5.1.3. Plan

Attention to a plan is the third appeal for the ‘modern’ (i.e. in Le Corbusier’s case: the early twentieth century) architects. It is worth noticing, that the word ‘plan’ expresses a double meaning. Firstly, there is its connotation as a map, being the reproduction of a place. Secondly, it is the announcement of ideas with a certain intention. Le Corbusier had this latter meaning in mind, when he stated that without the plan, there would be ‘no greatness of intentions and expressions, no rhythm, no volume, no coherence.’

The plan – as a map and a representation of place – is a Third Quadrant item, which makes things visible. The Greek philosopher Aristotle – in the Fourth Book of his Physics – analyzed the concept of place. He suggested four candidates for identification as the place of a body (FURLEY, 1991):

  1. Its form
  2. Its matter
  3. The extension contained by its boundaries
  4. Those boundaries themselves

The other meaning – as a visible statement of intention – is also a Third Quadrant entity. This variety is closer related to the world of ideas (in the Second Quadrant). It also points to the future (in the Fourth Quadrant). The plan has always intrigued those, who are confronted with its presence. It reveals an outline of particular actions chosen from a set of innumerable possibilities. A plan can  change chaos into an order within just one glance.

The work of the Italian architect Francesco Borromini (1599 – 1667) is  marked by a preoccupation to play with geometrical forms. Alternations of concave and convex are a prominent feature, both in a plan as in the façade elevations. His peculiar Church of S. Carlo in Rome was mentioned earlier and further works like the Casa dei Filippini (Oratory) and S. Ivo della Sapienza (all situated in Rome) are equally enigmatic in terms of dominant divisions. The windows in the façade of the Oratory (Oratorio dei Filippini) count to five (at the first floor) and the beautiful cupola of the S. Ivo is a hexagon. The plans and details of these building leave the stage of a regular development  in an oppositional environment behind. Instead a search for the secrets of the unusual was on.

Joseph CONNERS (1995/1996) composed elusive articles on Borromini and his time. He also wrote the introduction to Borromini’s ‘Opus Architectonicum’ (Milan, 1998), a reprint of the two volumes by Sebatiano Giannini of 1720 and 1725. Conner’s story of ‘the copy of S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Gubbio’ reads like a detective story. Borromini was not eager to share the plan of the church with foreign visitors or lesser architects. And no one could  crack the secret of the geometry (which remained so until the twentieth century). However, the S. Maria del Prato in Gubbio has the same geometrical plan as the S. Carlo of Rome. It is a strange experience if one enters the church in Gubbio,  ‘like meeting the twin sister of one’s wife, when you did not know she had one’ (CONNERS, 1995).

Two church leaders, Cardinal Ulderico Carpegna (1595 – 1679) and Bishop Alessandro Sperelli (1589 – 1672) are responsible for the confusion. The former was a good friend of Borromini and executor of his will, after he committed suicide in 1667. He is one of the few people, who were trusted enough by Borromini to get a drawing of the S. Carlino. The latter (Sperelli) became bishop of Gubbio in 1644. He owned a large library, which was turned over to the city in 1666. Certain miracles in the area led to the building of S. Maria del Prato in 1662 ‘al modello di San Carlino di Roma’. Sperelli knew Borromini because he delivered the inaugural sermon at Borromini’s oratory in 1640 and probably saw the S. Carlino church in 1641. His enthusiasm for the building might have resulted in a request (by his predecessor Carpegna?) to provide a plan.

Hans SEDLMAYR (1930; p. 92) gives some aspects of the background of Borromini’s ‘Denken in Mannigfaltigkeiten’ (thinking in multitude), which becomes clear in an extreme attention to details. Sedlmayr uses a two-division between Borromini’s abstract intentions and the actual building of such features. He pointed out that Borromini’s buildings seemed ‘organic’, but were, in fact, generated as combinations of abstract, geometric forms. The result  was a ‘dead’ form. Furthermore, their connection with the surroundings is lacking, according to Sedlmayer. They look like ‘fragments’ from another world, being dropped in this world.

Borromini’s work, with its anti-historic, ‘cold’ efficiency, holds a message for any modern architect, who likes to venture into the realm of (computer-generated) design. We might feed our computers with the most interesting formulas, resulting in ever expanding intangible patterns. The outcome could even be translated in concrete, stone and glass due to advanced building techniques. However, the visible outcome of an ‘organic’ design might look dead when it is put to the test. The introduction of a multitude does not guarantee a departure from the schizothyme Cartesian world view, rooted in opposition. Only the crossing the borders (of quadrants), holds beauty (p. 953).

The plan has always to do with scale. Le Corbusier called it a classification of intentions (‘La classification des intentions’) and he mentioned the city of Karlsruhe (Germany) as an example of town planning resulting in ‘le plus lamentable echec d’une intention’ (the most pitiful failure of an intention). Le Corbusier’s critical note on the outlay of Karlruhe (fig. 811) seems to be unfounded, because its circular outlay is still a hallmark of the city without being obtrusive or dysfunctional.


Fig. 811 – The circular radiating town plan of Karlsruhe dated from the early eighteenth century (1709). The city radiates from the palace with its octagonal center into thirty-two avenues. The layout followed ideas  of an ideal city with a reference to the circular as the sublime geometrical figure.

Tony Garnier (1869 – 1948) was a French architect and a pioneer in urban planning. His book ‘La Cité Industrielle’, published in 1917, was the outcome of a study of sociological and architectural problems of an industrial city. Garnier became the city-architect of Lyons and designed such ‘mass’-building as a hospital (Edouard-Herriot, 1920 – 1934) and a stadium (Stade Gerland, 1913 – 1926). They are still of interest for their use of reinforced concrete. The abattoirs of Gerland (a suburb of Lyons), called La Halle du Marchéaux bestiaux, was another of his creations. It was built between 1909 –1914 and is saved from demolition in 1975. These types of buildings have their nature as building-for-the-masses in common.


Residential quarters in the Cite Industrielle by Tony Garnier.  WIEBENSON, Dora (1969). Tony Garnier. The Cite Industrielle. George Braziller, New York. LCCCN 79-78051


View of the furnaces of the Cite Industrielle,  dated 1917 (WIEBENSON, 1969).

Tony Garnier was certainly an early guide, since modern urbanism had not started yet during  the First World War. Le Corbusier, although also intrigued by massality, held a different view. He did not like Garnier’s sparsely populated park-like places in the middle of the city. He chose for a more ‘factory-like’ approach, ruled by an economic plan. The ‘Maisons en serie’ were Le Corbusier’s answer to the increasing urban pressure.

The plan figured dominant in urban planning: the word is incorporated in the process. Any type of architectural endeavor needs a context to prove its credentials. The plan is the heart and soul of being. CHAMPIGNEULLE & ACHE (1962 ; p. 52) gave a very idealistic description of a modern town planner as somebody who aims to satisfy the complete human being. (‘Le véritable urbaniste est celui qui satisfaire l’homme complet, non seulement son corps, mais tout ce qu’il porte en soi de désir d’évasion, d’amour, d’élévation spirituelle, d’instinct religieux, d’exaltation vers la beauté).’ This motto is also applicable to the Dutch architect Piet Blom (1934 – 1999), who favored a modular approach. His configurative structures are similar to Eyck’s Burgerweeshuis (see fig. 792).


Fig. 812 – ‘De Ark van Noach’ (Noach’s Arch) was a city project by the Dutch architect Piet Blom (1934 – 1999). He used a modular approach to avoid any hierarchical dominance. These structures of multiplicity followed van Eyck’s concept of the city as a big house, with many rooms.

Blom designed in 1962 a city project called the ‘Ark van Noach’ (Arch of Noah). This configurative structure was intended to be filled in as a  matrix with specific buildings (fig. 812). Unfortunately, the recurrent pattern of the swastika led Allison Smithson (1928 – 1993) to criticize this project as ‘completely dogmatic and German’ and even as ‘completely fascist’. Her critical tone to judge the ideas of a free-thinking ‘Provo’ architect in such a way is remarkable. It proves – as a wise lesson – that the perceptions and connotations of freedom in the higher forms of division thinking and the limitation of the lower forms are sometimes a very close affair.

A plan of a ‘Pestalozzi village’ for the Prix de Rome (1962) further emphasized Blom’s desire to create a living environment by  a four-fold structure (fig. 813). Johann Pestalozzi (1746 – 1827) was a Swiss pedagogue and educational reformer. His name was used for an initiative by a group of philanthropists, which established a community for refugee children in Trogen (Switzerland) after the Second World War. An organization was set up to support the Swiss village. A further Pestalozzi Village was established in Sedlecombe (East Sussex, England) in 1957.


Fig. 813 – A plan of a Pestalozzi village by Pieter Blom for the Prix de Rome (1962) shows a tetradic, repeating theme.

Pieter Blom’s design of the Kasbah in Hengelo (1969 – 1973), his Play House and Appartmental Forest in Helmond (1972 – 1976) and his cubic houses in Rotterdam (1978 – 1984) are still a tribute to an architectural vision, which was innovative and unconventional.


Cubic houses in Rotterdam (1978 – 1984) by the architect Pieter Blom (Photo: Marten Kuilman, May 2014).


This spirit of independence might fit into the realms of higher division thinking, but it is doubtful – judging from his work – that the full width of this psychological setting was ever consciously experienced. It seems, even stronger than in Aldo van Eyck’s oeuvre, that the actual act to escape from the chains of  limitation was his prime object. This ‘revolutionary’ act does not necessarily mean that the artist automatically moves into higher division thinking. The strive often continues in the same dualistic setting. It is a sobering fact that the ‘struggle’ would stop at the very moment when a quadralectic level is reached.


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