Theo van Doesburg’s “Towards a Plastic Architecture” (1924)

Translated from the Dutch by Hans L.C. Jaffé.

In De Stijl.  (H.N. Abrams.  New York:1971).

• • •

1.  Form. The basis for a sound development of architecture (and of art in general) is to overcome every idea of form, in the sense of preconceived type.

Instead of taking as a model earlier types of style and, in so doing, imitating earlier styles, it is necessary to pose the problem of architecture completely afresh.

2.  The new architecture is elementary, that is, it is developed from the elements of building, in the widest sense.  These elements, such as function, mass, plane, time, space, light, color, material, etc., are at the same time elements of plasticism.

3.  The new architecture is economical, i.e., it organizes its elementary means as efficiently and economically as possible, without wasting means or material.

4.  The new architecture is functional, i.e., it is developed from the accurate assessment of practical requirements that it lays down in a clear ground plan.

5.  The new architecture is formless and yet determinate, i.e., it does not recognize any preconceived formal frame-work; any mould in which are cast the functional spaces arising from practical dwelling requirements.

In contrast with all previous styles, the new architectural method does not recognize any self-contained type, any basic form.

The subdivision of the functional spaces is strictly determined by rectangular planes, which possess no individual forms in themselves, since, although they are limited (the one plane by the other), they can be imagined extended into infinity, thereby forming a system of coordinates, the different points of which would correspond to an equal number of points in universal, open space.

From this it follows that the planes possess a direct tensile relationship with open (exterior) space.

6.  The new architecture has freed the concept of monumentally from notions of large and small (since the word ‘monumental’ has been misused it has been replaced by the word ‘plastic’).  The new architecture has demonstrated that everything stems from relationship, the relationship of opposites.


7.  The new architecture does not recognize a single passive moment.  It has conquered the opening (in the wall).  The window possesses an active significance as openness in opposition to the closed character of the wall plane.  Nowhere does there appear simply a hole or a void, everything is strictly determined by its contrast.  (Compare the various counter-constructions in which the elements comprising architecture — plane, line and mass — have been placed loosely in a three-dimensional relationship.)

8.  The plan. The new architecture has disrupted the wall and, in so doing, destroyed the division between inside and outside.

Walls are no longer load-bearing; they have been reduced to points of support.  As a result, a new open plan has been created, differing completely from the Classical plan in that internal and external space are interpenetrating.

9.  The new architecture is open.  The whole consists of a single space, which is subdivided according to functional requirements.  This subdivision is effected by means of separating planes (interior) or sheltering planes (exterior).

The former, which separate the various functional spaces from one another, may be mobile…,’ the separating planes (former internal walls) may be replaced by moveable screens or slabs (under which category the doors may also be included).  In a later stage of its development the plan will have to disappear completely.  The spatial composition projected in two dimensions, set down in a plan, will be replaced by an accurate constructional calculation, a calculation that will have to reduce the bearing power to the simplest, but most resistant, points of support.  Euclidean mathematics will not be of any service to us in this task, which will be easily achieved, however, with the aid of non-Euclidean calculations in four dimensions.

10.  Space and time. The new architecture takes account not only of space, but also of time as an accent of architecture.  The unity of time and space gives the appearance of architecture a new and completely plastic aspect (four-dimensional temporal and spatial plastic aspects).

11.  The new architecture is anti-cubic, i.e., it does not strive to contain the different functional space cells in a single closed cube, but it throws the functional space (as well as canopy planes, balcony volumes, etc.) out from the centre of the cube, so that height, width and depth plus time become a completely new plastic expression in open spaces.

In this way architecture (in so far as this is constructionally possible — [187] task for the engineers!) acquires a more or less floating aspect which, so to speak, runs counter to the natural force of gravity.

12.  Symmetry and repetition. The new architecture has destroyed both monotonous repetition and the rigid similarity of two halves, the mirror image, symmetry.  It does not recognize repetition in time, the street wall or standardization.  A group of buildings is as much a whole as is a detached house.  The same laws apply to the building group and to the town as to the detached house.  Against symmetry the new architecture sets the balanced relationship of unequal parts, i.e., of parts which, because of their different functional character, differ in position, dimension, proportion and location.

The equal importance of these parts derives from the equilibrium of inequality and not from equality.  The new architecture has also made ‘front’ and ‘back,’ ‘right’ and possibly also ‘above’ and ‘below’ equal in value.

13.  In contrast to the frontality sanctified by a rigid static concept of life, the new architecture offers a plastic wealth of multi-faceted temporal and spatial effects.

14.  Color. The new architecture has destroyed painting as a separate, imaginary expression of harmony, whether secondary through representation or primary through color planes.

Color planes form an organic part of the new architecture as an element of the direct expression of its time and space relationships.  Without color these relationships are no living reality; they are not visible.

The equilibrium of architectural relationships first becomes visible reality through color.  The modern painter’s task is to organize this into a harmonious whole (not in a plane, not in two dimensions, but in the new field: four-dimensional time-space).  In a further stage of development, color is to be replaced by denaturalized material with its own color (task of the chemists); but only when demanded by practical requirements.

15.  The new architecture is anti-decorative.  Color (and the color-shy must try to realize this!) is not decorative or ornamental, but an organic element of architectural expression.

16.   Architecture as a synthesis of the new plasticism. In the new architecture, building is understood as a part, the sum of all the arts, in their most elementary manifestation, as their essence.  It offers the possibility of thinking in four dimensions, i.e., the plastic architect, under which heading I also include the painter, has to construct in the new field, time-space.


Since the new architecture does not permit any imagination (in the form of free painting or sculpture), the intention is to create from the outset a harmonic whole with all essential means, so that each architectural element plays a part in creating, on a practical and logical basis, a maximum of plastic expression without, at the same time, doing damage to the practical requirements.

Paris 1924 [From De Stijl, Vol. VI, No. 6/7, pp. 78-83]


~ by Ross Wolfe on October 19, 2010.

4 Responses to “Theo van Doesburg’s “Towards a Plastic Architecture” (1924)”

  1. […] Doesburg, Theo van.  “Towards a Plastic Architecture.”  Translated by Hans L.C. Jaffé.  De Stijl.  (H.N. Abrams.  New York: 1971).  Pg. 187.  […]

  2. […] Doesburg, Theo van.  “Towards a Plastic Architecture.”  Translated by Hans L.C. Jaffé.  De Stijl.  (H.N. Abrams.  New York: 1971).  Pg. 187.  […]

  3. […] Doesburg, Theo van. “Towards a Plastic Architecture.” Translated by Hans L.C. Jaffé. De Stijl. (H.N. Abrams. New York: 1971). Pg. 187. Originally […]

  4. […] Doesburg, Theo van.  “Towards a Plastic Architecture.”  Translated by Hans L.C. Jaffé.  De Stijl.  (H.N. Abrams.  New York: 1971).  Pg. 187.  […]

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