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O. M. Ungers, Typology of the detached house (1982).︎︎︎

Throughout the history of the built environment there have been architectural types. From the earliest known representations of civilization and their typification of structures to the appropriation of certain ‘types’ of spaces meaning certain ‘types’ of things in architectural space and social culture. While a useful system for understanding and potentially solving design problems in the built environment; the system in itself is an assumptive process inevitably contributing to stereotypes of architectural form and function in society. It’s clear that typeness is deeply rooted in the infrastructure of the architectural world… but in order to further advocate for the inclusion and diversity of both
architectural spaces and the individuals inhabiting them, new strategies need to be explored! Through the “blurring” of typological space, varied instances of typologies in architecture can be pursued. Through the act of understanding, dramatizing and implementing varied functional and formal strategies architectural typologies can be deregulated (perhaps completely) affording a more expansive range of possible performances and architectural conditions. In this way they can act to challenge the process of creating typologies of classification, perhaps altering the way in which they are established and adopted in the first place!

Some Context

Typological thinking in architectural theory and discourse has existed since the earliest known attempts to associate objects together using systems of classification. Perhaps grouped through physical form or appearance, immaterial associations, or some other justification of sensory experience, typologies established a logical system of association and classification within the built environment. While today the term ‘typology’ is most often associated with a building typology (in regard to programmatic functions/spaces), a typology of architecture (in regard to a combination of built environments/experiences), or perhaps some other typology of space (in regard to a spatial/contextual condition) the terminology has not changed much from the early studies of Quatremere de Quincy, J.N.L Durand, Aldo Rossi, and Oswald Mathias Ungers (some of their studies to the right). Today, typologies still serve as the buildings blocks for conceptualizing ideas and configuring space in architectural terms. As paraphrased by  Quatremere de Quincy’s definition of typology (1*).

Building Forms, J. N. L. Durand (1809)︎︎︎


“What then is a type? It can most simply be defined as a concept which describes a group of objects characterized by the same formal structure. It is neither a spatial diagram nor the average of a serial list. It is fundamentally based on the possibility of grouping objects by certain inherent structural similarities,”(1*)

Prior to the architectural thinking of Modernism theory of typology in the early 1950s, philosophers, scientists, and architects of the Enlightenment used typologies as a means of understanding and modeling after other “like” objects. Initially formulated by Marc-Antoine Laugier in 1713-1796 in his Essai sur l’architecture, the concept of typology was used to conceptualize the primitive hut and its likeness to rational elements and standards. The vertical trees of the hut become “types” of columns, while the horizontal branches were likened to beams or roofs. Later on these thoughts became crucial for the work of Quatremere de Quincy in typological thinking. The concept of “type” was essential in conceiving thoughts surrounding the varied aspects of type. As explained in Quincy in his essay “Type”,(2*);

This metaphorical theory of type is one of the first introduced within modern architectural theory and discourse. Quincy’s work explored the conceptualization of type based on origin, transformation, and invention. Through the process of observing, denoting, classifying, and demarcating, typologies are just inherently biased understandings of historical ideas and concepts. It’s clear that certain spaces have inherent social structures and attitudes within them… but what if these attitudes are situating only “prescriptive” functions and/or activities? Much like Robin Evans expresses in his essay ‘Figures, Doors, and Passages’ in regard to the separation of space via the corridor (3*).

Through the integration of the corridor as a formal structure and organizing strategy a reinterpretation of domestic space became an inherently social dilemma; one concerned with ‘service’ spaces or the hiding of specific activities to fit within a specific social ‘type’. In this way the structuring of typologies can often situate social stereotypes within formally built environments. This contributes to certain groups being isolated and/or unjustly stereotyped within typologies of space.


“The Model is a form to be copied or imitated: ‘all is precise and given in the model.’ Type, on the contrary is something that can act as a basis for the con eption of works, which bear no resemblance to one another:’ all is more or less vague in the type’.”(2*)


“The integration of household space was now for the sake of beauty; it’s separation was for convenience --  a opposition which has since become deeply engraved into theory, creating two distinct standards of judgment for two quite separate realities: On the one hand, an extended concatenation of spaces to flatten the eye (the most easily deceived of the senses , according to contemporary writers); on the other, a careful containment and individual compartments in which to preserve the self from others...The split between an architecture to look through and an architecture to hide in cut an unbridgeable gap dividing commodity from delight, utility from beauty, and function from form.” (3*)

In the case of ‘Figures, Doors, and Passages’ the structuring of an organizational system within the domestic sphere of living literally built walls between social groups and types of interactions; as a result conditioning a social stereotype of space.

While types of buildings are often justified through the means of technology and engineering via building codes, life safety, architectural regulations, etc. what if certain types of buildings could be other things all together? Could the socio-cultural implications of built typologies of space be contributing to a continuum of stereotypes and copies? Or is this simply the system with which the built environment must be furthered and explored? While one of the most prominent ways to conceptualize and perceive new architecture is through known typological thinking and strategies, what if this system is providing a bias from historical ideals compounding onto a never ending implementation of architectural copy and pasting?

What if understanding architecture through typologies is actually inhibiting unknown explorations and experiments in the built environment?...

Rob Krier, Typologies of Elevations (1975)