Celebrating the structures of the supernatural
Time, at the beginning of a new year, to reflect on architecture's stranger byways. Remember that extraordinary bit of primitive architecture, the Palais IdÚale, conceived and built by the Hauterives postman, Ferdinand Cheval, in a little village in the hills between Lyon and Grenoble. Cheval died in 1912, but his creations (there is a smaller version in the cemetery) remained, were admired by the Surrealists and appeared in a lot of books in the early '70s when there was that interest in found objects and, by extension, found architecture. The work of an unself-conscious and untutored primitif , the Palais was exemplary of this phenomenon and tied up with a concurrent architectural interest in linguistic structuralism.
Cheval seemed to personify one of Levi Strauss' archetypes, the bricoleur , the person who made his way using only native wit and exigent tools and materials.
As far as I can discern, nobody at that time was aware of America's Palais IdÚale - more accurately the Coral Castle, the work of Edward Leedskalnin, who died in 1951. You can visit it at Homestead, Florida, where in 1936 Leedskalnin had moved it when his original site was threatened by housing developers. According to an overly credulous W i r e d N e w s report, (www. wired. com/news/roadtrip) the low-loader driver for the move was never allowed to see how Leedskalnin loaded blocks of coral. Word spread that he used the 'magnetic powers of the earth'. I quote the website at www. coralcastle. com :
'Since it is documented that no-one ever witnessed Ed's labor in building his rock gate park, some say he had supernatural powers. Ed would only say that he knew the secrets used to build the ancient pyramids.' Since archaeologists now seem to say these were boring old blood, sweat and lots of rope, maybe that's what Ed used too. Actually, he did. The Coral Castle site has photos and several movies that Wired seem not to have looked at. They include a couple of photos showing how Ed used a sturdy tree-trunk tripod and a block and tackle toà lift coral blocks.
sutherland. lyall@btinternet. com