“Punch- hole building”, the new vertical courtyard?

by Guillermina Chiu

In an endeavor to challenge the building typology that is simply analyzed in floor plan within the discourse of architecture, this essay attempts to show how the “courtyard typology” has gradually morphed into a vertical scenario, keeping the underlying principle that different forms can belong to the same type, but be constructed dissimilar, reinforcing conventional architectural features in denser urban scales.
Throughout the discourse of architecture the word typology has had different connotation and meaning according to location, density and quality.
Antoine-Chrysostome Quatremère de Quincy, professor of archaeology at the Bibliothèque Nationale (1818) gives a precise definition of “type” in his historical Dictionnaire d'Architecture: “The idea of an element which should itself serve as a model”.

Rafael Moneo considers typology as the inherent, structural and formal order that allows architectural objects to be grouped together, distinguished and repeated. Similar to him, Leon Krier thinks of it as a precise analytical tool for architecture and urban form, which also provides a rational basis for design. On the other hand Aldo Rossi sees it as a repetitive technique of production (closer
to Boulee and Ledoux ideas on the value of the place).

Abbe Laugier believed that the natural basis of design was to be found in the primitive hut; while Le Corbusier believed that the model of architectural design should be founded in the production process itself.

For Giulio Carlo Argan’s, typology is a historically-derived “formal” consensus, found by “comparing and superimposing”. It is an architectural “average” that should be distinguished from an archetype (an ideal form from which one is not allowed to deviate) A type has made possible the rehabilitation of historical meaning in a way flexible enough to allow for those meanings to change when circumstances dictated.

Typology is not just a classifying or statistical process, historical, social and economical factors generate or eradicate them over time, but in the end, the discourse always returns to the problem of form. Today the idea of the third typology raises the question of a city as an operation type, based as well on reason and classification as the guiding principles.

A courtyard is a type of building; like I mentioned a type only analyzed in floor plan. It is an enclosed space that is open to the sky. The earliest courtyards were built in 3000 B.C. in Iran and China. Historically, they have been used for cooking, sleeping, trading, working, playing, gardening, and even keeping animals. Different formal and spatial qualities make them the ideal image of the suburban landscape: A courtyard is a freestanding construction with a permanent landscaped park that offers opportunity for social interaction.

The problem of the courtyard has been dealt by many architects. Perhaps the most famous approach is Peter Eisenman’s figure-ground argument. The relationship of the ground is divided in external and internal. For Eisenman, Bramante lacked of figure ground relationship. For instance, If we take a Nolli map of Rome, Eisenman would address the problem by arguing that the public open space (white) is to be considered as the presence, and the private in black is to be considered as the absence or the partial figure, because it is in the “not present present” (the partial figure or the absence) that affective conditions are created. Perhaps Jaffrey Kipnis would address the same problem as the absence being the site and the presence as being the ground; but ultimately the courtyard diagram is one that has both political and cultural context.

If we take the problem of the courtyard, and analyze it as if it was a section instead of a floor plan; we could argue that the diagram has what Kipnis would call a “new authenticity”, for the diagram to work; it needs a degree of literalness and idiocy. The literalness is given by the obvious analogy between architecture and iconography; the idiocy is given by translating the floor plan diagram into a sectional one.

The “punch- hole building” vertical courtyard possesses the ideal image of the urban landscape; the perfect public isolated landscaped view. A vertical courtyard configuration that offers the opportunity of social hierarchy without mixed interaction. Perhaps population density is the most important factor for the “new vertical courtyards” to be born. Whether or not a symbolic context exists before the creation of this type? Is not to be discussed...

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