What is Structuralism in Architecture?

Structuralism is an architectural and urban planning movement that developed in the mid-20th century. The lifeless expression of Rationalism in urban planning gave rise to this movement. Structuralism pays attention to changes in user functions, characterized by the modular designs as part of a larger coherent whole having the ability to accommodate the changes in functionality. The movement also includes implementing space-structuring constructions, which promotes the honest utilization of the given materials. It also comprises the particular notice to transitions on the inside and outside of the establishment. Aside from that, Structuralism emphasizes the experiences, the individual’s ability to recognize his workspace, the liveability of the establishment, its extensibility, and flexibility. 

Structuralism has an exceedingly vast scope. The approach of Structuralism may be applied to different texts like some headline in the newspaper, a street sign, script, legal contract, or reports. It may also apply to various establishments like sheds, iconic buildings, office blocks, or even a whole city. Most establishments that we now occupy may be influenced by Structuralism. 


After World War II, Structuralism in architecture and urban planning began to emerge in society. It originated in the Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM), also known as International Congresses in Modern Architecture. CIAM was an organization that provides a platform for urbanism and architecture. Many groups that have different views regarding architecture were part of the CIAM. There were Rationalists, and there were people who think of architecture as a form of art. Team 10 was also a member. There were also advocates of high and low-rise establishments and many other groups. The famous group, Team 10, was active in the organization. And, their influence gave birth to two various movements: The New Brutalism of the English architects and the Structuralism of the Dutch architects. 

Aside from Team 10, other people influenced the development of Structuralism in architecture. Some of the well-known people who had a part in the development of the structuralist movement are Louis Kahn, an architect from the United States. Another one is Kenzo Tange, a Japanese architect. Lastly, John Habraken, a Dutch architect in the Netherlands.

When Kenzo Tange designed the Tokyo Bay Plan in 1960, he thought about calling his project Structuralism later on the project’s initial phase. He thought of Structuralism emerging from the year 1960 on ahead. 

Le Corbusier, a Swiss-French architect, also made numerous projects and prototypes with the concept of Structuralism. Even though some Team 10 members criticize some parts of his works, they still acknowledged Le Corbusier as a distinguished model and a notable creative personality in architecture and the arts. 

Structuralism had a strong impact and influence in Europe until the late 1960s. While this movement was making its way to classical modern architecture, New Brutalism, another architectural style, started emerging. In 1975, the philosophy of Structuralism lost its primary position in humanities because of some changes in social and political aspects. Structuralism in architecture was also slowly diminishing due to the emerging popularity of postmodernism architecture, popularized by authors Robert Venturi, Charles Jencks, and Denise Scott Brown. However, ideas regarding Structuralism continued to inform the building designs of the significant architects during and after the postmodernism era. 

Theoretical ideas regarding the Structuralist movement evolved mainly in two countries, Europe and Japan. United States of America and Canada also contributed to concepts of Structuralism.

Aside from these countries, Arnulf Lüchinger, an architect and author, also had a significant contribution to the spread of the Structuralism movement. In 1980, he published some architectural magazines and his collections of projects inspired by Structuralism. His action helped spread and introduce the idea of Structuralism to a broader audience. 

Claude Lévi-Strauss, a famous anthropologist, once said, “I do not believe that we can still speak of one Structuralism. There were a lot of movements that claimed to be structuralist.” It’s true. You can also find this diversity of Structuralism in different architectures. In architectural Structuralism, two directions produced various images. The first one is the Aesthetic of Numbers. Aldo van Eyck, an architect from the Netherlands, formulated this concept in 1959. The concept of Aesthetic of Numbers is also known as the Spatial Configurations in Architecture. One famous prototype of this concept is Aldo van Eyck’s orphanage in Amsterdam, which he completed in 1960. The second direction is the Architecture of Lively Variety. It is also known as the Architecture of Diversity. In 1961, a Dutch architect named John Habraken made this concept for user participatory design in housing. There were also a lot of famous utopian projects inspired by the concept of Architecture of Lively Variety. Some well-known prototype of this second direction is Kenzo Tange’s Yamanashi Culture Chamber located in Kofu. He completed this prototype in 1967.