuracy; a 1:10 scale watercolour study of the panorama; a series of black and white photographs offering an incomplete documentation of the room; and a single written description provided by Viollet-le-Duc’s son-in-law, Maurice Ouradou.2
Reconstruction is unavoidably a speculative process. In the work of interpreting found evidence and filling in the gaps of lost material, one not only restores something that is lost, but authors something new.Viollet-le-Duc viewed his geological investigation as a continuation of his work in architecture, equating the study of ruined peaks to that of ruined cathedrals.3 One could determine the original form of mountain or building by following the same methodical process of observation.4 Through his Alpine study, Viollet-le-Duc determined that mountains, the weathered monuments of the earth’s geohistory, were ordered according to a series of governing mathematical principles. By synthesizing these principles to construct the panorama, he demonstrated his control of a rationalised natural order and a totalising historical experience.My reconstruction of Viollet-le-Duc’s panorama is a reconstruction of a reconstruction. Through a stratigraphic reading of the panorama’s layered histories — including the geological, architectural, personal, and historical — my work offers a critical investigation of Viollet-le-Duc’s practice and geological study through his monumental landscape.
Le Massif de La Vedette, carte dressée à 1:40,000
The map reconstructs Viollet-le-Duc’s panorama and his method — translating both through my own practice. Adhering to his methodology, the work relies on close observation and recording: observing in detail the panorama and the architect’s Alpine study; and understanding both through the act of drawing. Part digital and part analogue, the process makes use of instruments available today — ones that Viollet-le-Duc had no access to. Avoiding any automated production (which would fundamentally contradict Viollet-le-Duc’s method) these tools provide a level of precision and exactitude without removing the rational engagement required for understanding and reproducing the landscape. Following Viollet-le-Duc’s method of perspectival projection, the panorama’s landscape is projected into three-dimensional space. Digitally modelled, the landscape’s texture is mapped from the archival photographs and then rendered in detail by hand following the style of Viollet-le-Duc’s map of Mont Blanc.5 Due to the panorama’s fixed condition and the short range between viewer and canvas, the form of the projected landscape distorts significantly as the observer’s perspective moves within the room. Infinite landscapes are possible as a unique topography exists relative to every point in the room. The version presented here is projected from standing eye level at a central point in the room. The projected landscape reveals what can and cannot be seen, with gaps indicating areas obstructed by the panorama’s perspective or by imperfections in the photographs. The architectural elements of the Grande Salle — the doors, fireplace, and columns that interrupt the panorama — manifest themselves as voids between landforms. Viollet-le-Duc’s life in Lausanne and his work on Mont Blanc are entwined with the panorama’s landscape through the act of naming (peaks, landmarks, landforms), marking out trails, routes, and elevations, and through the relation between landscape and architecture. Projected onto the flat surface of a page, the folds of the map create new relationships between the peaks and Viollet-le-Duc’s history, between the landscape and the Grande Salle, and between the original panorama and my own reconstruction.
In structural geology, a fold is referred to as ‘isoclinal’ when it is so tight that the beds on either side of its crest are nearly parallel to each other. When overturned to the degree that the beds are near horizontal, isoclinal folds are referred to as ‘recumbent.’In unfolding a map, a world unfurls itself before you. The map’s creases mark the joints that in one moment disclose a territory, and the next, collapse it back onto itself. There is something wonderfully appropriate in the way that this unfolding echoes the long, imperceptibly slow process of geotectonic folding which formed (and continues to form) the surface of the world we inhabit — the same surface that, in most cases, the map records.Closed again, the map sits recumbent, waiting for another exploration and a new iteration of the massif of La Vedette.