The metric system and the decadence of architecture


From the Editor’s Desk (Tuesday, January 19, 2016, Gaudium Press) In the newspaper Le Figaro, Jean Bernard Litzler wrote an article titled: “157 years ago…the metric system caused the decadence of architecture”.

He notes, with an inevitable French humor, that in 1859, the same paper for which he writes today, Le Figaro, enjoyed to point out, in a article dated September 3, 1859, that the rejection of the ancient duodecimal system for the benefit of the metric system was the cause for architecture to be practical, efficient but without talent.

sefsdfsdfsdfsdf.jpgIn 1859, Le Figaro already perceived the “decadence of modern architecture.” “Better than that, he had found the cause. An unsuspected origin: the adoption of the metric system, which was adopted since the French Revolution of 1789. The columnist Paul d’Ivoi had made that discovery during an archaeological congress that took place in Strasbourg” writes Jean Bernard Litzler.

“This is our fatal decimal system of weights and measures which killed architecture” wrote Paul d’Ivoi in 1859 in Le Figaro. “The decimal system is convenient, it tells the truth, it is good to count, to multiply, to divide, it makes it impossible for fraud, it is uniform and regular, it has undeniable advantages, but it is detrimental for architecture. In the contrary, the old system of measures, the duodecimal system, with a foot that could be divided into twelve inches, the thumb in twelve lines, the sou (1) into twelve deniers, etc. was beneficial for architecture.” “Whoever adopted the metric system had no faith and could not make a good architect.” D’Ivoi notes.

And what was the reason? Simply because the number 10 can only be divided by 1, 2 and 5, but instead the number 12 is a holy number. “It is the number of the Apostles and it can be divided by 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6. The number 3 is the number holy par excellence, it is a divine number” d’Ivoi concludes.

D’Ivoi’s article ends by commenting on the troubles of an architect from Strasburg who was a defender of the metric system. D’Ivoi argues with him saying: “Do you measure your building with a meter and not with a toise (2)? You see, you do not have faith, you can only be a decadent architect!”

This should be an interesting subject for a debate. Is there a philosophy behind the duodecimal system and another one behind the metric system? The change from one system to the other, done during the French Revolution in the 1790’s, was just a coincidence?

Source Le Figaro


1. Sou is a former French coin of low value. (Oxford dictionary)

2. Toise (symbol: T) is a unit of measure for length, area and volume originating in pre-revolutionary France. In North America, it was used in colonial French establishments in early New France, French Louisiana (Louisiane), and Quebec. 1 Toise was exactly 6 pieds (feet) (about 1.949 metres) in France until 1812. (Wikipedia)


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