Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Book - Raumplan Versus Plan Libre

The concepts of two giants of modern architecture in comparison will nail you to the chair for a while, this is a thriller. 'Raumplan Versus Plan Libre' edited by Max Risselada and published by 010 Publishers is a comprehensive and in depth comparison between the concepts of space of Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier. While Loos is almost some twenty years older than Le Corbusier both architects work was influential for the modernist movement and still is today.
The publication originates in 1987 as a catalogue to accomplish an exhibition with the same title. The exhibition was initiated to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Le Corbusier. Since then more than 20 years have passed and things have changed. Particularly new research on the work, scholarly contribution and context of the individual characters has shed some new light on the subject of this publication. This is the reason for this republication, now as a standalone book. There are also some changes to the content with new essays.

Image by 010 Publishers / Spread of the publication showing part of the chronology.

The publication is structured in three parts. The first being five essays by scholars about the two main characters and their work respectively. The second part is called typology and is documenting a series of buildings with photographs, plans, texts and axonometry. The third part then is made of four essays, two each by Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier.
The first part has an adjacent chronology which briefly summarizes the work and puts them in relation to one another as well as in a wider context. I think it is a good idea to start reading the book with this section. Even before reading the introduction, because this perfectly summarizes the content covered while portraying the two protagonists as well as at the same time setting the context. Second it is probably a good idea to read into the essays by Loos and Le Corbusier in section three, definitely if you are not familiar with their writing. Because, this is what this book is al about, the different positions. Without having an idea of what and especially how, the two characters formulate their perspective and credo it is difficult to understand the differences.
This is not to say the explanations and texts added to the publication about the work by external people are of lesser quality. Moreover, they are very good, but make more sense equipped with the tone of the original work discussed. The section in between, the typology section, really is something to jump into at any time. It is very much a catalogue and can be used to look up details discussed in the other sections. There is usually a short introduction text, plans and sections and images. Often those are complemented by an axonometry or sketches.

Image by 010 Publishers / Spread of the publication showing examples of the colour usage by Adolf Loos.

I very much like this section, it invites for discovery tours browsing the buildings and directly comparing the different solutions chosen by each architect. The confusing element is the mix of graphical methods to represet the different pieces of information. Some of the pans are reproduced from the original drawing. Maybe it would have been nice to have a consistent representation method, thus reproducing the diagrams. For me the chosen approach adds to a feeling of slightly old and dust covered information. Some freshness could have breathed more live into the comparison. To some extend the section on the use of colour is more vital in this respect.
Overall, it is only a shame, that the publication still has the appearance of an exhibition catalogue. Compared to so many of the other 010 publications this one really doesn't have the design or feel to it. If you are unsure whether this is a 010 publication stare for five minutes at the past-down endsheet and you will now and have a yellow glare on everything for the rest of the day, subtle marketing.
This is a great book to enter and listen into a debate between two of the greatest architect of the last century.

Risselada, M. ed., 2008. Raumplan Versus Plan Libre, Rotterdam: 010 Publishers.

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