In this seminar we will consider the evolution of the floor plan across five iterations: proto-modern, modern, post-modern, sequel-modern, and, most importantly, the present. We will begin with a simple hypothesis about the present, namely that there is a new plan afoot. It has been making its way into architecture for several years, announcing its arrival via the paroxysms that come with a long gestation. Its terms are not those of the suck-the-air-out gangly hollowness of proto-modern experiments in iron and steel (as seen in train stations, department stores, and exhibition halls), nor the give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death plan of modernism (universal, free), nor the we-used-to-do-it-like-this-plus-je-ne-sais-quoi plan of post-modernism (neo-historical, juxtaposing), nor the plan-non-chalant of recent reinvigorations of modernist architecture (data-driven, a-formal). Given it descends from these four earlier paradigms of plan thinking, I’ve provisionally labeled this new plan the “fifth plan.”
As surely as it descends from these precedents, the fifth plan is decidedly not like its predecessors. Our understanding of plans (and of architecture) depends on our ability to distill the characteristics of plan-based organizations, characteristics that the fifth plan incessantly meddles with: open or defined, perimeter or interior, figure or system, history or future, homogeneous or varied. This new plan confounds classification because it conflates spatial temperaments. It slips into and out of categorical restraints as needed. It signals neither a return to nor a rejection of previous plan models and, most importantly, can’t be singularly aligned or contrasted with its antecedents.
A few clarifications might be useful. First, “plan” here refers to the term’s basic definition in architecture, namely the horizontal organization that modulates degrees of enclosure, program organizations, circulation systems, optical dispositions, formal geometries, and hierarchies. Second, the plan is taken to be a primary part of architecture’s makeup, which is to say the plan is deeply wound into both the momentum of architecture’s disciplinary history and the transformation of architecture as we face the future. The plan structures architecture’s formal systems, economies, social constellations, and material constructs. It is the discipline’s constitution: equal parts social contract, technical diagram, spreadsheet, and aesthetic code. What changes from plan-era to plan-era are the hierarchies among parts and the ways in parts deemed important are related to one another, invariably producing constantly changing definitions of what we think of as wholes in architecture.
Where can this new plan be found? In its nascent state, various strains of the fifth plan can be found in a range of contemporary practices including Mansilla & Tunon, Michael Maltzan, Sou Fujimoto, Barkow Leibinger, Johnston Marklee, Toyo Ito, SANAA, as well as a host of other practices. In fact, none of these firms lays claim to this new plan type, and none of them can be said to deploy it consistently. Further complicating things, individual examples can be found in unexpected authors such as SOM (the Burr Elementary School) or Gintautas Natkevicius (a Lithuanian architect whose Birstonas House is relevant). Nonetheless, collectively an increasingly forceful exhibition of new plan thinking is being produced by these practices and others. The fifth plan’s presence might be found in a single building, in a part of a building, or across a string of projects produced by a particular practice. And yet it appears evermore ubiquitously in architecture: across scales of work, types of programs, geographies, practices, and even economies and social worlds.