The Pursuit of Universal Space

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The term universal space was first proposed by Mies to describe the non-typological scheme he advocated for in most of his projects; where by seeking a versatile usage of the space he disassociated his designs from impositional arrangements and aesthetic values. He defined the space as a framework which openness could allow for constant change and make inhabitation infinitely adaptable.

Mies conceptualized his spaces as undefined but they were eminently defined architecturally, as it is through the order and modulation of the building's components that the user can relate to the scale of the space and perform its inhabitance. 

Most of Mies's body of work shows trace of this purified spatial model, nevertheless it was during his time in America that his explorations of the common language lead him to develop a modern grammar that would suit almost any user requirement. His study consisted on long-span single-volume flexible enclosures. The projects developed during this period vary from the more specific programmatic conditions of Farnsworth House to the absolute general openness of the unbuilt Convention Hall. 


Above: Comparative elevations of Mies clear-span buildings:


1. Farnsworth House, Plano.

2. National Theatre, Mannheim.

3. S.R. Crown Hall, IIT.

4. 50x50 House

5. Convention Hall, Chicago.

5. Bacardi Administration Building, Santiago, Cuba.

6. New National Gallery, Berlin.


Convention Hall: photomontage aerial view showing 

the model within site, 1953.

Mies reputation as the great rationalist of modern architecture was powerfully enhanced by this last proposal. Yet emerging from the very scope and heroic logic of the work was a major paradox. For there was in fact, no practical reason for the clear span he proposed. Like in many of his projects Mies carried rationality to its irrational extreme, but justify that the motive for a colossal exercise of structure was the production of a colossal experience of space. 

"I am not a reformer. I don't want to change the world, I want to express it. That's all I want".

- Mies, 1951

Mies purposely limited his construction principles with the desire to clarify them in all detail and to be thorough in order to lay the basis for future development. At the time Convention Hall was commissioned these principles had achieved maturity and where no more questions or initiatives remaining except to complete the scope of his style in terms of technique, scale, materials, and typology. His progressive refinement of connections, structure and space led to the few essential forms that he developed at the two extremes of his building art: height and span. 


With Convention Hall Mies produce his single most monumental clear span structure, ampler indeed than that of any exposition hall in the world at the time. Its proportions were 220x220m, covering almost 50,000 square meters on a single-volume enclosure. Not only the largest space he had ever designed, it was by nature the most public and impersonal, and, on account of its versatility, the most generalized.


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This page contains a single entry by Carlos published on October 22, 2010 2:32 PM.

...that is to say, buildings consisting of skin and bones. is the next entry in this blog.

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