from a little discussion over at flickr, on the Berlin Free University:
I don’t really recall what the “official” CIAM / Team Ten theory leading up to the Free University was, but I think I can make a few observations…
It’s perhaps clearer in the google image – The university complex is composed of a series of modules, each basically the same layout, and each centered around a courtyard. I believe the basic program of each module was the same (maybe replace offices with classrooms sometimes) but I can’t say for sure. If we can assume that each module is basically the same, and if the general program is “university” it follows that as university enrollment grows (or shrinks) then the building itself can follow suit to accommodate the change.
This, i think, is the only real common thread in “mat buildings” — that they are generally big, generic, low-rise, modular, and extendable.
Of course, this could easily lead a project into airport/shopping mall territory, but I think the Free U avoids this through interesting sectional games… for example, I don’t know if you noticed that there were numerous passages between the exterior courtyards, or certain long vistas where interior ramps linked the various modules. This may have had something to do with the natural topography of the site, since an infinitely-extendable “mat” would necessarily gain some differentiation from the site conditions.
I think it’s also interesting to consider the building as a kind of cityscape/landscape. The integration of the courtyards really seems to call out the designed-ness of the built environment in general, and in the google map especially, you can read the plan as a kind of inverse of the surrounding residential area….
not sure if i’ve got any kind of thesis there, but I found it to be a really interesting building. Odd how the brain seems to anchor it.
In addition, I think it’s very helpful to look at these as precedents for more contemporary work. There’s a great book on Le Corbusier’s Venice Hospital project in the Harvard GSD’s “CASE” Series (edited by Ron Witte and Sarah Whiting – both formerly of OMA) that portrays it as a proto-mat-building. Like a university, the “hospital” program is fairly generic and repeatable, yet differentiation can be achieved by the way the “mat” aligns with the site topography. This is, naturally pretty interesting in Venice, and Corb’s strategy is to lock down the section, keeping patients rooms at the very top level, offices and service areas in the middle, and leaving the ground floor as an open field of piloti for circulation. This also allows one to consider the section as a gradient from public (ground level) to private (patients rooms at top). I notice that H&dM’s REHAB Basel does *exactly* the same thing….
Though modular and repeatable, significant difference is achieved by allowing the “mat” to roll across the venetian landscape/cityscape, over land and water alike. So while the lower level is devoted to circulation and public space, sometimes this is on land, and sometimes on water, allowing easy boat access for weary architecture students who fall in the canal and, thus, go immediately to the hospital.
I think where this kind of thing is really useful is in huge new projects – airports, malls, casinos, (campus centers on a smaller scale), and other seemingly over-designed instances of building-scale urbanism.
And speaking of Venice – there’s a great article in the latest Verb “Boogazine” on the Venetian casino in Las Vegas – which features St Mark’s square, the Rialto, and the Ducal Palace, all built to 97% Scale. The Rialto is placed feet from St Marks – all the landmarks are grouped together and the whole Venice experience is condensed and sanitized (bright blue water in the canals, for example) and infused with shopping and casino games…