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A large space could be divided into small divisions to suit nature of activities and purpose.
Functional requirements of different Space Dividing Elements are different, depending on
the space and the activities required to be segregated. Fixed arrangements will give
proper privacy to individuals, but will act as physical and visual barrier. Such arrangements
will reduce human interaction and user freedom. The user is forced to live according to the
designed space.
In the case of apartments and villas which are made without considering the user and his
function, such fixed arrangements may not work properly. They only provide basic
requirements such as number of bedrooms, kitchen, living and dining space. Such
structure cant adapt to the changing needs of the users.
Now architects are implementing flexibility, adaptability, fluidity and open space to
provide freedom of space to the user. Thus buildings that can adapt to the changing needs
of user are designed. According Schneider and Till flexibility as accommodating change in
housing, addresses a number of issues related with the current and future needs of the
users. Firstly, it offers variety in the architectural layout of the units. Secondly, it includes
adjustability and adaptability of housing units over time. And finally, it allows buildings to
accommodate new functions. In order to provide flexibility, architects should consider the
possible future needs of users during the design process. It points to freedom of choice.
There should be a dynamic condition which offers diversity. This allows a user or
inhabitant to manipulate or control that which the designer has provided. Such a
condition allows the individual to become engaged with or a part of the architecture.


To understand possibilities of user defined spaces using flexibility, adaptability, fluidity

and open spaces.


To study about the user freedom in designed spaces.

To find the application of flexibility, adaptability, fluidity and open spaces to

improve user freedom.


The study is done to understand the influence of open spaces, flexibility, fluidity
and adaptability to provide freedom of space.

To study about the structures which adapt to the changing needs of the users.


Study does not look into the topic such as barrier free architecture.

Study is only focused on the designed spaces, which adapt to the changing needs
of the users.

Literature review

Thoughts and activities of our community have been affected by increasing international
communication. As a result new dimensions of mobility and complexity in many science
and education have been made by human. While conceptual changes in Architecture are
followed slowly, mobility and flexibility can act as ideas of future architecture that would
draw more attention. On the other hand, unpredicted events (such as earthquake, floods,
etc...) have always put the residents threatened and the occurrences of such events are still
expected. Short-term housing procedure after disasters and use of some public buildings
and places of towns and villages as settlements and Treatment place are of the issues
related administrators and operators are facing with. Public and large buildings spaces
would better to be more flexible to use in emergency situations.

When early human considered plains as hunting and agricultural purposes, he thought of
manufacturing a housing based on his own idea. Caves and trees are two main paradigms
in the nature as a human shelter. Hence trees and cave became ideas of building wooden
and hard stone shelters respectively. Human being also demonstrated considerable
progresses in living and architectural evolution in a way that gradually came up with the
idea of utilizing bones and skins of huge animals (such as mammoths) to build shelters
flexibly opening or closing. Based on abovementioned background it could be concluded
hat light weighted dynamic structures have been created and utilized by human beings
since long time ago.
Structures involving light weight and mobility have been manufactures in various forms
using different materials and system. Tents, Black Tents, Arbor, Gazebo, and Pergola are
such structures that have widely been used by nomads and Bedouins. A house carried on
back of a four-footed animal requires simple and genius manufacturing procedure which
is in result of hundreds or thousands years of experience.

3- Flexible Spaces
The objective of flexibility in the architecture is to provide spaces with simply changing
structures respect to changes in required performance and application. Though
architectural spaces could be identified and restricted through physical elements such as
floor, ceiling, and walls and so on, it should be designed in a way that changes flexibly. For
example the space may be required to be uncovered most of the time and sometimes be
roof covered, or simply the space may be required to be shrunk or expand. Since
constructional elements identify the space, application of flexible design of such elements
are necessary for making up flexible spaces. Flexibility of constructional elements depends
on dissociation of mobility and load. Therefore it could be pointed out to more cases of
flexible design since structural systems succeeded to separate above said features (i.e.
mobility and load).
Since 18th century evolution of skeleton frame work idea in construction of structures has
eliminated load walls and replaced by cast iron pillars and supports. This point made
structures inner design easier.
By the end of 19th century most of the buildings constructed through abovementioned
procedure, were designed excluding inner walls. Such walls were added to the building
based on residents needs.
"Le Corbusier", modern architecture, proposed his quintuple principles in the early 20th
century that one of them is known as "Plan Libre". "Domino house" was designed using
this principle in 1914. The plan included flat plates (as floor and roof), some pillar supports
(to stand against level loads) and stairs to connect levels together. No inner walls were

included except for space partitioning. So inner walls could be located wherever required
that result in absolute liberalization in form and design flexibility.

During the years of modern architecture, "Theo Van Doesburg" (founder of "De Stijll"
ideology) expresses his theories in a paper titled toward a flexible architecture as
follow; Modern architecture is an open one. A unique space constitutes the whole house
that is partitioned according to required application and performance. Such partitioning
takes place through internal divider walls and external supporting ones. The former divide
the house space in accordance with performance and application which could be portable
(in contrast to traditional dividing walls), that is such walls could be designed in a way that
frames and handy plates could be replaced.
In the residential complex of "Weissenhof", designed by "Mies van der Rohe" in 1927,
internal walls of each room were envisaged to join floor and ceiling using fastenings.
Hence each resident could arbitrarily expand or shrink the room. There is no door between
rooms and anyone would be surprised of spacious features of such 70 m2 residential
space. "Scheroder House", made by "Gerrit Rietveld" in 1924, is triggered by "Neo
Plasticism" cause. Such effects are created through decomposition of structural elements
and recombining them in another way. First floor plan is flexible and individual rooms are
evolved in glasses using solid walls and parts of ceiling protrude the structure in a way
that no support could be observed. Horizontal and vertical elements having pure colors as
well as white, black and green colors could be distinguished inside and outside of the
structure, internal architecture, and furniture.
Even though serious attempts made on space flexibility, no individual independent
method known as flexible architecture was created. Because of large constructional costs
and technical issues after usage, development of the flexibility theory halted in that time.
Most of the buildings inspired by high degree of flexibility couldnt meet acceptability
criteria. Practical considerations revealed that residents didnt move the portable walls of

Multi-Purpose Spaces
Abovementioned items include adaptation of space restrictive elements against modern
space performance. Another approach to this issue is creating multi-purpose space that is
the space capable of meeting different requirements. In other words such space is
designed for multi-purpose activities and by changing furniture one could utilize the
space without any further general modification.
"Robert Venturi" in his book titled: Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture
states that; multi-purpose spaces could probably meet the reasonable requirements of
modern architects who attempt to get flexibility. Spaces designed or various purposes and
portable equipment are utilized in them instead of moveable walls inspire the observer of
a changing space. Such flexibility could mentally be perceived and there are no physically
changes in the space. Besides such space makes us believe such perceived feeling. Multiattribute features of the space could lead to performance flexibility.
Background of multi-purpose space utilization goes back to foaming early records of
architectures more than thousand years ago. Because most of the issues used to be
treated in one residential place and a unique space was capable of being utilized for
various application and purposes.
The fact that creation of exclusive one-purpose spaces for short-term utilization is not cost
effective, strengthen the idea of manufacturing a multi-purpose space. Different forms of
such idea could be observed in various countries.
By the early 21st century causes concerning multi-purpose space design appeared in
Europe. "Walter Gropius" designed the comprehensive project of the city theatre of Berlin
in a way that could be utilized for various musical and demonstrative theatrical programs
by introducing little changes in middle stage of the theatre that could rotate 180 degree,

without any further constructional operations.

"Herman Hertzberger" is one the prominent pioneers and supporters of creating multipurpose spaces in the 21st century. He believes that there is no unique design for each
individual so the space should be flexible enough to be utilized freely by each person. The
building he designed for an insurance company in Netherlands illustrates this idea clearly
and obviously. The building has comprised of square shape scaffolds located over each
other and side-separated where the light absorbents located. Such scaffolds together form
a network of spaces that could be integrated if required.

Opening-Closing Structures
Everything in the nature experiences change, evolution, and movement. Movement also
includes expansion and shrinkage of body forms. Expanding structures or simply openingclosing structures same as other artifact manufactured by human being are inspired by the
nature. Blooming of bud or blossom is the design origin of "Fre Otto" and "Mahmood Bodo
Rosch" in forms of ceiling of Prophet Mosque in Medina that is made of canvas to be
opened and closed at ease so in hot weather of the day could provide people with shadow
and could be opened if not needed.

Fig 7: Different states of opening roof garden umbrella Prophet Mosque in Medina.

Walking Houses

Early construction of walking houses could be seen in first generation of automobile

manufacturing and travels using mobile-motor vehicles. Most of such tiny units were
inspired by trailers and travelling vehicles that utilized as camping facilities. Larger
dwelling units of such system used for months of living or more. In fact such housing units
are made in manufactories and usually moved by big trucks to the right place. Focus and
main objective of constructing such dwelling place is mobility. Hence such houses were
utilized primarily by the people who couldnt live in one place for a long time.

Fig 9: Dymaxion house.

"Dymaxion" is the house name made by "Buckminister Fuller" in 1927. The title is a
combination of two words: Dynamism and Maximum, which means maximum dynamism
and differs from aesthetic art proposed by "Le Corbusier" in "Villa Savaii". "Fuller" put
forward a machine for living purposes included individual separated and prefabricated
spaces attached together to make a whole living house. Foundation and central basis of
the house were located on installation part. Inner facilities could be easily expand and
shrink. Even the furniture was pneumatic and none of the equipment was weight more
than 4.5 kg.

In 1963 the idea of international walking house was proposed by "Marlette Homes". He
believed that needs of the people who demand for such dwelling places differs from
common individual. So design type and structure should be different. The title of
walking house was replaced by Prefabricated house since 1970, because
mobility was less important as space expansion. Considering recent increase in
population growth and lack of dwelling place as well as high living costs of house
construction & maintenance in cities make utilization of walking houses feasible and cost
effective. One of the main advantages of such houses is their application at the time of
disasters such as earthquake, flood, and son on until proper housing units could be rebuild
for those displaced homeless because such houses could be settled and set up so quickly.

Walking house of "Loftcube" made by "Werner Aisslinger" that could be easily and quickly
set up on the roofs having plain area. The size of the space is 36 m2 and 3 meters height
having wooden walls and network plastic plates. Louvered form of the windows facilitates
air conditioning required for the space. Such house is made for an individual and could be
set up during 2 to 4 days. In addition to the house performance it could be utilized as an
official work station. Besides it could be easily mobilized from one place to another
location after assembly. The designer also suggests using helicopter for displacement of
the housing unit to other roofs.
"Oskar Leo Kaufmann" designed a house know as "Su-Si" as a walking structure. Such
design plan could be moved by a truck to the desired location and would be installed on a
wooden network above concrete foundation. If basic supplies such as electricity, swage,
and water could be achieved, installation of the project approximate as 5 hours. Such plan
is same as a modern apartment based on architectural and aesthetic viewpoints. Internal
space is spacious and transparent that could be easily fitted to different taste and plates if

Aghil Emamgholi
Department of Architecture, Abhar Branch
Islamic Azad University, Abhar, Iran

upper floor interior view with partitions partially closed

Schroder House
Gerrit Rietveld
The concept of flexibility creates a building which is not a fixed entity,
but a palimpsest on which can be inscribed any life style and any life view. - Gerrit
Rietveld, De Stijl

upper floor interior view with partitions open

interior view with partitions closed (above) and open (below)

Fukuoka Housing, Japan
Steven Holl
Steven Holls concept of hinged space gives modern application to the
versatility of the traditional Japanese fusuma sliding panel. Light, colorful
wooden walls turn on pivotal hinges, making it possible to combine or
isolate spaces according to hour, season and family make-up.

interior view with partitions closed (above) and open (below)

when order meets flexibility

Palace of Emperor Saga
Kyoto City
The origin of movable interior partitions can be traced to the Japanese fusuma. These
sliding panels were constructed with a wooden frame strengthened by cross battens to
which several layers of paper were glued. A layer of decorative paper was then fixed over
the whole and the faces were typically painted to depict a story. The fusuma allowed the
house to change with the day and season. Their dynamic nature was sharply contrasted by
the static condition of the heavy timber posts and beams which brought order to the

interior view with fusuma open

Order and Flexibility:
Their Coexistence as Architectural Principle
Michael Malofiy
This thesis submitted to the faculty
of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State
University in partial fulfillment of the
requirement for the degree

Case study

Sendai Mediatheque
Architect - Toyo ito

Toyo Itos Sendai Mediatheque is an example of a building that embraces the

multidimensionality, diversity, and uncertainty of living in a computerized world
(Witte, 2002) by acting as a nodal link that enables an oscillating relationship between
people and information. Ito describes his idea of architecture as a type of fluidity, an
expression of the general instability of the universe and of the transient nature of beings
and things (Witte, 2002). This perception of the universe as transitory, is one of the cultural

factors of Japans affinity for the virtual world with its floating and ephemeral entities
(Witte, 2002). It is in the Sendai Mediatheque, where Ito concentrates on three specific
elements of plates (floors), tubes (columns), and skin (facade and exterior) to bring forth
his cultural and architectural ideals. It is important to state Itos criticism towards the
assumption of architecture as the formation of boundaries from the outside and inside
world. As noted in Reyner Banhams Space and Power (1975), architecture has
evolved to blend interior and exterior spaces as a joint relationship rather than separating
the two. In conjunction with Banham, is Theo van Doesburgs Towards a plastic
architecture (1970), where he stresses the necessity of architecture to be open with the
elimination of interior and exterior boundaries. The Sendai Mediatheque reflects this
blurring by recognizing that the phenomenon of architecture must be conditioned by
the unstable, fluctuating society of the information age. (Witte, 2002). In physicality, the
facade is comprised of a double-paned glass screen with horizontal
stripes, which create a subtle visual effect between the exterior and interior spaces
(Sakamoto et al., 2003). The roof and west wall are covered in metal-louvered screens,
while the north and east walls are covered with varying transparent materials of glass and
metal on each floor (Sakamoto et al, 2003). This allows for an exposure of the inside to the
outside and visibility from the outside to the inside. Since the building faces Jozenji-dori
avenue, the transparency of the facade allows for viewers to recall the tubes within the
building as a homage to the Zelkova trees, which line the avenue (Sakamoto et al. 2003).

The oscillating effect of visuals, people, and information is exactly what Ito desires for this
building to do: To dismantle the organization principles of traditional facilities that usually
constitute for conclusive
functions (Sakamoto et al., 2003). For example, the act of reading books would simulate a
library, and the act of appreciating art would simulate a museum (Sakamoto et al., 2003).
The Sendai Mediatheque has four distinct working zones, the public gallery, library, film
and media center, and an information center. Ito eliminates the barriers
which culturally and physically encase these four activities by firstly acknowledging that
information is, and cannot be contained, therefore it is impossible to place it within a
spatial barriers. Thus, Ito developed an ABABA rhythm within each floor, using the circular
nature of the tubes, A, as forces of energy that repel and the suspended zones of space
between the tubes, B, as pressure spaces to move towards other tubes that are further
away (Witte, 2002). Thus, the relationships between the role of the structure, materials,
surfaces, programs, and spaces allow for an interchangeability and migration of people
(Witte 2002). There is no prescribed path or series of experiences. Rather, each persons
path of experiences is strictly dependent on their desire or need.

diagram | each tube projects a

circular energy outwards and at their
outer rings of energy, it propels the
interstitial energy towards opposing
tubes of energy creating dynamic
movement and space energies

Each persons desire shapes their relationship with the Sendai

Mediatheque, therefore the building itself has no particular role other than being the
space where the sharing, learning, and transferring of information takes place. In this
nodal facility, collection becomes connection. (Sakamoto et al, 2003). This
connection can be connected to four readings. The first being Martin Hiedeggers
Building Dwelling Thinking (1992) and Christian Norberg-Schulzs The
Phenomenon of
Place (1996). In these two readings, both authors stress the relation
between mans need for dwelling in a space, locale, and place.
Since the Sendai Mediatheque was erected for the soul purpose to connect people to
information, space, locale and place become set parameters for this connection to take
place or to dwell within. Thus, the genius loci, or the spirit of the place, is dependent upon
the dwelling of the people to connect to information. Secondly, similar to the ideas
presented in Henri Lefebvres The Production of Space (1968), and Tom
McDonoughs Situationist Space (2004), the idea of navigation by memory or feeling
and the integration of workplaces and dwelling, is the haecciety of the Sendai
Mediatheque. Without any particular walls to
delineate particular activities within the space, each person is compelled to venture where
they desire to go, destroying the traditional Cartesian grid for spaces and sequencing of
events and experiences. Like the Naked City map, each persons trajectory and their
desire to discover in this particular space is completely variable and dependent on each
user, resulting in a very particular and unique experience. The spatial experience is not
unlike walking through the woods. The presence of trees creates different spaces among
which people can choose where to do whatever, in much the same way as humans since
ancient times have

made places to live within the flux of nature. (Sakamoto et al., 2003).

To further the discussion of space, the idea of smooth and striated space brought forth
byGilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari and their 1400: The Smooth and the Striated
discussion, is an interesting concept to use for a comparison to the Sendai Mediatheque. In
order to
successfully discuss the Sendai Mediatheque, two explanations must be made. Firstly, the
building is 50m x 50m x 30m, a large cube where each floor is held up by differing sized
tubes. Their placement and size is dependent on the need to transfer loads into irregularly
columns (Sakamoto et al, 2003). In a sectional view, the volume of the building is exposed
with its tubes and seven floors. Secondly, the notion of smooth and striated space is based
upon the notion of duality, where smooth and striated spaces are not in opposition, but
in a mixture or blending, where one space can revert, create, or render the other space. To
understand this concept in motion in the Sendai Mediatheque, the starting point would
be the initial conception of the building. As noted before, information is not contained,
therefore, it is impossible to place it within spaces of specific activities. Thus, this notion of
information is a smooth space idea, where it advances in concordance to the nature of
research and scientific discovery. Rather than to compartmentalize information, the
Sendai Mediatheque acts as a node or conduit of information. This act of electing to be the
within information begins to construct a particular location and specified physical space
for this trafficking of information to take place, thus it acts as a striated space. Also, the
four programs designated to this building become a type of boundary or set condition for

the building. However, as mentioned above, the four programs become an integrated
experience when people are introduced into the building. The desire to learn and share
governs the internal workings of a people driven body in the building. Thus, the
continuous duality of striated and smooth space can be understood by the idea, structure,
and people.

diagram | while the Sendai

Mediatheque allows for the blurred
distinction between interior and
exterior spaces, its physical transparent
qualities raises a discussion about the
militarization of space when all actions
done by the inhabitants of the building
are easily seen and monitored.

Finally, the physical openess of the Sendai Mediatheque brings up a conversation about
the militarization of space. From Michel Foucaults Means of Correct Training +
Panopticism (1975), Paul Virilios Total Accident (2002),
and Endocolonization and the State-as-Destiny (1997), the problems of surveillance,
discipline, and control were in any part, related to the original intention of the Sendai
Mediatheque. However, it is quite clear that the ability
to see exterior to interior, interior to exterior, and interior to interior, the fashion of
surveillance is quite apparent. Itos intention to make the building spacious and

enable users to move through the space as they wish, becomes surveillance from person
to person, and person to information. From this action, information can
be learned from the people who enter the Sendai Mediatheque for information. However,
the Sendai Mediatheque is a building that offers a space that encourages the exchange of
information. It may be a site that can be easily
pinned as a space for surveillance and security, but its original intention cannot be
overlooked. Toyo Itos desire for a fluidity between human interaction and architecture
becomes a blur when it is manifested in the Sendai Mediatheque.

A good community facility is a place where public and private space harmonizes well,
which has abundant Human Interactive Elements that foster the interaction
among people, and draws various kind of people because it has various programs and
purposes. Hence, a good community facility is a facility which can be shared with the
residents of the area, which forms a space where people gather together and interact,
which forms official ? non-official warm relationship each other, and maintain the order of
neighborhood as a social organization of the community within the spatial affordance. To
afford these spaces, Human Interactive Elements play an important role. Human
Interactive Elements is every architectural elements and facilities that facilitates the
interaction between people which makes people to gather and to bond. The studies about
the Human Interactive Elements of the existing museums and libraries that foster the
interaction between people, concluded that Human Interactive Elements are composed of
two elements. The ''''Material Human
Interactive Elements'''' and the ''''Immaterial Human Interactive Elements'''' that explain
the ''''Material Human Interactive Elements'''' conceptually. 12 Material Human Interactive
Elements were found in the existing museums and

libraries, which were composed of square(where openness is maximized), balcony, pocket

space, bridge, stairs, nude elevator, window(transparency), core(penetration), continuous
floor(continuity), seminar room, hallway, and
furniture. And 6 Immaterial Human Interactive Elements were found which were, Multicenterness, continuity, mixture, mutual-penetration, immaterialization, and transparency.
Sendai Mediatheque had all those Material Human Interactive Elements except bridge,
continuous floor and hallway.

Sendai Mediatheque adopted the open plan(square) where various programs are mixed
which is non-hierarchy. These elements increased the interactions between people.
People especially rely on their sense of sight in the interactions. So while the element
''''square'''' which is one of Human Interactive Elements maintains the openness, it
maximizes the communication by having characters such as mixture, mutual-penetration,
immaterialization, multi-centerness. By these characters synergy occur between spaces
and people''''s interactions.
Hence at this study regarded the ''''open plan'''' as one of the most important Human
Interactive Elements because a lot of interactions happens because of the various Human
Interactive Elements that it has. So this study researched about how Sendai Mediatheque
deals this ''''open plan''''(architectural method, the skill of dividing the plan), to judge the
way how the new mediatheque should be
Having various Human Interactive Elements and at same time to function
architecturally well, the space needed several architectural method.
First to maximize the openness that ables the communication ? interaction while
it maintain the function, at Sendai Mediatheque it maximized the permeability
and adjusted the accessibility. For this at Sendai Mediatheque it tried to get
rid of visual obstacles by using ''''tube structure'''' in non-hierarchy open
plan, while it still functions as a structure. It controlled the accessibility

with fences, furniture that is lower than the people''''s eye view, and by
movable walls. Though it is opened visually because it is lower than the
people''''s eye view, still those furniture had a great influence to the
integration value. When the openness reduces and permeability goes down because
of the high furniture for the privacy, at Sendai Mediatheque it placed middle
floor to gain the height to increase the vertical permeability. And also the
horizontal permeability and the openness were maximized at the middle floor.
Second, to let the public space be more public and private space be more
private(PublicityPrivacy), at Sendai Mediatheque installed bookshelves higher
than people''''s eyesight, utilized pocket space, controlled the exposure by the
arrangement of the furniture, downed the integration value by using narrow
hallway, and made hierarchy by using preponderated ring shape hallway. These
methods controlled the privacy and publicity which occurred various kinds of
interactions. And the study found out that there were a lot of passing occured
where the integration value was high, and contrary to this passing reduced at
where integration value was low and privacy was gained.
For the amelioration of the Sendai Mediatheque, in the principle of to make
public space more public and private space more private based on the previous
studies, the study found out that the bookshelves should be arranged parallel to
the reading seats that require privacy, and if the bookshelves'''' are vertical
to the hallway, the space became more facilitated which were proved by the space
Besides above studies, mediatheque were differentiated from normal libraries
because mediatheque had silent zone and the ''''Gossip Zone''''. These Gossip
Zones(1st Floor Square, 5,6th Floor Exhibition Room) drew various kinds of
people to mediatheque and worked as a facilitation element.

Banham, R. (1975). Space and Power. Age of the Masters, 49-62.
Deleuze, G.; Guattari, F. (1987). 1440: The Smooth and the Striated. A Thousand Plateaus, 474-500.
Doesburg, T. (1970). Towards a plastic architecture. Programs and manifestoes on 20th-century
architecure, 78-80.
Foucault, M. (1975). Means of Correct Training + Panopticism. Discipline and Punish, 1975.
Heidegger, M. (1992). Building Dwelling Thinking. Martin Heidegger Basic Writings, 344-363.
Lefebvre, H. (1968). The Production of Space. Architecture Theory since 1968, 178-188.
McDonough, T. (2004). Situationist Space. Guy Debord and the Situationist International, 241-265.
Norberg-Schulz, C. (1996). The Phenomenon of Place. Theorizing a
New Agenda for Architecure, 414-428.
Orr, D. (2007). Architecture, Ecological Design, and Human Ecology. The Green Braid, 15-33.
Sakamoto, T.; Ferre, A. (2003). Toyo Ito Sendai Mediatheque. Barcelona, Actar.
Virilio, P. (2002). Total Accident. Crepuscular Dawn, 153-155.
Virilio, P. (1997). Endocolonization and the Sate-as-Destiny. Pure War, 91-101.
Witte, R. (2002). Toyo Ito Sendai Mediatheque. Germany, Prestel Verlag.

The Glass House

Architect: Philip Johnson

1. The Glass House, New Canaan, CT. This image would later appear on the cover of Philip Johnson:

The Glass House.

(Courtesy of Norman McGrath. All rights reserved. Used with permission.)

Philip Johnsons 1986 bequest of his Glass House in New

Canaan, CT (Figure 1), to the National Trust for Historic
Preservation would seem to represent an unqualified preservation
success story, one in which an enlightened benefactor
effectively assured the survival of an iconic work of 20th century
Modern architecture for future generations. Yet while a
fight to preserve the material artifact may have been avoided,
the struggle over its meaning, and the interpretive narrative
that will convey it, has yet to begin. Serving as Johnsons personal
residence for more than 50 years, the estate has grown
to include almost a dozen structures, each new addition
reflecting Johnsons appropriation of the latest architectural
style. Thus the estate constitutes not only a distinctively
personal collection of objects, but a more general narrative of
the evolving formal and theoretical preoccupations of
American architectural production, a narrative in which
Johnson himself as played a significant role.1
However significant either the Glass House or its architect
may be, Johnsons bequest raises problematic issues regarding
the preservation of the estate as a national historic site, not
the least of which concerns the nature and content of the
interpretive narrative for a future public audience, an essential
part of the National Trusts mission.2 Given the impending
transformation of the Glass House from a private dwelling to a

public monument, this alteration will correspondingly necessitate

the creation of a new interpretation of the site. In The

Birth of the Museum, Australian sociologist Tony Bennetts

1996 work, the author notes the crucial distinction that takes
place at this moment of transition:
For the simple act of extracting a site from a continuing
history of use and development means that a
frame is put around it, separating that site from what
it was prior to the moment of its preservation.
Dedicated to a new use as, precisely, a historic site, it
becomes a facsimile of what it once was by virtue of
the framewhich may be as simple as a notice or as
elaborate as a piece of legislationwhich encloses it
and separates it off from the present...They announce
a distance between what they are and what they
were through their very function, once placed in a
museum, of representing their own past-ness and,
thereby, a set of past social relations.3
This shift in context is a critical one, for it will require a corresponding
re-evaluation of the history and significance of both
the Glass House and Philip Johnson, and it is precisely at this
moment of transition that the conflicting interests of architectural
history, preservation ethics, and personal intentions are
destined to clash.
In order to construct a new narrative, the Trust will first
have to consider the existing interpretive framework, a narrative
established at the very beginning of the Glass Houses history,
and which has served as the basis for much of the critical
discourse that followed. The principal source of this narrative
is Johnsons own critical interpretation, an unprecedented
essay he first published as House at New Canaan in the
British journal Architectural Review in September of 1950, less
than a year after the houses completion. Here, Johnson cites a
diverse assemblage of historical and contemporary sources for
the design, offering both his formal and theoretical inspirations,
thereby creating a critical framework that would inform
later interpretations by such notable architects and historians
as Kenneth Frampton, Peter Eisenman, Robert Stern, Francesco

Dal Co, and Vincent Scully. In fact, over time the discourse
came to constitute another artifact of the site, later to be
preserved by Johnson in the form of a book entitled, appropriately,

Philip Johnson: The Glass House.4

By reprising his previous roles as historian and critic,
Johnson skillfully promoted the Glass House and, through
association, himself. Johnsons merging of his own identity
with that of the house allowed both subject and object to be
intimately linked in the minds of his audience. This, combined
with Johnsons repeated efforts to keep the house alive in the
critical and popular imagination, served to situate the house
within a framework that simultaneously framed Johnson as
well. Through this close association of subject and object
Johnson ultimately pursued his own immortality, conflating the
concept of the domestic house with that of the historic monument.

Although a thorough account of Johnsons efforts in this

regard lies beyond the scope of this article, one consequence

of these efforts was the development of a narrative that relied

as much on myth as it did on fact.6 In his later interviews, for
example, Johnson described his inspiration for the cylindrical,
brick fireplace as arising from Frank Lloyd Wrights notion of
the central hearth and the distinctly American image of the traditional
New England brick fireplace (Figure 2).7 These sources
emphasize Johnsons American roots and link him, through
association, with Frank Lloyd Wright, arguably Americas greatest
architect, yet not one usually associated with Johnsons
work.8 However, Johnson initially cited very different inspirations
for this element, two of which appear in his 1950 essay
for Architectural Review: a painting by the Russian avant-garde
artist Kasimir Malevitch entitled Suprematist Element Circle
1913, and Johnsons own memories of burnt-out houses in
which all that remained standing was the brick chimney. The
validity of even these two references can be called into question,
9 for it is more than likely that Johnson appropriated this
form from two of Mies van der Rohes earlier projects, both of
which Johnson was intimately familiar with at the time he was
designing the Glass House.10 Nowhere, however, does Johnson
acknowledge these works as having influenced his design
despite his repeated acknowledgement that Mies served as a
prime, and literally unmistakable, source for the Glass House.
Similar efforts by Johnson to frame his own history can be
seen in his film Diary of an Eccentric Architect, first broadcast
on television in 1986, and later intended to serve as an introduction
to the site for future visitors.11 By casting the narrative
as a diary Johnson reinforces the autobiographical nature of
the project, while the format of a personally guided tour led
by the artist allows Johnson to act as the mediator of the sites
history and significance. Johnsons chatty and informal guided
tour, however, is certainly not innocent, due to the inherently
high level of control involved in the interpretation of a site,
including the paths, destinations and duration of a visitors
stay.12 Similarly, narratives can restrict the visitors access to
direct and uncensored knowledge of the subject. By situating
the Glass House within an autobiographical framework,
Johnson suggests that he alone has access to the truth of
his own sources of inspiration and intentions, and that he

alone can accurately relate his own history.

In fact, Johnson makes a similar claim in an

the Museum of Modern Arts Terence Riley, in which Rileys

attempt to correct the historical record concerning the genesis
of Johnsons and Henry-Russell Hitchcocks canonical
International Style MoMA exhibition of 1932. In his article
Riley wrote:
Previously unexamined correspondence shows that
Hitchcock and Johnson conceived the International
Style project first as a book and some time later as
an exhibition, despite their respective recollections to
the contrary. These and other issues surrounding the
chronology of the exhibitions inception and planning
seem to have slipped, not surprisingly, from the
memories of those involved.13
To which Johnson, in a foreword to Rileys piece, nevertheless
maintained that:
Since I am the only living member of the triumvirate
[of Barr, Hitchcock and Johnson], my memory should

be the determining factor in any discussion of the

revival of the show Terence Riley, almost 50 years
my junior has supplanted in this document my memories
as the true story of the early days at the
In fact, Johnsons continual re-framing of history is evident in
the numerous forewords, afterwords, introductions, and postscripts
he has authored, underscoring his desire to cast the
historical record in accordance with his own perceptions, as
well as for his own ends. In what might constitute a partial
explanation, Johnson has noted that history is the product of
the victors.15
Despite his attention to the propagandistic aspects of his
efforts, Johnson never ignored the importance of the actual
physical artifact; for Johnson painstakingly maintained his
Glass House, including all its contents, according to its original
appearance. In fact, it can be argued that the house has
already been preserved, essentially functioning as a permanent
exhibition since its completion in 1949, when its carefully
designed interior was situated within its transparent glass display
case and thereafter meticulously maintained in situ. Thus
Johnson, as curator of this permanent exhibition, has created
a work that seamlessly incorporates both the house and
its occupant within the context of a single visual display, one
that serves to frame both the subject and object simultaneously.
The house thus showcases Johnsons mastery of the art
of display even as it functions as a vehicle for the production
of a carefully manufactured, and tightly controlled, personal
and public identity.
The imposition of an autobiographical frame of reference
has another problematic consequence, specifically in Johnsons
claim of authority based on his personal memory. Indeed, historian
Eric Hobsbawm has cited the general unreliability of
personal memory, particularly the general bias towards selective
and constantly shifting memories inherent to oral histories.
17 While outside sources might be able to verify historical
information, The crucial problem, Hobsbawn argues, is to
know what we can believe when there is nothing to check it

against.18 In other words, in cases where no corroborating

evidence exists, how do we determine when memory has, in
fact, become supplanted by myth?
Similarly, even when we detect that myth has overtaken
fact we are unable, in most cases, to determine its origins, for
this information remains inaccessible to the outside historian,
its sources located within the human mind rather than in
archival documents. Thus Johnsons gift raises critical questions
regarding the extent to which Johnson, as author/donor,
should be the one providing the interpretive framework for the
future narrative. The situation also raises the question of autobiographical
narratives as interpretive strategies, and compels
us to consider how the Trust might attempt a re-interpretation
in which the autobiographical subject is not the only, or even
the primary, source for the construction of a new critical

The Trust can, of course, consult other sources in gathering

their material, and almost certainly will assemble a panel
of experts to guide them in their construction of any future
narrative. Again, however, the Glass House poses a particular
dilemma, for the group of individuals generally regarded as
among the most knowledgeable about Johnson and his career
are the same individuals who are themselves most personally
and professionally connected, and even indebted, to him; a

group Johnson has come to refer to as his kids, including

such luminaries as Peter Eisenman, Robert Stern, and Frank
Gehry. Thus, while these individuals possess an undeniable
wealth of information and insight that would be invaluable to
any interpretive effort, objectivity would be difficult since they
themselves are inextricably bound up with Johnsons legacy. In
addition, since both Eisenman and Stern have already published
their own interpretations of the house it is unlikely that
they would significantly alter their earlier contributions, or reinterpret
the site in a radically different way. In fact, asking
them to do so would in essence be asking them to re-interpret
their own critical history.
Perhaps most troubling, however, is what Johnsons existing
framework would omit were it to be adopted as the scaffolding
for future interpretations. It needs to be recognized
that Johnson has constructed his narrative from the materials
on visual display, thus creating an autobiography that officially
begins in 1949 with the construction of the Glass House
and ends in 1986 with the completion of the Visitors Center
(Figure 3), the two structures providing bookends for
Johnsons narrative. Yet by doing so, Johnson has managed to
exclude important portions of his life, initiating his narrative at
the age of 43, and thereby conveniently editing out some of
the most controversial and, for Johnson, undoubtedly the
most uncomfortable aspects of his personal history. For
instance, while the Glass House might be said to recall
Johnsons early promotion of the International Style and the
designs of Mies, and thus predate his career as an architect,
nowhere does Johnsons current interpretation of the Glass
House make reference to the period between 1934 and 1940,
when Johnson left his influential position as Director of the
Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA in order to
pursue a disastrous career in right-wing politics while publicly
supporting the Fascists in Germany.21
The consequences of these actions, however, contributed
to Johnsons decision in 1940 to enter Harvards Graduate
School of Design in an attempt to resurrect his career and his

image through architecture.22 Similarly, Johnsons emphasis on

a formalist reading of the site consequently allowed him to
evade references that might extend beyond the realm of the
aesthetic. Given the controversial yet important aspects of
Johnsons life prior to 1949 it is therefore essential that any
future interpretation of the Glass House include references to
Johnsons entire personal history, and not merely re-present
the subjects own self-edited version of that history.
Should the Trust maintain Johnsons current narrative as
the operative framework for its future interpretation, the Glass
House would merely continue to operate within its present
context, thereby providing a vehicle for Johnsons own project
of self-preservation. It would enable Johnson to set the ground
rules for his own historicization through the creation of a selfauthored
memorial site that satisfies a personal desire for
immortality. The mandate of the National Trust, however,
charges it with serving the public interest, rather than that of
any individual. It will therefore be the responsibility of the
National Trust to re-frame Johnsons narrative within a larger
interpretive structure that critically engages both the history of
the Glass House and Philip Johnson, an effort that would ideally
open the site up to multiple narratives and a more complex
reading than the narrow one Johnsons framework currently
offers. The final result of such a re-framing would be a more
challenging presentation of the site, one in which its significance
is expanded even while its meaning might be probelmatized,
where questions are posed as well as answered, and
where the Glass House might serve the memory of its creator
while enabling the Trust to honor its commitment to a public

Montessori School Fuji Kindergarten

Takaharu + Yui Tezuka
Inhabiting the roof
Famous since 2001 for the Roof House, Tezuka architects
design with Fuji Kindergarten a new inhabited roof.
A Roof House for 500 children was the requirement of
the kindergarten director, after a project meeting held,
thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Takahashi hospitality, on the roof
of the house. In the Roof House the roof is a solarium,
a dining room and a kitchen: a wooden lightly inclined
roof, made habitable by a table, some chairs, a kitchen
and a shower, that each inhabitant of the house can
reach from his room through a personal stair. What is
roof in Tezuka architecture? Rarely it is the close of the
building, more often it is a space to be colonized. Even
before the Roof House, small houses surrounded by
high buildings gain the sky through the roof: they are
the Houses who Catch the Sky.
Fuji Kindergarten project mainly consists in the roof: a
183 m. outer diameter and 108 m. inner diameter ring
built around an oval playground.
The project is the demolition and reconstruction of a
private kindergarten in Tokyo suburbs, led according
to creativity and participation principles of Montessori
method. The new building translates these principles
in an habitability and space permeation oriented
architecture. The kindergarten has an oval plan, the
classrooms, 2,50 meters high in order to keep the child
size, are distributed within the ring structure all around
the playground. There are no separations between the
classrooms, and the sliding doors on to the courtyard
are open for eight months a year. The oval plan guarantees
communication and visibility among all the parts
of the building. No hidden spaces, no no-entries and no
hierarchies: children can move from one classroom to

the other and even the directors room is just a zone of

the ring, as visibile as the others are. Separations are
only up to three thousand wooden boxes which are at
disposal to be freely placed in the space.
The old building used to have a garden with three big
zelkowa trees. The new one keeps the trees. Not in the
playground, that is deliberately empty, but in the body of
the building. The structure is sospended for not damaging
the roots, the trees go through the classrooms
perforating the roof. Over the roof around the tree a
rope net saves children from falling down.

The roof is a space more for playing.

It is possibile to get up from the inside
by some stairs and to get down in the
oval ground by other stairs that end over
some one meter high earth mountains.
Every now and then the roof is pierced
by irregularly placed skylights. There
are no playing equipments, initially for
economic reasons, eventually for choice:
using the roof is the game.
Within so precise a scheme there is a
careful research of imperfections: the
roof is lightly inclined and the oval of the
plan is lightly irregular, being transferred
from a first hand made drawing, in order
to make architecture less exact and more
human. In fact the aim of this architecture
is to comply with everyday life.

Wooden boxes for classroom separation

are placed in pile with childrens help, the
chaos of the communicating rooms is
an exercise for their power of concentration,
the fountains are the places where
children assemble for playing, the lights
are suspended bulbs, each to be lighten
up by pulling a lace, the roof edge is a
place where to seat hanging the feet
beyond the railing, skylights are cubs to
be climbed and the whole roof ring is a
track where to run for many rounds. If
kindergarten educational method is to
multiply the experiences, this is its direct
translation into arcitecture. And Fuji
Kindergarten more generally reflects the
objectives of Tezuka architecture, where
people come first
After studying in Englad for a while and
practising in Richard Rogers office,
its about ten years that Tezuka work
in Tokyo, revising in the light of their
european experience the japanese
tradition. In a place where architecture
temporariness is the rule, they build for
permanence and they search for beauty
in the sense of things. Their research
lies rather in extracting the meaning from
architectural elements, making it evident,
than in the form. Architecture works
with people, and if people cannot catch
its meaning, it fails its mission. At the
kindergarten vernissage five hundreds
pupils sitting on the roof where interpreting
the meaning of tis architecture.

-Fabrizia Ippolito