Structuralism (architecture)

Structuralism (architecture)

Aldo van Eyck and Hannie van Eyck, 1989]

Structuralism as a movement in architecture and urban planning evolved around the middle of the 20th century. It was a reaction to CIAM-Functionalism (Rationalism), which had led to a sterile expression of urban planning that ignored the identity of the inhabitants and urban forms.

Two different manifestations of Structuralist architecture exist. Sometimes these occur in combination with each other. On the one hand, there is the "Aesthetics of Number" (comparable to cellular tissue), and on the other hand, the "Architecture of Lively Variety" (the result of user participation in housing). The latter concept is also known as "Pluralistic Architecture".

Structuralism in a general sense is a mode of thought of the 20th century, which came about in different places, at different times and in different fields. It can also be found in linguistics, anthropology, philosophy, art and architecture.


Structuralism in architecture and urban planning had its origins in the Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM) after World War II. Between 1928 and 1959, the CIAM was an important platform for the discussion of architecture and urbanism. Various groups with often conflicting views were active in this organization; for example, members with a scientific approach to architecture without aesthetic premises (rationalists), members who regarded architecture as an art form (Le Corbusier), members who were proponents of high- or low-rise building (Ernst May), members supporting a course of reform after World War II (Team 10), members of the old guard and so on.

Individual members of the small splinter group Team 10 laid the foundations for Structuralism. The influence of this team was later interpreted by second generation protagonist Herman Hertzberger when he said: "I am a product of Team 10." As a group, Team 10 was active from 1953 onwards, and two different movements emerged from it: the New Brutalism of the English members (Alison and Peter Smithson) and the Structuralism of the Dutch members (Aldo van Eyck and Jacob Bakema).

Outside Team 10, other ideas developed that furthered the Structuralist movement - influenced by the concepts of Louis Kahn in the United States, Kenzo Tange in Japan and N. John Habraken in the Netherlands (with his theory of user participation in housing). Herman Hertzberger and Lucien Kroll made important architectural contributions in the field of participation. In this context, Hertzberger made the following statement: "In Structuralism, one differentiates between a structure with a long life cycle and infills with shorter life cycles."

In 1960, the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange designed his well-known Tokyo Bay Plan. Reflecting later on the initial phase of that project, he said: "It was, I believe, around 1959 or at the beginning of the sixties that I began to think about what I was later to call Structuralism", (cited in "Plan" 2/1982, Amsterdam). Tange also wrote the article "Function, Structure and Symbol, 1966", in which he describes the transition from a functional to a structural approach in thinking. Tange considers the period from 1920 to 1960 under the heading of "Functionalism" and the time from 1960 onwards under the heading of "Structuralism".

Le Corbusier created several early projects and built prototypes in a Structuralist mode, some of them dating back to the 1920s. Although he was criticized by the members of Team 10 in the 1950s for certain aspects of his work (urban concept without a "sense of place" and the dark interior streets of the Unité), they nevertheless acknowledged him as a great model and creative personality in architecture and art.


Herman Hertzberger 1971]

One of the most influential manifestos for the Structuralist movement was compiled by Aldo van Eyck in the architectural magazine "Forum" 7/1959. It was drawn up as the programme for the International Congress of Architects in Otterlo in 1959. The central aspect of this issue of "Forum" was a frontal attack on the Dutch representatives of CIAM rationalism who were responsible for the reconstruction work after World War II, (for tactical reasons, planners like van Tijen, van Eesteren, Merkelbach and others were not mentioned). The magazine contains many examples of and statements in favour of a more human form of urban planning. This congress in 1959 marks the official start of Structuralism, although earlier projects and buildings did exist. Only since 1969 has the term "Structuralism" been used in publications in relation to architecture.

Otterlo Congress, Participants

Some of the presentations and discussions at the Otterlo Congress in 1959 are seen as the beginning of the Structuralism in architecture and urbanism. These presentations had an international influence. In the book of Oscar Newman, "CIAM '59 in Otterlo", the names of the 43 participating architects are published:

L. Miquel, Alger / Aldo van Eyck, Amsterdam / José A. Coderch, Barcelona / Wendell Lovett, Bellevue-Washington / Werner Rausch, Berlin / W. van der Meeren, Bruxelles / Ch. Polonyi, Budapest / M. Siegler, Genf / P. Waltenspuhl, Genf / Hubert Hoffmann, Graz / Chr. Fahrenholz, Hamburg / Alison Smithson, London / Peter Smithson, London / Giancarlo de Carlo, Milano / Ignazio Gardella, Milano / Vico Magistretti, Milano / Ernesto Nathan Rogers, Milano / Blanche Lemco van Ginkel, Montreal / Daniel van Ginkel, Montreal / Callebout, Nieuport / Geir Grung, Oslo / A. Korsmo, Oslo / Georges Candilis, Paris / Alexis Josic, Paris / André Wogenscky, Paris / Shadrach Woods, Paris / Louis Kahn, Philadelphia / Viana de Lima, Porto / F. Tavora, Porto / Jacob B. Bakema, Rotterdam / Herman Haan, Rotterdam / J.M. Stokla, Rotterdam / John Voelcker, Staplehurst / Ralph Erskine, Stockholm / Kenzo Tange, Tokyo / T. Moe, Trondheim / Oskar Hansen, Warszawa / Zofia Hansen, Warszawa / Jerzy Soltan, Warszawa / Fred Freyler, Wien / Eduard F. Sekler, Wien / Radovan Niksic, Zagreb / Alfred Roth, Zurich

Theoretical Origins

Built structures corresponding in form to social structures. The archetypical behaviour of man as the origin of architecture (cf. Anthropology, Claude Lévi-Strauss).

Coherence, growth and change on all levels of the urban structure. The concept of a sense of place. Tokens of identification (identifying devices). Articulation of the built volume.

Polyvalent form and individual interpretations (compare the concept of "langue et parole" by Ferdinand de Saussure). User participation in housing. Integration of "high" and "low" culture in architecture (fine architecture and everyday forms of building). Pluralistic architecture.

Housing Estates, Buildings and Projects

Atelier 5: Halen housing estate near Bern, 1961

Jacob Bakema et al.: New Rotterdam districts, Pendrecht project 1949, Alexanderpolder projects 1953 and 1956

Piet Blom: Kasbah housing estate Hengelo, 1973 / Urban district Oude Haven Rotterdam, 1985

Candilis Josic & Woods: Free University Berlin, 1963-73

Giancarlo De Carlo: Student housing Collegio del Colle Urbino, 1966

Adriaan Geuze et al.: New urban district Borneo-Sporenburg Scheepstimmermanstraat Amsterdam, 2000 "(participation)"

Herman Hertzberger: Centraal Beheer office building Apeldoorn, 1972 "(participation, inside)" / Diagoon, eight experimental houses Delft, 1971 "(participation)"

Louis Kahn: Jewish Community Center Trenton, project 1954 / Kimbell Art Museum Fort Worth, 1972

Lucien Kroll: Students' Centre St. Lambrechts-Woluwe Brussels, 1976 "(participation)"

Le Corbusier: Perspective drawing of new city district Fort l'Empereur Algiers, project 1934 "(participation)" / Weekend house Paris, 1935

Moshe Safdie: Habitat '67 housing estate, World Exposition, Montréal, 1967

Alison and Peter Smithson: Golden Lane housing estate London, project 1952 / Hierarchy of Association, urban-planning scheme 1953

Kenzo Tange: Tokyo Bay Plan, project 1960 / Press Centre Kofu, 1967

Aldo van Eyck: Orphanage Amsterdam, 1960 / European Space Research and Technology Centre ESTEC, restaurant conference-hall library, Noordwijk, 1989

Jan Verhoeven et al.: Housing estate in Berkel-Rodenrijs near Rotterdam, 1973

Stefan Wewerka: New city district Ruhwald Berlin, project 1965


*Michael Hecker, "Structurel-Structural", Structuralist Theory in Architecture and Urbanism 1959-75, thesis TU Stuttgart 2007.

*Max Risselada and Dirk van den Heuvel, "Team 10 - In Search of a Utopia of the Present", Rotterdam 2005.

*Francis Strauven, "Aldo van Eyck - The Shape of Relativity", Amsterdam 1998.

*Wim van Heuvel, "Structuralism in Dutch Architecture", Rotterdam 1992.

*Arnulf Lüchinger, "Structuralism in Architecture and Urban Planning", Stuttgart 1980.

*Herman Hertzberger, "Lessons in Architecture", No.1 Rotterdam 1991, No.2 Rotterdam 1999.

*Kenzo Tange, "Function, Structure and Symbol, 1966", in: Udo Kultermann, "Kenzo Tange", Zurich 1970.

*John Habraken, "Supports - An Alternative to Mass Housing", London 1972. ("De Dragers en de Mensen", Amsterdam 1961.)

*Oscar Newman, "CIAM '59 in Otterlo", London and New York 1961.

*Aldo van Eyck, "Het Verhaal van een Andere Gedachte" (The Story of Another Idea), in: "Forum" 7/1959, Amsterdam and Hilversum. Editorial team for the magazine "Forum" 7/1959-3/1963 and July/1967: Aldo van Eyck, Herman Hertzberger, Jacob Bakema a.o.

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