defining – intersectional – unifying
Alexandre le blond’s dictionary „Explication des termes d’Architecture“ is a true icon of its time. As a collection of definitions of architecture-related terms, the author not only laid a unifying foundation for his own future work, but also drew on the guidance of past masters of antiquity in his manuscript.
Thanks to his early-life environment, Jean-Baptiste Alexandre had already gained experience in the design processes of various construction-related fields when he published the second part of his book. With a painter for a father and a highly decorated architect for an uncle, he came into contact with creative work at an early age. In addition, his close relationship with Louis XIV’s garden designer André le notre gave him insights into natural design at the highest royal level. This overarching education and search for inspiration is also reflected in his book. The content is not limited to a single topic of construction, but defines terms, construction methods, materials and much more from the most diverse corners of architecture.
His instructions and definitions are clear. There is one right way per entry and one way to handle building processes, to lay out gardens and to structure facades. Alexandre’s dictionary thus follows the pattern of his great predecessors such as Vitruvius with an optimal guide to being an architect. The big difference, however, is in the way he describes the subject. Instead of going into the person himself, defining the training or the behaviour, the book directly explains the implementation processes and necessary terms. Furthermore, le blond’s text is enriched by its clear structure as an encyclopaedia. It is not a political or philosophical muddle, but simplifies its usefulness with a dividation of the pages along with the terms. And by providing clear guidance, it brings greater certainty that the implementation of future projects planned with the help of the book will be carried out as Jean-Baptiste intended.
What seems obvious to every reader is the fact that the author’s favourite disciplines, namely French palaces with their gardens, building structures and decorations, play a major role in this book and are also explained in particular detail. What is surprising, however, is that with this text, an architect has opened up his focus. With the cross-territorial definitions, he wanted to create a guide that would be an enrichment for any architect, designer or builder to read. His own later move to Russia also reflects his broad interest and cross-territorial knowledge, which he gathered in France and packed into this manuscript. Under the tsarist reign, he not only constructed fabulous palaces, but as an example also introduced street lighting in the streets of St. Petersburg.
With his book, jean-baptiste alexandre le blond certainly left his mark on an era of building history. it was only with advancing technology, the changing demands of clients and newly discovered materials that his knowledge lost its significance.