You are on page 1of 15





Following the ―form follows function‖ ideology can result in buildings without feeling,
buildings which are unpleasant to experience, live in or look at.

Following the opposite ideology of ―function follows form‖ can leave us with buildings
which may look good but cannot be used due to their impracticality.

This probably means that it is neither function nor form which should take the lead in a
successful design. The users are what make or break a building. A building‘s function
can only come into practice if the building is actually used. The beauty and form of a
building are only important if they are experienced by the users. Users are what drive
architecture, so maybe the ideology that we should follow is one in which ―architecture
follows people‖. Architects who have put people at the forefront are lesser known,
however it is their architecture which has been experienced the way architecture
should be. Such architecture is maybe the longest-lasting.

 N John Habraken: Supports - An Alternative to Mass Housing (1961)
 Aldo Van Eyck: Team 10 Primer (1962)
 Giancarlo De Carlo: Architecture‘s Public (1970)
 Anne Whiston Spirn: The Granite Garden (1984)


N John Habraken: Supports - An Alternative to Mass Housing (1961)

N John Habraken is a Dutch architect born in 1928. He was also an educator and a
theorist. Habraken was the director of Stichting Architecten Research (SAR), which was
a group of architects who explored the possibilities of support structures and infill
building as an alternative to mass housing.

He mainly worked through research, writing and teaching. He also worked in private

Habraken maintained the view that the built environment is a living thing and that
change, occurring in a pattern, is one of its characteristics. This belief led to his proposal
for support structures, which are not dwellings or buildings in themselves but a kind of
framework to contain these. Buildings can be constructed within them and be
removed or replaced according to needs of the users. They:

 enable the occupants to be involved through a changing structure according to

their needs
 distinguish between industrial production and site labour
 distinguish between the general and the particular, industrial development
occurs, but so does site labour as the structure evolves
 make possible the living, evolving town
 offer, as the framework of a town, great opportunities in town planning terms
 bring to an end artificial aspects of the way in which society is housed
 distinguish between the field of the architect and that of the town planner
 encourage the growth of a new society

Habraken believes that the built environment is self-organising. He has confidence in

human nature to develop this structure according to human realities and relationships,
which constantly change and require a design that can accommodate these
changes. He spoke about the need for human relationships to be restored in housing
without ignoring technical possibilities of the time. However, technological aspects
cannot be considered alone as this would leave us with something like mass housing.
Support towns are an answer to this, creating a balance between human relationships
and technological advances.

This kind of open building includes the participation of different kinds of professionals. It
provides a way of building which is sustainable because the structure can be adjusted
according to social and/or technical needs. Open building involves certain levels of
decision-making, which are spread over quite a long time-span. The three main levels
are tissue, support and infill. The tissue level is above the buildings. It represents the

town, which remains the same while the buildings within it can be altered. The buildings
then can be divided into base-building at support level and fit-out at infill level.

Levels of decision-making (N John Habraken)


Aldo Van Eyck: Team 10 Primer (1962)

Aldo Van Eyck is another Dutch architect, born in 1918.

He was a member of Team 10, a group of younger architects which originated from
within CIAM (Congresse Internationaux d‘ Architecture Moderne). Team 10 believed
that CIAM‘s vision had done too much damage to the urban environment, in
particular housing. Consequently, Team 10 opposed to CIAM‘s doctrine of splitting up

the built environment into four separated functions (dwelling, work, recreation and
circulation). They wanted to evolve a reintegrated city, which responded to human
communication, rather than to the Athens Charter. All members had different ideas,
but they all shared an interest in moving away from functionalism towards a built
environment which depended on human relationships.

Van Eyck was perhaps the most active in suggesting and coming up with designs which
moved away from the coldness and emptiness of Functionalism and the Athens
Charter. He gave importance to the experience of the user and the feeling connected
to a place rather than just looking at the function of a space. Architecture, for him, was
a more important concern than urbanism. He combines Modernist idealism with a sense
of surprise more associated with Post-Modernism

Van Eyck says that man is both the subject and object of architecture. Man creates
spaces or places, and it is also man who will use these spaces. Buildings are built by
man, and for man.

―Space has no room; time not a moment; for man... Whatever time and space mean,
place and occasion mean more‖

In order for man to be included, space must become place and time must become

Architecture‘s purpose is to construct ‗places‘ for people, capable of creating

memories. Architecture should be something alive; breathing, reacting and responding
to the inhabitants.

Van Eyck talks about the use of the ―in between‖, giving as much importance to the
between as to the surrounding, helps to intertwine people with the architecture. This
can be seen in his designs, particularly in the Amsterdam orphanage. The orphanage
consists of a number of communal areas connected by internal streets. The residential
areas, with their own individual outdoor space, are placed in a staggered manner
along these streets. The space in between the residential units is designed to be a
journey between places. It is a place in itself. The design of the orphanage was a result
of the daily life of staff and residents. It is a design that fits perfectly with the activity that
occurs within it.

Aldo Van Eyck believed in a combination of three influencing traditions: the classical,
the modern and the archaic. He visualised this in a two-circle diagram. The left circle
represents architecture and depicts each of these three traditions, describing the
classical as ―immutability and rest‖ using the Parthenon as a representing image, the
modern as ―change and movement‖ using a counter-construction of Van Doesberg to
represent this, and the archaic as ―the vernacular of the heart‖ using a Pueblo village
to depict it. He believed that these three traditions could be combined to form a

structure which could meet the needs of users in a contemporary world. The other circle
represents the reality of human relationships and depicts Kayapó Indians dancing and
forming a circular or spiral pattern. The form created expands or contracts according to
the rhythm of the dance. These two circles cannot exist independently as architecture
is created for humans and similarly, humans need shelter. Architecture (the structure
formed as a result of the three traditions) must deal with a constantly changing society,
with aspects which remain the same and aspects that have changed and will keep on

Otterlo Circles, Aldo van Eyck

He was interested in comparing social structures to traditional built forms, visiting North
West Africa to study the shelter of the Dogon people.



Giancarlo De Carlo - Architecture‘s Public (1970)

Giancarlo De Carlo was an Italian architect, born in 1919 in Genoa. Like Van Eyck, he
was also a core member of Team 10.

He worked as an architect during a time chaos due to varied political views. This
affected his architectural philosophy. His planning and design is inspired by libertarian
socialism (promoting a non-hierarchical, non-bureaucratic, stateless society). De Carlo
was active in the Italian anti-fascist resistance as well as the post-war Italian anarchist
movement. He was anti-establishment, and criticised architects for their preoccupation
with form and glossy images over the social and lived experience.

Through his designs and beliefs, he reacts against the controlling nature of Modernism.
He believed in an architecture that should not control the people, but be affected by
them. He saw architecture as an activity of compromise, with his designs expressing the
integration of human, physical, cultural and historical forces.

At the 10th Milan Triennale in 1954, Giancarlo de Carlo took part in the Town Planning
Exhibition through 3 films which criticised modern town-planning. One of these films,
―Una lezione d'urbanistica”, begins by depicting a home inhabited by an ordinary man
oppressed by design of his own which has been designed with windows which are
blocked by a table that does not fit anywhere else in the room, openings which cannot
be left open because the shower water would end up reaching the bed and other
problems which the architect/town-planner did not consider. This film later shows three
architects standing around a city map as if they are technicians applying remedies to a
sick patient. ‗Architect A‘ would fix the fine architecture, ‗Architect B‘ would fix the
problems with traffic and ‗Professor C‘ would fix the typifications. The film ends with a
final reassurance: the ―Go into your city, man, and work with those who want to make it
more similar to you‖. A similar positive note on the destiny of the city also appears half-
way through another of his films, ―La città degli uomini”, when, after a reading of the
main problems affecting the big cities, the rhythm of the images changes abruptly,
becoming lively and festive and revealing the positive sides of life in the city. ―The city is
bad housing, cheerless labour, humiliation, degradation and worry. But it is also hope,
openness, a stimulus to communication and to freedom. In the city all the assets of the
world - science, technique, production and art - are developed‖.

De Carlo‘s writing discussed ‗Architecture‘s Public‘ is taken from his paper ‗Architecture,
too important to be left to the architects?‘ where he talks about the change that needs
to occur in order to create architecture which is sensitive to the users.

“... all barriers between builders and users must be abolished, so that building and using
become two different parts of the same planning process.”

He believes that builders and users should not be treated as separate entities, but rather
be combined, making building and using become two different parts of a unified
planning process. This is similar to Van Eyck‘s philosophy of having buildings built by
people and for people.

The users should not be forced to be passive, but become the architects and each
have a specific impact on decisions. De Carlo talked about the importance of moving
away from the (then) present condition where, being an architect means being a
dictator, resulting in architecture which is the result of reference to class codes and
does not consider the personal needs of the users. In the paper he talks about the
change that needs to happen, but that cannot happen automatically. Something
must be done to change architecture from architecture-as-it-is-waiting to architecture-
as-it-will-be. The only possible way to move forward, according to him, is for the whole
range of objects and subjects which are part of the architectural process to be
changed immediately. In this way, he believes that architecture‘s credibility can be

De Carlo believed that a project should begin with the assumption that everyone is
different and has different needs. Each building is different from another because it has
different users, and even within the same building, users may have different needs.
Considering the way of life of the user is essential in designing a building that can
accommodate this. It cannot be assumed that all users are the same or similar. Each
project is different, and in every case, the users‘ needs must be discovered. This cannot
be done just by observation. Participation of the user in the planning process is
essential. The values of the architect and of the user must intertwine at this stage,
resulting in a design that does not impose on the users, but is sensitive to them. The
hierarchy of the architect above the user must dissolve, with the users also having
power and being able to have a say in the design of a space which is going to be used
by them. In this way the authoritarian nature of architecture can be transformed into a
process, a process which is not led by just the architect.

Architects and planners are not in favour of participation, De Carlo believes, because
this would mean that they lose a portion of their power to the user. Even academics are
not in favour of it because it would make their researching useless. However he thinks
that power given to the user is desirable as it is not the architect or the researcher who
knows best about a place which is going to be used by people with different lifestyles
to them.

"Professionals are against participation because it destroys the arcane privileges of

specialisation, unveils the professional secret, strips bare incompetence, multiplies
responsibilities and converts them from the private into the social.
Academic communities are against it because participation nullifies all the schemes on
which teaching and research are based."

Giancarlo De Carlo, 'An Architecture of Participation', Perspecta, 17 (1980)

De Carlo talks about the phases architectural planning must pass through:

1. Discovery of user‘s needs
2. Formulation of formal and organizational hypotheses
3. Phase of use
4. Process re-opened and reformulations are made, depending on the redefinition
of needs which is continuous.

Therefore, the process is never-ending, with planning which is ever-changing.

“The essential purpose of architecture is to organise and shape

 space for use, to consign it to individual and collective experience,
 to expose it to the effects of time: so that it ages, becomes stratified,
 continues to be enriched with meanings, until at a certain
 point it begins to design and redesign itself, seemingly by its own
 volition, to endure and hand down the most eloquent records of
 human events.”

Giancarlo De Carlo in his Journal Spazio e Societa (2001)

De Carlo mentions the need to reject a private and exclusive way of using land,
making the user the focus of the development and thus allowing the user to have a
creative role in the planning process. The political framework needs to be adjusted in
order to have a stimulating and balanced environment for everyone, and not just the


Anne Whiston Spirn: The Granite Garden (1984)

Anne Whiston Spirn was born in 1947. Her manifesto is rather different to the previous
ones. This is probably because it was written at a later period, at a time when ecology
was brought to the forefront. She also tackles architecture for people, but in a
somewhat indirect way, designing cities for them because both the city and the user
are part of nature and cannot exist without each other. The environment must be
adapted to human needs, but this must be done in a sustainable way.

―Human survival and the survival of life on earth depend upon adapting ourselves and
our landscapes—cities, buildings, gardens, roadways, rivers, fields, forests—in new, life-
sustaining ways‖

Anne Whiston Spirn „The Granite Garden‟

She is a landscape architect, environmental planner and photographer, trained to

design new communities that accommodate both human purpose and natural
processes. However, she was concerned with the reclamation of damaged land at the
centre of the city rather than the development of the edge of a city.

Spirn wanted people living in the city to benefit from the environment. After all, the city
is also a part of nature. She wanted users of the inner city to have clean air to breathe,
clean water to drink, a garden plot where crops could be grown, access to meadows
and woodlots.

Anne Whiston Spirn‘s book ―The Granite Garden‖ was published in 1984. It helped give
rise to a movement. This is a book about nature in cities and what the city could be like
if designed to be in harmony with natural processes, rather than in ignorance of them or
opposing them.

Cities, according to Spirn, are not meant to fragment nature. The whole urban natural
environment should be considered as a single interacting system. In this way, the value
of nature in the city can be experienced.

Nature is not just trees and shrubs, it is found throughout the city, creating a bond
between the users and the elements. Trees and shrubs are not what represent nature in
the city. Nature according to Anne Whiston Spirn is ―the air we breathe, the earth we
stand on, the water we drink, and the organisms with which we share our habitat‖.

Nature in the city can be anything, from organisms in the building stone, to earthquakes
and landslides, to rain running through sewers, to the sun or wind, to the water coming
out of our faucets. Nature is a result of interactions between human beings and other
living organisms and of the transfer of energy creating a number of processes. The city is
part of nature.

A city is not something unnatural, it is a transformation of nature acting alone, where

nature has been affected by humans in order to serve needs of the time. Land is
cultivated in order to obtain food to eat, dwellings are built in order for humans to have
shelter, railways are constructed in order from humans to get from one place to
another. These are just a few of the actions through which humans impact the
environment, particularly in the city where there is a high concentration of humans
living. However this has not destroyed nature. Nature is still present within a highly
developed city. Natural processes which occur in the ―wilderness‖ or in areas
unaffected by humankind still occur in the city.

“Air, however contaminated, is always a mixture of gasses and suspended particles.

Paving and building stone are composed of rock, and they affect heat gain and water

runoff just as exposed rock surfaces do anywhere. Plants, whether exotic or native,
invariably seek a combination of light, water, and air to survive.”

Anne Whiston Spirn „The Granite Garden‟

The urban natural environment needs to be understood in the first place in order for a
planner or an architect to take over the design of a city. All aspects of the city should
be combined and placed carefully in order to obtain a unified plan. The location,
shape and size given to particular areas within the city need to be thought out. Patterns
of the transportation network, housing, leisure and industry should be integrated into a
whole functioning city, designed in accordance with nature. A cohesive plan includes
everything from streams and rivers to parks and fields to parking lots and highways. It
helps to improve the quality of living for inhabitants due to better climate and air
quality, reduction in flooding and improving the quality of water. Also, in this way,
energy can be conserved and the probability of the occurrence of geological hazards
can be reduced leading to a city which is not only safe to its inhabitants, but is also a
healthy place to live.

A city can grow and evolve with nature if natural processes are appreciated. In the
preface of ‗The Granite Garden‘, Anne Whiston Spirn uses an extract from Claude
Leevi-Strauss‘ ‗Tristes Tropiques‘ to show that cities are a manifestation of nature.

―Cities have often been likened to symphonies and poems, and the comparison seems
to me a perfectly natural one. They are in fact objects of the same kind. The city may
even be rated higher since it stands at the point where nature and artifice meet. A city
is a congestion of animals whose biological history is enclosed within its boundaries, and
yet every conscious and rational act on the part of these creatures helps to shape the
city's eventual character. By its form as by the manner of its birth, the city has elements
at once of biological procreation, organic evolution, and esthetic creation. It is both a
natural object and a thing to be cultivated; individual and group; something lived and
something dreamed. It is the human invention par excellence.”

Claude Leevi-Strauss ‗Tristes Tropiques‟

Nature, according to Whiston Spirn, is not a luxury within the city. Rather, nature
underlies everything that constitutes a city. Nature is the force that keeps the city alive.
It is what causes the ever-changing nature of the city. You cannot bring nature to a city
by planting trees, because that is not what nature is. A city works when parks, buildings,
drainage of streets and sewage systems are considered and designed in accordance
with nature, not when looking at nature superficially and including trees and lawns here
and there.



Habraken and DeCarlo‗s ideologies are rather different, however they both believe in
the user‘s input. Whereas Habraken creates the original structure and allows the user to
manipulate it, De Carlo wants the user to be part of the planning process from the
beginning. Both of their ideologies remained at a theoretical stage, unlike in the case of
Aldo Van Eyck. Van Eyck, however did not consider the participation of the user, but
still designs with the user in mind. The user is relieved of decision-making and is given a
place that meets his or her needs because of the thought process which the architect
has undergone. Being members of Team 10, both De Carlo and Van Eyck wanted to
create architecture which was sensitive to the user‘s needs.


In all the mentioned manifestos, the architects/planners consider people to be of great
importance in the design. Buildings are built for the users. Habraken designs structures
for an ever-changing society, giving the users a building which can be altered to their
liking or requirements. Similarly, De Carlo talks about the importance of the user‘s
participation in order to build dwellings which are designed specifically for the
inhabiting people. Van Eyck‘s designs are very user-specific. They consider the activity
that will take place within them. He talks about the importance of creating ―places‖ for
users, and not just spaces, where memory can be created and experienced.

Both N John Habraken and Aldo Van Eyck practice structuralism, breaking away from
functionalism and rationalism in order to create a living urban environment and giving
importance to the identity of the users. Van Eyck manifested this in the Aesthetics of
Number, in his forms with importance given to in-between space. Habraken practices
structuralism by bringing an element of change through participation of the users in the
design of housing. Habraken believed in an environment that could be manipulated by
the user according to current needs. While Van Eyck does not consider this kind of
participation of the user, the user is not forgotten. The user is given utmost importance,
and the place is designed keeping in mind human relationships.

The mentioned architects/planners may have had different views about the
manifestation of built areas, however they all looked at the built environment and the
city as a living, ever-changing entity. In Spirn‘s case, the city and its inhabitants are
considered as an integral part of nature, just like trees, shrubs and other organisms.
Change is an integral part of nature, and must be accommodated for in designs, which
should be self-sustaining and allow this change to occur. Similarly, Habraken believed
that change needs to be considered. His manifestation of this belief resulted in his
support structures which could be ‗edited‘ by the users to suit required changes in a
society constantly in motion (just like nature, or as Spirn affirms, part of nature). Even De
Carlo speaks about change, talking about how the built environment is constantly
changing due to the needs of an evolving society. Thus the planning process is never-
ending. Change is also mentioned by Van Eyck in his Otterlo Circles and is represented
by a group of dancing Kayapó Indians, moving in a pattern that is ever-changing, just
like society.


 Theories and manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture – Charles Jencks and
Karl Kropf (1997)
 Twentieth-century architecture in the Netherlands - Hans van Dijk (1999)
 Palladio's Children – N J Habraken (2005)
 The Structure of the Ordinary , Form and Control in the Built Environment – N J
Habraken (2000)
 The Granite Garden - Anne Whiston Spirn (1985)


 Ype Cuperus – An Introduction to Open Building
available from:
 Dr Stephen Kendall - An Open Building Strategy for Converting Obsolete Office
Buildings to Residential Uses (2003)
available from:
 Anna-Lena Hemgård – Between Contrasts (2008)
available from:
 Francis Strauven - Aldo van Eyck – Shaping the New Reality From the In-between
to the Aesthetics of Number (2007)
available from:
 Andreas Müller – The Fundamental Protagonist
available from: http://www.field-
 Anne Whiston Spirn – The City as a Garden (Illume, 2002)
available from:





Related Interests