Path-Based Design: Aldo Van Eyck, Peter & Alison Smithson

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This essay will provide a simple but informative definition of path-based design referring to the works of Aldo Van Eyck and Peter + Alison Smithson. It will discuss the positives and negatives that come from this design concept and propose reasoning behind the different ways the style has been expressed by these three architects. After the discussion the conclusion will provide a summarized definition of path based design and it’s key attributes.

Van Eyck’s Municipal Orphanage will be the first building discussed, it’s inane ability to understand to cognitive processes among the inhabitants and meeting those criteria to create a space that stimulates the children. The passivity of the structure while enabling the users to connect and adapt it to suit their needs provides an instant sense of place and a guide to positioning among the building.


To begin this discussion it is important to first present the prime example of path based design and a seminal piece of architecture from Aldo Van Eyck; a historically significant architect and key member in the inner circle of Team Ten.

Van Eyck’s work on Municipal Orphanage is the most apparent edifice for path based design, he proposes the necessity to convert what traditionally has been an area void of a specific need into a destination – allowing his designs to become not just a space to observed by outsiders but an active dwelling for people to utilize and inhabit. Van Eyck understands the human desire and need for a sense of belonging and place; this is something acquired through memory, anticipation and cognitive processes. (INTEXT REFERENCE orphanage-space-analysis) The result is a combination of human processes that result in a perception of unrestricted l...

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...ambiguous spatial devices to provide a variety of functions dependant on the users needs. His focus upon in between spaces is what made his design triumphant over that of the Smithsons’, his work has held it’s use where as in Building 6 East by the Smithsons’ their intended spaces to be utilized were abandoned, being so general they lacked the inspiration for any use. In a way the Smithsons’ over thought their design, it was full of spatial devices, concrete partitions and open ceilings as opposed to Van Eyck’s Orphanage, which created delight in its simplicity.

There is obviously a clear correlation between Van Eyck’s work and that of the Smithsons’ though the main difference seems to be that in Van Eyck’s orphanage his form facilitates function whereas in Building 6 East the form forces function resulting in a backlash from users resulting in little use.

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