The plan for the town of St-Dié
and the Duval factory
The plan for the town of St Dié was unanimously rejected by the upper, middle, and lower classes, the socialists, the communists, etc. The Ministry of Reconstruction did not press the matter, and to-day St-Dié is being reconstructed, but not according to that plan. The plan included eight Unités d'Habitation. That was in 1945. Marseille had not then been constructed, but was struggling under the attacks which beset it right up to the day of its solemn inauguration (14th october 1952). The chronological order was reversed. Marseille should have been built in 1946 and St-Dié in 1952.
From all the effort at St-Dié, there remains but one small pure flame. One of the young industrial promoters, Jean-jacques Duval, was friendly towards the 1945 plan. He had a millinery factory which had been destroyed by the Germans, and Le Corbusier undertook to design a new one. The construction was slow, constantly held up by circumstances. But the little Duval factory at St-Dié contains certain elements pertaining to modern architecture.
1. It is proportioned entirely by the Modulor.
2. The section is strongly expressed.
3. The ceilings, wood work, plumbing... are intensely coloured in accordance with the robust character of concrete.
The factory of St-Dié was finished before the Unité at Marseille. Both express a rude health, their colour schemes being pushed to a most powerful intensity.
Le Corbusier 1946-1952, œuvre complète, W. Boesiger, Les éditions d'architecture, Zurich, 1953, p 13
Manufacture Duval – 1951
Le Corbusier Guide”
factory, which served as a model for so much of Le Corbusier's thinking, became
at St-Dié the subject of the architecture itself.
In his early treatise, Vers une architecture, Le Corbusier praised factories for
their plastic forms shaped by methods of construction, but distinguished from
them architecture as products of the Law of Economy rather than objects that
move the spirit.
He gave the utilitarian Manufacture Duval an "integrated
architectural message," but one still grounded in issues of factory
production and technology.
architectural message involved the self-conscious definition of the factory in
terms of both its own past and the current state of its industry.
The Duvals commissioned Le Corbusier to rebuild their factory after a
fire had left the back buildings intact but the major, front site empty.
The Duvals also intended to modernize their textile manufacture.
Le Corbusier framed the new building within the memory of the old by
constructing the end walls of stone taken from ruined local buildings and
inserting a concrete structure in between.
the building is a diagram of the modernized manufacturing process.
Originally, the raw materials of fabric and thread arrived and were
stored on the ground floor. The
fabric was transported to the third floor for cutting ; it descended by
toboggan or lift to the studio, where it was sewn on the main gallery and ironed
on the balcony, then to the ground floor to be packed, and down a final chute to
storage and the loading dock. The
central portion of this loop, the studio, has the typical Corbusian house
section of double-height space, with balcony facing a glazed wall, but at an
enormous scale. Everyone is in
touch with this window and placed according to their roles – ironers on a
small balcony, seamstresses on the main floor, finishers underneath the balcony,
and supervisors in a glass-encased lookout post at the upper level. The
enlightened industrialists who created this salubrious setting filled with light
and air have offices on the roof.
Thus, while fulfilling the requirements of the industrial process, the
factory also provides a forceful image of the structure of the factory community.
his architecture, Le Corbusier used form metaphorically,
taking objects and systems from outside the realm of building as part of the
image or metaphor. Here, in the context of a factory, some of his most
symbolically charged elements take on more directly utilitarian roles : the
ramp as a chute for goods, pilotis as a porch for bicycles and storage.
But many continue to function metaphorically.
The pipe rails, deck levels, "funnel"-shapedconference room,
and "smokestack" stair all refer, to a ship, Le Corbusier's model
container for a utopian-socialist community.
Unlike the Unité d'habitation at Marseille, an ocean liner designed for
dwelling and recreation, the
factory is a freighter designed for work,
with a communal interior but no cabins, and a deck that belongs to the captain.
Corbusier joined the idea of factory as large machine to concepts of organic
functioning. The exposed, colorcoded mechanical systems -green for air
conditioning, yellow for electricity, and blue for water -connect the building
more graphically than the abstract procession of goods.
As circulation systems of “life-supporting” substances, they suggest
bodily functions as well.
seen in his buildings of the early 1930s, this biomechanical metaphor here takes
on a new character as organic materials and primitive methods of construction
infiltrate the earlier vocabulary of glass and steel. The end walls of used
stone and the rough concrete replace the machined finish of the earlier
buildings. The northwest glass wall recalls the hermetically sealed curtain of
his "factory of good, " the Cité de Refuge (1933), but in place of
the metal frames are oak windows proportioned according to the anthropometric
The southeast facade has concrete brise-soleil as an architectonic rather
than a mechanical control of climate.
and standardisation are still seen as viable means of production, but are
employed in the creation of a more organic product.
Standard-sized, prefabricated wood frames with predrilled screw holes
were installed in a continuous trough in the concrete sill, but these frames
were paired and reversed to create a varied fenestration. In imitation of
nature, where objects are infinitely varied but relate to a larger geometric
pattern, the independent rhythms of column, brise-soleil, and fenestration
overlap so that no bay repeats but all relate to the Modulor.
This, Le Corbusier's first postwar building proposes an integrated
architecture in touch with timeless ideas of construction and with the spirit of
nature, but still idealistic in its attitude toward the workings of modem
Private factory visible from street.
M. Jean-Jacques Duval, a personal friend of Le Corbusier, is dedicated to
the ideals represented in the architecture of his factory.
He enjoys showing his building to students of Le Corbusier's work.
Those with a half day to spend in St-Dié should arrange a meeting with
M. Duval by writing him in advance at the factory.
St-Dié is located in the picturesque mountains of Vosges, close to
Although much of it was destroyed during World War II,
the impressive cathedral (beautifull modern stain glasses), the cloister and a chapel survive.
M. Duval was also involved in commissioning Le Corbusier's famous
but unrealized proposal for the reconstruction of the town.
A possible itinerary moves south from St-Dié to Le Corbusier's canal
station outside Mulhouse, perhaps stopping at Colmar (see l'Ecluse de
Kembs-Niffer and Ronchamp).
St-Dié-des-Vosges is not on a major rail line.
Trains depart from Nancy, Strasbourg, and Epinal ; from
Colmar, a bus transfer is required at Sélestat.
From the St-Dié train station walk (20 min) along the main street to the
cathedral. The factory is on the left, just past the cemetery.
from Deborah Gans, “The Le Corbusier Guide,” reproduced with
permission by Princeton Architectural Press http://www.papress.com
See The Le Corbusier guide in bibliography
You should pay a visit to the museum, close to the cathedral, where a copy of the model of the plan for St-Dié is exhibited. Entrance is free.