Commissioned by Louis XV, the Saline Royale was constructed between 1775 and 1779 for the production of salt. Though the existing complex is laid out in a semicircle, the original designs for the site by visionary architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux feature a project for an ideal settlement in a circular configuration, a veritable political, social and architectural utopia. Under the direction of environmentalist and landscape gardener Gilles Clément (b. 1943), beginning in 2022 the “Cercle Immense” seeks to realise Ledoux’s unfinished dream whilst transforming the site into an international reference point for biodiverse gardens.
The project will be inaugurated with a renovation of the Saline Royale itself, while a second semicircle will be designed to complement the existing complex: the lawn in front of the Saline Royale will be mirrored by a wildflower meadow, the cultural and exhibition spaces will be extended by educational gardens, and temporary seasonal gardens will feature alongside newly planted permanent gardens. A pair of promenades will complete the new site: the first is a poetic interpretation of Ledoux’s ideas, while the second will feature edible plants. Drawing on agroecological knowledge and skills such as permaculture, mulching and composting, each section will be conceived to respect the area’s natural resources. Each year, the “Cercle Immense” will host more than 400 students from professional and vocational training programmes, acting as a laboratory for future environmental careers.
The general public, too, will have the opportunity to discover the creativity and wealth of this newly enlarged site based on Gilles Clément’s concept of the “planetary garden”, which encourages us to produce with the living rather than against it, and to maintain and preserve what the earth has to offer in order to construct a more sustainable and ethical future. In the face of dramatic changes to our climate, in time, “Un Cercle Immense” will come to embody a uniquely resilient natural and cultural heritage site where creativity, biodiversity and history come together and are passed on from one generation to the next.