Box 3: The Fundamental Dichotomy

Page 19

Box 3: The Fundamental Dichotomy

Page 20

Space vs Anti-Space


The interior of Palladio's Villa Rotonda is made of multiple, bounded, discrete, Space. Distinct rooms that can be different, but linked together in sequences (B3-a). The inside and outside of the box are separate but linked by a transition element, the contained space of the columned portico.


The interior/exterior of Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth Weekend House is carefully positioned and designed to not enclose anything, but to support the impression of a singular, continuous, universal, open-ended, unimpeded natural flow, an Anti-Space that passes around, through, and even under the “floating” planes (B3-b).


The variety of different sized and shaped public piazze in Parma’s Centro Storico is a collective civic construction, deliberately bounded, man-made, and formed to assert the visibility and symbolism of Space as the essential constituent of urban form allowing the surrounding town to develop and change independently (B3-c).


Le Corbusier’s proposed town center for Saint-Dié, France, is a place without closure. Rather, it is an open assembly of public buildings carefully placed apart and freestanding from each other in a purposeful balance of distances. It all sits in a geometric, layered form of Anti-Space meant to be perceived in motion along the riverside site. Note that the Anti-Space sense of boundless infinite flow can exist even where everything is on the same geometric orientation. A key question is how could Saint-Dié have grown? Any change to the center or additions onto the surrounding site would damage the composition (B3-c).


The Villa Lante is a formal garden conceived as an interlocking sequence of varied Space (B3-d).

Farnsworth Weekend House, Plano, Illinois, Mies van der Rohe, 1950.

Plan of Villa Lante, Bagnaia, Italy, by Vignola,1564 - drawing from Shepherd and Jellicoe.

Note: The client, Dr. Edith Farnsworth, hated the house and its transparency. She eventually moved to a villa outside Florence, Italy, built in 1492 with solid Tuscan stone walls, a central interior courtyard and a walled formal garden with clipped hedges - now the home of The International School of Florence.

Villa Capra (Villa Rotonda), Vicenza, Italy, Andrea Palladio, c 1554.

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Fredrick Law Olmsted's public park designs such as Jackson Park in Chicago, Central Park in Manhattan, and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, are all conceived as deliberate exhibitions of natural landscape, understood as important healing natural antidotes to the confines and grit of urban life. The American public park was intentionally designed as a museum of nature, an anti-space to the city.

The two phases of Jackson Park’s design history make this clear. First designated as the site for the World's Columbian Exposition, it was designed in the tradition of Space-making and occupied the ground for only six months from May 1 to October 30,1893 (B3-e).

When it was over the site was transformed into an Anti-Space model of nature that eradicated the exposition’s famous formal geometric composition planned around the lagoon as a Venetian urbanistic Space (B3-f).

It would have been perhaps easier, cheaper and more poetic, historically to have built a formal landscape based on the exposition plan. But the powerful vision of a public park as antidote was to prevail here. It is interesting that Olmsted in effect did both versions in sequence, using different spatial palates as the legitimate contexts for different purposes.

In fact, it can be argued that Olmsted is a planner of positive space even in the ”natural landscape” parks. These plans are always divided into discrete separate meadows. Jackson Park has six distinct open rooms that one has to step into from the surrounding path corridors.  Then there is the Stanford University campus in California, formed as a series of linked rectangular closed courts, as well as the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, where the rectangular front approach is part of a series of terraced formal gardens. Olmsted recognized and used the full range of spatial typologies in different formal settings before the arrival and eventual dominance of modern Anti-Space.

Figure-ground plans to the same scale of Le Corbusier’s 1945 proposed Town Center for Saint-Dié, France (top), and the Centro Storico in Parma, Italy (bottom); both drawings from Wayne Copper, Figure-Ground Studies, Cornell Urban Design graduate thesis 1968.

Plan of Jackson Park, Chicago, Illinois, by Frederick Law Olmsted, 1895, after the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.

Plan of the preceding World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 by John Wellborn Root and Frederick Law Olmsted.

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