Piet Mondrian’s “The Neo-Plastic Architecture of the Future” (1925)

Translated from the Dutch by Harry Holtzman and Martin S. James.

From The New Art — The New Life: The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian.

(Da Capo Press.  New York, NY: 1993).

At present, our material environment cannot be realized as pure plastic expression: it cannot achieve the Neo-Plastic idea.  Because it is “free,” the work of art is necessary today to satisfy our sense of beauty, but in the future the new beauty will be revealed equally outside of art.

Today the aesthetic that was discovered and established by art must be given primacy.  True plastic beauty cannot be achieved merely by obeying the demands of utility, materials, construction, etc.

Today, because the architect is not an artist, he is unable to create the new beauty.  The new beauty will be realized only by the artist collaborating with the engineer who is responsible for the technical side.  It is essential that the aesthetic be the starting point.  Not traditional aesthetic, for this caused the decadence of architecture, but the new aesthetic that came into being through the evolution of art.  This new aesthetic abolishes the old laws of natural harmony, symmetry, classical composition.  It establishes pure plastic.

To achieve pure plastic beauty, we must aesthetically construct pure equilibrated relationships through pure expressive means.  If, to the contrary, we start from technical, utilitarian demands, etc., we compromise every chance of success, for intellect then clouds intuition.  That is why in today’s practice architectural construction is seen groping in all directions.  From the viewpoint of the purely plastic, sometimes it advances, sometimes regresses.  Architecture today is already becoming purified and simplified, but only rarely does it achieve a pure plastic expression.  The new beauty is created by [197] equilibrated relationships of perpendicular lines and planes.  If either horizontal lines or vertical planes dominate the expression, the tragic regains ascendancy.

Neo-Plasticism, which grew out of Cubism and Futurist ideas, is based, in painting, on the great law it has revealed: that of pure equilibrated relationship.  The architecture of the future will follow the same directives without any difficulty, as a few architects have already demonstrated.  The new architecture will furthermore not exclude color or treat it as merely “accessory.”  Color will be integral to the architecture itself.

It is important, however, to point out that by “equilibrium” Neo-Plasticism means something altogether different from the equilibrium of traditional aesthetic.  Neo-Plastic harmony arises from constant oppositions.  The harmony of Neo-Plasticism is therefore not traditional harmony, but universal harmony, which to the eyes of the past appears rather as discord.

It is understandable that applying the Neo-Plastic aesthetic to architecture arouses resistance at first.  [For one thing, the entrenched idea that architecture must always reckon with the three-dimensional system may cause the planar plastic of Neo-Plasticism to seem unfeasible.  Yet morpho-plastic architecture is a traditionalistic conception: it is the perspective vision of the past, which the Neo-Plastic conception no longer retains.  The new (abstract) vision does not start from a single given point, but takes its viewpoint everywhere, from no fixed place.  It assumes independence from time and place.  In practice, its viewpoint is always in front of the plane: the ultimate possibility of plastic deepening.  Thus the work of architecture appears as a multiplicity of planes,] not of prisms as in “volumetric construction.”  Nor is there any danger of lapsing into “façade-architecture”; its ubiquitous “point of view” prevents this error.  Because it is exclusively abstract, this plurality of planes becomes a plane image.

There is also resistance to the Neo-Plastic conception of color.  Yet, as plastic expression of the plane, Neo-Plastic architecture irresistibly calls for color, without which the plane cannot be living reality.  Color is equally necessary to annihilate the natural appearance of materials.  Neo-Plastic colors — which are pure, planar, determined, primary, and basic (red, yellow, blue) — are in opposition with “noncolors” (white, black, gray).

As painting has already demonstrated, a minimal color area often suffices to produce equilibrated relationship with noncolors.  Thus there is no need to fear confusion from an excess of color.  But the difficulty is to find the true aesthetic equilibrium.


~ by Ross Wolfe on August 28, 2011.

5 Responses to “Piet Mondrian’s “The Neo-Plastic Architecture of the Future” (1925)”

  1. Ive been struggling with color on my work. I usually don’t want to use it until yesterday and when I saw what it did to my art was inspiring. Thanks for the post,

  2. […] Mondrian, Piet.  “The Neo-Plastic Architecture of the Future.”  Translated by Harry Holtzman and Martin S. James.  The New Art — The New Life: The Collected […]

  3. […] Mondrian, Piet.  “The Neo-Plastic Architecture of the Future.”  Translated by Harry Holtzman and Martin S. James.  The New Art — The New Life: The Collected […]

  4. […] Mondrian, Piet. “The Neo-Plastic Architecture of the Future.” Translated by Harry Holtzman and Martin S. James. The New Art — The New Life: The Collected […]

  5. […] Mondrian, Piet.  “The Neo-Plastic Architecture of the Future.”  Translated by Harry Holtzman and Martin S. James.  The New Art — The New Life: The Collected […]

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