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Title: Between Looking and Making: Unravelling Dom Hans van der Laan’s Plastic Number
Authors: Voet, Caroline # ×
Issue Date: 26-Jan-2016
Publisher: European Architectural History Network
Series Title: Architectural Histories vol:4 issue:1 pages:1-24
Abstract: Between 1920 and 1991, the Dutch Benedictine monk and architect Dom Hans van der Laan (1904–91) developed his own proportional system based on the ratio 3:4, or the irrational number 1.3247. . ., which he called the plastic number. According to him, this ratio directly grew from discernment, the human ability to differentiate sizes, and as such would be an improvement over the golden ratio. To put his theories to the test, he developed an architectural language, which can best be described as elementary architecture. His oeuvre — four convents and a house — is published on an international scale. His buildings have become pilgrimage sites for practicing architects and institutions that want to study and experience his spaces. His 1977 book Architectonic Space: Fifteen Lessons on the Disposition of the Human Habitat, translated into English, French, German and Italian, still inspires architects today, as does his biography, Modern Primitive, written by the architect Richard Padovan in 1994. But beyond the inspiration of his writings and realisations, the actual application of the plastic number in Van der Laan’s designs is unclear. Moreover, Van der Laan’s theories seem to be directed towards one goal only: to present the plastic number as the only possible means by which eminent architecture can be achieved, making them a target for suspicion and critique.
To understand and evaluate Van der Laan’s application of the plastic number, this paper approaches it as a practical design tool. It analyses its genealogy and defines its key concepts. From that framework, Van der Laan’s architectonic space is interpreted as a design methodology that combines antique tectonic theories reminiscent of writers from Plato to Vitruvius with more recent atectonic approaches towards space through experience and movement.
ISSN: 2050-5833
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IT
Appears in Collections:Architecture, Campuses Sint-Lucas Brussels and Ghent
Department of Architecture - miscellaneous
× corresponding author
# (joint) last author

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