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JAN VERWIJNEN
Professor, University of Art and Design Helsinki
email: jverwij @ uiah.fi

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I understand the architectural avant-garde of the 1950s and 60s as


part of a cultural movement of µsingularity negotiating universality¶
differently then during the Modern Movement¶s µheroic¶ period
before World War II. In this paper my point is that in the 1960s
perhaps out of a need to counterbalance the growing dominance of
cognitive reasoning and its instrumental rationality that came into
the design processes through advances in building technology and
particularly through the growing complexity of building programmes
architects increasingly started to use new design instruments.
Recent research points towards the 1950s and 60s as a period that
conceals an unwritten history of modernity in architecture. It is my
opinion that the history of 20th century architecture is a history
more of concepts than of anything else. After World War II this
becomes apparent, although its origins lie in the 1920s and 30s.
These concepts operate at an intermediary diagrammatic level of
the design process between the aesthetic choice for a final form of
a building and the analytical cognitive logic of increasingly complex
programmatic requirements. Robert Somol (1999) acknowledges
this as follows ³... the procedure of architectural knowledge has
seemingly shifted over the second half of the twentieth century,
from the drawing to the diagram.´ This paper will explore as an
example the diagrammatic design process of Le Corbusier¶s La
Tourette, the Dominican monastery, in relation to his earlier
concepts for the µVilla Savoie¶ and the µPavillon Suisse¶. An
interesting feature is that the µPavillon Suisse¶ was originally
µmisunderstood¶ and left out of The International Style catalogue by
the authors, because it appeared unexplainably different from the
µVilla Savoie¶. In search for µa style¶ they failed to see that there was
a conceptual consistency between them from a point of view of
µthings in the making¶. In this context my point of departure is: what
would it mean for architectural history to think in relation not to
µthings made¶ but to µthings in the making¶?
This perspective of µthings in the making¶ is in this paper
understood:
1. as a discourse of the process of designing itself ( as µprescriptive¶
mode)
2. as connected to a conceptual diagrammatic level of designing
and
3. representing a shift in the idea of architectural composition (the
joining of parts).

The question that follows is: can an internal discourse of


architectural design, of projects and how they were thought exist?
Eisenman addresses this as architecture¶s µinteriority¶. ³Rarely has
architecture theoretically examined its own discourse, its interiority.
My work on the diagram is one such examination. It concerns the
possibility that architecture can manifest itself, manifest its own
interiority in a realized building. The diagram is part of a process
that intends to open architecture to its own discourse, to its own
rhetoric «.´ (Eisenman 1999b, 37). This position marks a different,
perhaps alternative way of dealing with architecture¶s history, one
not founded on resemblance and return to origins but on modes of
becoming. This entails a shift away from style and towards
knowledge central to the generation of form. Based on the idea of
design as a material practice - an activity that works in and among
the world of things - that condenses, transforms and materializes
concepts there is increasing evidence that the concept and its
illustration through a diagram (and no longer a plan) become the
generator of form. They guide the concrete decision-making
process in a design. The increasing importance of the concept as
an idea within the field of professional imagination, which is
different from historical imagination, points to the fact that within the
world of design a rupture between descriptive (design products)
and prescriptive (design processes) modes of operation seems to
exist.

      

In the past five years an increased interest in the diagram has led
to a series of publications and conference presentations. In his
introduction to Peter Eisenman¶s Diagram Diaries Robert Somol
(1999) traces the history of the diagram and states about its
actuality that:
³In general the fundamental technique and procedure of
architectural knowledge has seemingly shifted over the second half
of the twentieth century, from the drawing to the diagram. This is
not to suggest that a diagram of one form or another was not
always constitutive of architecture at various points in its history,
but simply that it has only been in the last thirty years or so that the
diagram has become fully ³actualised´, that it has become almost
completely the matter of architecture. Proceeding with halting steps
through serial obsessions with form, language and representation
« the diagram has seemingly emerged as the final tool, in both its
millennial and desperate guises for architectural production and
discourse.´ (Somol 1999, 7).

In his Diagram Diaries Peter Eisenman reflects on the nature of the


diagram:
³?hile it can be argued that the diagram is as old as architecture
itself, many see its initial emergence in Rudolf ?itkower¶s use of
the nine-square grid in the late 1940s to describe Palladian villas«.
In architecture the diagram is historically understood in two ways:
as an explanatory or analytical device and as a generative device.
Although it is often argued that the diagram is a
postrepresentational form, in instances of explanation and analysis
the diagram is a form of representation. In an analytical role, the
diagram represents in a different way from a sketch or a plan of a
building. For example a diagram attempts to uncover latent
structures of organization, like the nine-square, even though it is
not a conventional structure itself. As a generative device in a
process of design the diagram is also a form of representation. But
unlike traditional forms of representation, the diagram as a
generator is a mediation between a palpable object, a real building,
and what can be called architecture¶s interiority.´
He continues ³The diagram is not only an explanation, as
something that comes after, but it @ @@@
 @ in
the process of generation of real space and time. As a generator
there is not necessarily a one-to-one correspondence between the
diagram and the resultant form.´ (Eisenman 1999a, 27-28)

     

To illustrate the existence of a conceptual and diagrammatic level


in design processes I make a case for the relationship of three
projects of Le Corbusier that appear totally different in style, but
show a certain conceptual consistency. These three projects are
the Villa Savoie (1929), the Pavillon Suisse (1932) and the
monastery of La Tourette (1960). They represent three very
different programs: a villa, a student dormitory and a cloister for
Dominican monks. For each of the projects exist similar diagrams
that allow to understand how the projects were conceived through a
set of relationships, of complementing systems. Starting with the
Villa Savoie we see (fig 1):

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four axonometric drawings representing respectively (1) the


program or spatial layout, (2) the structure (or load bearing
system), (3) the enclosure (or skin) and its system of openings and
(4) the circulation that are four complementary subsystems of the
building. This illustration of interacting components, taken from the
introduction of Francis Ching¶s classical schoolbook on form and
order is not new and was widely applied by Richard Meier in his
early works. We can understand these components not just as
separate layers, but as a double set of relationships: (a) each
represents a relationship in itself, and (b) even more important is
how they particularly relate to each other. For example, as structure
the µplan libre¶ (free plan) expresses (a) an independent relationship
of load bearing columns and non-load bearing walls. But (b) it also
constitutes an uninterrupted strip window as opening system. Thus
we can understand the µplan libre¶ not just as a configuration, but
more as a composition. It means that instead of what was
traditionally the subject of formal composition and such as the
proportions of the façade, compositional thinking now extends itself
to the subsystems or components of a building design and
particularly to the relationship of these components to each other.
Together they make up ± they literally µcompose¶ ± the entire
building. In other words composition has become a professional
concept of the potential arrangement of these components that
define a building in terms of circulation, structure, enclosure and
spatial layout. This aspect of Le Corbusiers thinking is a different
interpretation of his 5 Points for A New Architecture and has in my
opinion largely been overseen. They are the beginning of a
systematic diagrammatic thinking through which the notion of
composition shifts to a more abstract level of joining the parts of a
building conceptually.

In this context the following small anecdote reveals a perhaps


important clue: in 1932 the Pavillon Suisse was already finished,
but left out from the The International Style: Architecture Since
1922 (1932) catalogue by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip
Johnson, because it appeared unexplainably different from the
µVilla Savoie¶. In search for µa style¶ they failed to see a consistency
with his approach to the µVilla Savoie¶. In his preface to the 1966
edition of The International Style Henry-Russell Hitchcock admits
that they in 1932 had had difficulties including Corbusier¶s Villa de
Mandrot into the exhibition, because it violated the principles of
International Style they had just created. He explains that
particularly the rubble wall of the Villa de Mandrot caused them
problems and was finally accepted as an aberration of the three
main principles of International Style. But he concedes that while
writing the book that served as catalogue for the exhibition in 1932
they were not clear about how far Le Corbusier with his Pavillon
Suisse would go beyond the principles that they were trying to
establish with International Style. Particularly the thick, rough
concrete and sculpturally shaped pilotis (columns) under the
building were unexplainable (Hitchcock 1966). Although
construction was well under way and more or less ready it seems
that the Pavillon Suisse was left out from the exhibition for this
reason.

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The analytical drawings of the Pavillon Suisse (fig. 2), a dormitory
for Swiss students in the Cité Universitaire in Paris, reveal a
systematic approach to the programmatic requirements ± starting
with a study of what a student room would need to be and how the
circulation system works complementary to that. Thus a volume
emerged that was translated into a steel structure and suitable for a
µconstuction à sec¶ - a (dry) montage of panels. The enclosure and
its opening system follow the potential of the steel skeleton and
become large window panels with floor high sheets of glass. In
other words conceptually the same principles that were
demonstrated at the Villa Savoie had been employed, but because
the notion of composition had partly shifted to a conceptual level,
this consistency was not directly visible. On the outside, stylistically
there is perhaps an unexplainable break between the two, but
conceptually the composition of complementary subsystems as a
relationship of parts that make up the building and bring its
construction, the making of it in unison with the compositional idea,
had even advanced. Le Corbusier himself expressed this in 1928
commenting on his Weissenhofsiedlung houses ³... il s¶agit de
standardiser un système de structures «. r 
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déterminer une variété infinie de plans, « répondre à des
programmes petits, moyens ou grands. Créer un système de
structure.³ (Reichlin 1987)

With the third example, the cloister of µSainte Marie de la Tourette¶,


completed in 1960, this conceptual aspect becomes even clearer.
The program needs to combine the private quarters of the monks
with their need for communal spaces and further Le Corbusier
introduces a roof garden. These different uses were stacked on top
of each other ± private rooms on the top two floors, communal
spaces below. For architects of the post war period this stacking
had become a typical problem accompanying the increasing
programmatic complexity of their tasks, but it also reflected an
increased will for achieving differentiation. For Le Corbusier both
µplan libre¶ and µfaçade libre¶ now become compositional elements
of the design process in combining these programmatic and spatial
aspects of the project. Figure 4 reveals how the principle of the
µplan libre¶ at the communal level accommodates the spaces. This
diagrammatic sketch shows how curved walls for the communal
spaces. were simply superimposed over the plan of the private
rooms located one floor higher and are totally independent of its
structure. It was, however, built with straight walls that never the
less run completely independent of the column structure. (fig 5)
There is more: the cloister for the monks, their main µmeditative
corridor¶ becomes for Le Corbusier a circulation system that
consists of ramps ± but this leads beyond the scope of this paper.
Thus I conclude that in the 1960s with modernism becoming
mainstream, new diagrammatic and conceptual tools seem to
become necessary and architectural style becomes a more
personal, singular problem. Le Corbusier¶s style may now change
rapidly and no longer needs to express the progress and rationality
of µa machine age¶, because it seems as if that element of
discourse has shifted to a higher level of abstraction ± it has
become a new tool, a mode of designing conceptually.

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