Free Plan versus Free Rooms

Two Conceptions of Open Architecture


  • Xavier Van Rooyen ULiège



Since the 1960s, open architecture has sought to move away from fixed objects built for eternity and instead towards the development of indeterminate proposals. Today, in the midst of health and climate crises, some architects are reconsidering the need for an evolving and adaptable architecture that encourages multiple uses. Sanitary confinement has made us aware of the urgency of flexibility in housing. Climate crises, on the other hand, require that buildings can be converted in order to avoid obsolescence. This article examines how the different design processes used by Office KGDVS, MVRDV, Sanaa, and Sou Fujimoto, among others, go beyond the unitary and homogeneous models of open architecture proposed in the 1960s in order to respond to a crucial desire of contemporary society: the need for singularity. As we theorise it, the free plan wanted to be singular and specific instead of neutral, in order to absorb obsolete uses into broader programmes. The free room, on the contrary, absorbs multiple uses on the scale of the dwelling and encourages multiple reconfigurations. The confinement measures taken by many governments in response to the Covid-19 pandemic have taught us that architecture must make uses possible that will undoubtedly be even more diversified tomorrow than they were yesterday.

Author Biography

Xavier Van Rooyen, ULiège

Xavier Van Rooyen graduated as an architect from the School of Architecture in Liège. He has practiced architecture with JDS/Julien de Smedt Architects and Pierre Hebbelinck, and then in his own office where he has developed several public commissions. He joined the Department of Architectural Design at the University of Liège as an assistant professor in 2012, where he developed his PhD with Jacques Lucan and Bernard Kormoss. His PhD project has a special research interest in the public realm and the theory of architecture in Western and non-Western contexts of the 1960s. His research examines architectural precedents, design attitudes, methods, and instruments, with the explicit ambition to construct a historiography of the structure of indeterminate architecture since the 1960s.


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