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By : N. John Habraken

In Januari 1699 Jules Hardouin Mansart, Superintendent of Buildings and "Premier Architecte" to Louis-le-Grand, king of France, put his signature to the design for what we now know as the Place Vendome. (fig.1) His design included a monumental fašade wall of exquisite proportions in the neo-classical manner. The square, including the fašade wall, was subsequently built by the city of Paris on request of the King. But no buildings were behind the fašade. The land behind was for sale. In the next decade noblemen, bankers, tax farmers, and other prominent and wealthy citizens who served the king in various administrative and financial functions built their houses there with their own architects. These buildings kept changing and adapting over time. But the fašade as Mansart built it is still what we see today. Mansart's scheme was a remarkable interpretation of what we may call a "two -level organization", by which we mean that one designer provides the spatial framework within which other designers subsequently can do their own. We have here an instance of time-based building in a very straightforward way. Mansart built what was to perform for a long time and to serve many. He thereby provided a context for what might change more frequently and serve individual clients. In general, such a distinction of levels of intervention separates what is relatively permanent from what is relatively changeable. But the way Mansart applied this principle challenged conventional notions. The fašade of a building is normally seen as the expression of that particular building. Here it became part of the level of urban design. We are more familiar with a level distinction in which the fašade of the building is part of the lower level architectural design. When, for instance, H.P. Berlage designed the new extension of Amsterdam in the first half of the 19th century, he designed public spaces like boulevards, streets and squares. He also determined the height of the buildings along these spaces, but architects designed them and produced the fašades that made those spaces become real.

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