The Rue des Table Claudienne is a couple of blocks down the hill from where we are staying, a bronze tablet was unearthed there by a vigneron 150 years ago. It’s inscribed with a speech made by the Roman emperor Claudius which addresses the Gauls of the settlement of Lugdunum (Lyon) in 43 CE
It’s a potted a history of roman political practice with diatribes against rivals and usurpers, finally coming to the point, and the reason why the Gauls bothered casting and inscribing it: the indigenous inhabitants were being granted power over themselves within the settlements of their lands. Claudius explains that in hard times the Roman elite holds tight to its imperial authority, while in the current harmonies, democratic forms of decision making and power are enabled. This is an impressive piece and was found on a hillside where a famous ritual sanctuary was sited. The extant fragment measures 2 metres in width and almost as high. One wonders how its contents have affected the culture here in Lyon since.
There have been some very ambitious urban social projects in this city, their marks from the early eighteenth century to the present still felt. We recently visited one of the most thorough and pioneering modernist housing projects and were amazed at its single minded application of ideals of democratic social space.
The États-Unis project took place in the 1920s, a suburb for industrial workers touted as a city in the countryside. It was proposed in 1917, its name honoring the USA on the year it entered WW1.
The urban planner and architect, Tony Garnier designed the entire project from roads and buildings to park benches. In 1933 it was first settled and was exemplary for its conveniences and hygiene. You notice, walking through it that the spatial design and modelling of the architecture is at a human scale that, though dated in style, still communicates intimacy and warmth while maintaining the ideal of transparency at the heart of modernist aesthetics.
The area was completely renovated in the late 20th century, updating utilities as well as adding an aesthetic feature, a series of murals depicting in enormous scale, architectural drawings by Tony Garnier of planned projects from the height of the modernist enterprise.
Each mural, painted on the end wall of an apartment building creates a very light, transparent effect that hovers between a material plane and a pictorial space. Garnier spent time training in Italy and develops a classical space and form with openness in his work. The painting has a Hellenistic feel, it is painting as well as scenery, it is a scale of marks as well as a representation. What is particularly engaging is the way this aesthetic has been developed in other murals in the area deriving from a variety of cultural roots of the Etats-Unis residents.
In a city where almost every street and public place has a plaque remembering an inhabitant who was killed or deported during 1943 to 44 when the war and it’s tyranny came heavily to the area, it’s not surprising that light democratic planning such as Etats-Unis is revered for a moral purpose embedded within its aesthetic expression.