The elements of spatial definition and the openings characterize the types of spatial relationships, indeed the degree to which the space remains autonomous or is more or less linked to other spaces. We can pick out two basic types: juxtaposition and interpenetration.
Juxtaposition insists on autonomy. Our language includes a large number of terms which are, in principle, only applied to a relatively well-defined and closed space – room, bedroom, cell, hall, corridor – all linked to an idea of ‘privacy’ and of exclusion from other spaces. The connection with other neighbouring spaces is made by doors or windows, narrow and controlled passages in a wall. The corners are intact. Such a space, the way in which to order or distribute the spaces then becomes an important structuring factor of the whole: a succession of rooms, uni- or bilateral corridor, central hall, etc.
The methods of construction of past centuries, which were more often based on a system of loadbearing walls or of other ways of making materials work by compression, have generally led to cellular groupings with an explicit definition of juxtaposed spaces.
Spatial interpenetration creates continuity from one space to the other from the moment when an important element of definition, a wall, ceiling, floor, appears to belong to two or more spaces.
The plane which separates one space from the other is then less substantial and produces an implicit division. The conditions for implicit closure are achieved with a relatively high degree of ambiguity and a minimum of means such as a lintel, a column, the framing of a large glazed opening, the top of a wall, the difference in texture of a surface, or object. The role played by the various means gives rise to different interpenetrations of the space.
The theme of spatial continuity evokes a dynamic principle, of passages and stops with planes which guide and lead us to wonder what is to follow by the use of ambiguity between the hidden and the visible, the present and the future .
The above-mentioned opposition could lead to the belief that architects in the past did not defy the constructional limits of traditional load-bearing systems and never tried to work with implied limits and spatial interpenetration. They did, however, for the construction of monumental buildings, especially for places of worship, compose spaces with the idea of interpenetration. But contrary to the successive innovations of the Modern Movement, which introduces a spatial dynamic (‘plan libre’), they chose a rather static interpenetration based on hierarchy.
Palladio could, for example, demarcate the principal room of a house by an intermediary zone, defined by the walls, four columns and their lintels, but the space would remain that of one room.
More than any other period Baroque ‘mocked’ constructional limitations in order to attain its aesthetic and spiritual ends. It led to the first ‘spatial liberation’. It is a freedom from rules and conventions from the static state of space, elementary geometry and even from opposition between interior and exterior. Its means are the continual and complex play between convexity and concavity, continuity and break which structure the space beyond its proper limits. To achieve this effect the architects of the Baroque de-composed walls and roofs. These elements are no longer considered as ‘solids’ with two faces. Conceptually, and sometimes even constructionally, there are two shells – one internal and one external – each one able to respond to particular formal requirements. It is only at the openings that the two shells are stitched together again by the treatment of the window recesses, without any apparent incoherence.
Baroque space has particularly distinguished itself because ‘it has been able to show, in numerous ways, the interdependence of cells or niches at the front, at the back and on the sides without each one of them appearing as a fragment, but by giving them a perfect unity’.
The technical means, developed towards the end of the nineteenth century, contributed towards the second ‘spatial liberation’. Steel and reinforced concrete have made possible the mutation towards a space more closely fitted to the characteristics of man’s activity and will. It is in the mastery of this new freedom that we find the great spatial and architectural inventions of the twentieth century.
Frank Lloyd Wright, with his destruction of the box by the dissolution of the corner in order to anchor his buildings in the near and distant landscape, the young Mies van der Rone and the Dutch de Stijl movement, obsessed with independent planes defining a portion of space as a sort of special event in infinite space, Le Corbusier, with his painter’s vision, searching for compression, superimposition and the phenomenal transparency of space – all figure amongst the inventor-pioneers of dynamic and asymmetrical architectural space in the twentieth century.