Violletleduc And The Rational Conception Of A House

Viollet-le-Duc's greatest contribution to plan design was the conscious recognition that a plan should be generated from a program of functional requirements. This program necessarily begins with a list of the functions the prospective new building is expected to house, together with an understanding of how they are to be interrelated. It must also include practical and aesthetic desiderata, in order to provide healthful, safe, and pleasant accommodation for those functions. This understanding of the basis for planning was, to him, the great lesson to be learned from ancient Roman architecture, which he articulated in the Entretiens sur l'architecture. The way to get from the program to the plan and then to the total design was the rational method he had set out in Histoire d'une maison.

According to Viollet-le-Duc, a house plan must begin with the parlor, the space for the activity of central importance. Activities of secondary importance, such as dining, must then be either adjacent or nearby. Spaces for other secondary or tertiary activities may need to be arranged next to them, as dependencies, and so on. Intervening circulation space may separate some of these spaces from others, depending upon the nature of their relationships. Although he did not name this formulation, it is an organic approach to plan development. It encourages a refinement of the arrangement until all the functions conveniently relate to one another and to the whole, like the parts of a human body. It does not foster a bilaterally symmetric result, and indeed Viollet-le-Duc insisted that a symmetrical result should not be sought. Rather, he maintained, a rational, organically generated plan not only makes visual sense but is also far more likely to be beautiful than a plan stuffed into a preconceived box. Moreover, its window openings should be placed exactly where they are needed from the inside and should vary in size according to the needs of the interior. The variations, he asserted, will make sense on the outside in relation to the asymmetry of the plan and massing.

In the Entretiens sur l'architecture, a scheme for a hypothetical urban mansion presented a refined idea of zoning activities within the plan (fig. 9-6). The imaginary household for which the city house was designed included

Figure 9-6

Functionally zoned plan: hypothetical mansion, by Viollet-le-Duc (Discourses).

Figure 9-6

Functionally zoned plan: hypothetical mansion, by Viollet-le-Duc (Discourses).

a great many functions, and the house accommodated not only the resident family but also a large staff of servants and a number of guests. Varying needs were to be met by segregating service areas from family areas, hospitality areas from the private ones, and in all cases quiet activities from the noisy. The residential portion of the household was placed at the back of the property, as far from the street as possible, and the courtyard was closed off from the street by extending the service area across the front. This zoning motive fostered the composition of the plan as a series of wings jutting out from a central reception core. Such an arrangement in turn facilitated provision of maximum exposure to light and air for all the residential rooms. The result was an uninhibited asymmetry of massing and a lively variety of window types and placements (fig. 9-7). Although the design had no particular visual distinction, the verbal explanation made it seem revolutionary to younger architects, and it exerted considerable influence upon the development of modern architecture.

The theories of domestic architecture enunciated by Downing and Viollet-le-Duc provided a foundation for the disparate conceptions of modern residential architecture devised by Wright and Le Corbusier. Their respective formulations of the organic house and the machine house have, in various permutations and combinations, provided the conceptual basis for most modern modes of residential design. Those formal strains that have countered modernity with "traditional" styles may equally be said to grow out of Downing's pioneering theory.

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