DOE Lecture: Architects, group 1
Josef Plecnik and Sigurd Lewerentz


Introduction: materiality and the construction of floors

"I call our world Flatland, not because we call it so, but to make its nature clearer to you, my happy readers, who are privileged to live in Space. Imagine a vast sheet of paper on which straight Lines, Triangles, Squares, Pentagons, Hexagons, and other figures, instead of remaining fixed in their places, move freely about, on or in the surface, but without the power of rising above or sinking below it, very much like shadows--only hard and with luminous edges--and you will have a pretty correct notion of my country and countrymen." [pp. 3-4.]

"Take for example an equilateral Triangle--who represents with us a Tradesman of the respectable class. Fig. 1 represents the tradesman as you would see him while you were bending over him from above; figs. 2 and 3 represent the Tradesman, as you would see him if your eye were close to the level, or all but on the level of the table; and if your eye were quite on the level of the table (and that is how we see him in Flatland) you would see nothing but a straight line." [pp. 4-5.]

"As there is neither sun with us, nor any light of such kind as to make shadows, we have none of the helps to the sight that you have in Spaceland. If our friend comes closer to us we see his line becomes larger; if he leaves us it becomes smaller: but still he looks like a straight line; be he Triangle, Square, Pentagon, Hexagon, Circle, what you will--a straight line he looks and nothing else." [p. 5.]

Inherent in Edwin Abbott Abbott's "romance of many dimensions" entitled Flatland is a contradiction: although there are no shadows in the two-dimensional world he has invented, the luminous edges of its inhabitants are subject to a kind of atmospheric perspective, diminishing in brightness with distance. Thus these inhabitants are more than abstract geometric figures, posessing a materiality made perceptible through light.
In the same way, architectural plans are not collections of abstract geometric figures and graphical conventions, but representations of materiality in the horizontal plane. The architects Josef Plecnik (1872-1957) and Sigurd Lewerentz (1885-1975) have been chosen for their treatment of materiality in architecture, for their commendable use of the three basic categories of masonry, metal, and wood in their architectural projects. Students are asked to pay particular attention to the applicatin of these materials in the construction of floors.

Josef Plecnik (1872-1957)

Josef Plecnik began his architectural training in the Vienna Academy in 1895 under the direction of Otto Wagner (1841-1918). Plecnik's thesis project won him the Rome Scholarship, allowing him to travel in Italy and France in 1898-99. He continued to work for Wagner, as well as on his own projects, until 1911, when he moved to Prague, where he taught at the School of Applied Arts. An example of his work in Vienna is the Church of the Holy Spirit (1910-1913). In 1919 Plecnik was offered a full professorship in the Department of Architecture of the Faculty of Engineering at the newly founded University of Ljubljana, and the following year the President of the new Czechoslovak Republic asked him to work as the architect in charge of the restoration of Prague Castle, Hradcany. Among Plecnik's work on the many gardens at Hradcany is that of the Garden of the Bastion (1927-1932). One of his best known works in Ljubljana is the National University Library (1936-1941).

In their study of Plecnik, Alain Arvois and Cristina Conrad von Eybesfeld analyze the relationship between Plecnik and the "Wagnerschule" which developed under the influence of Otto Wagner, professor at the Academy in Vienna [CCI, pp. 21-30].

fig. 4: Otto Wagner, Project for Berlin Cathedral (1891).

In his reflections on the moral value of Plecnik's work, Francois Burkhardt frames Plecnik within the discourse of Modernism and Postmodernism, and refers to Charles Moore in passing [CCI, pp. 103-12].
fig. 5: Charles Moore, Piazza d'Italia (1977-1978).

Selected Projects

To view a project in more detail, click on the Illustration of the project.

fig. 6: Church of the Holy Spirit; fig. 7: Garden of the Bastion; fig. 8: Nat'l Univ. Library.

Sigurd Lewerentz (1885-1975)

In his study of Sigurd Lewerentz, Colin St. John Wilson notes that "...whereas in his early work, Lewerentz was a master of the Classical language of architecture, in his later work (notably in the churches at Bjoerkhagen and Klippan) he totally rejected that language and yet produced buildings of great authority, propriety and emotional impact." ["The Dilemma of Classicism," in The Dilemma of Classicism, p. 8]. Wilson is here referring to the Church of Saint Mark, Bjoerkhagen, Sweden (1956-1960), and the Church of Saint Peter, Klippan, Sweden (1963-66).

Hakon Ahlberg describes the church of St. Mark at Bjoerkhagen, the competition for which Lewerentz won, as " entirely personal work, authentic to the architecture of Lewerentz as a whole and in every detail." ["Sigurd Lewerentz," in The Dilemma of Classicism, p. 47].

Selected Projects

To view a project in more detail, click on the Illustration of the project.

fig. 9: Church of St. Mark, Bjoerkhagen; fig. 10: Church of St. Peter, Klippan.

List of Illustrations

fig. 1: The tradesman viewed from above.

fig. 2: The tradesman viewed from an angle.

fig. 3: The tradesman viewed from the side.

fig. 4: "Otto Wagner, projet de concours pour la cathedrale de Berlin, non realise (1891)." CCI, p. 25.

fig. 5: "Charles Moore, Piazza d'Italia, la Nouvelle-Orleans, Etats-Unis (1977-1978)." CCI, p. 107.

fig. 6: "Hl.-Geist-Kirche in Wien, Krypta, (1910; Ausstattung 1911/12)." Prelovsek, pl. 34.

fig. 7: "Universitaetsbibliothek in Laibach, (1936-1941)." Prelovsek, pl. 187.

fig. 8: "Chateau de Prague, Baldaquin d'escalier (1930-1931)." CCI, portfolio section.

fig. 9: "Entrance Canopy." The Dilemma of Classicism, p. 60.

fig. 10: "Facade with window detail." The Dilemma of Classicism, p. 76.


Abbott, Edwin Abbott. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. 2nd ed. rev. 1884; rpt., Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Ferlenga, Alberto and Sergio Polano. Joze Plecnik: Progetti e citta. Traduzioni Tania Wolf Bellotto. Milano: Electa, 1990.

Joze Plecnik, Architecte, 1872-1957. Ouvrage publie a l'occasion de l'exposition "Joze Plecnik, Architecte" produite par le Centre de Creation Industrielle et presentee de mars a mai 1986 dans la Galerie du CCI au Centre National d'Art et Culture Georges Pompidou a Paris. Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, Centre de Creation Industrielle, c1986.

Krecic, Peter. Plecnik: The Complete Works. New York, NY: Whitney Library of Design, 1993.

Prelovsek, Damjan. Josef Plecnik: 1872-1957, Architectura perennis. Aus dem Slowenischen von Dorothea Apovnik. Salzburg und Wein: Residenz Verlag, 1992.

Sigurd Lewerentz (1885-1975), The Dilemma of Classicism. Alison and Peter Smithson, Colin St. John Wilson, and Hakon Ahlberg, eds. London: Architectural Association, 1989.

Patrick A. George