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Oskar Hansen: Open Form

Yale School of Architecture
New Haven, Connecticut
Through December 17

Linear Continuous System: Western Belt, Oskar Hansen, 1977. 63" × 144" × 24", reconstructed by Onimo Makiety Architektoniczne, 2014. On loan courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Poland. Photo: Rich House Photography

Oskar Hansen (1922–2005), the Polish architect, theorist, urban planner, and artist, was a deliberate provocateur. In the recorded interviews interspersed throughout this intimate exhibition — curated to present the evolution of his work through films, photographs, and sketches — he deploys the word “polemics” repeatedly.

Open Form, the theory he introduced in 1959, was a flexible architectural framework with an “average human being” as the central focus. It represented a break from what Hansen termed Closed Form — structures whose foremost purpose seemed the glorification of their architects. Hansen was a member of Team 10, the architectural group that formed to refute the urban vision of Le Corbusier and his disciples. 

On display is the design that Hansen and several colleagues presented for a 1957 international competition for a memorial at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The ruins of camp were to be obliterated by a giant asphalt road, upon which visitors could leave their own tokens of remembrance. Though “The Road” won the competition, survivors of the camp opted for the more conventional memorial that occupies the site.

Hansen adapted Open Form on a larger scale in the 1960s, with his Linear Continuous System, which envisioned four settlement belts throughout Poland. The inhabitants of these homes would have equal access to such resources as sun and green spaces. Many of Hansen’s designs remained theoretical, though they exerted a wide influence, particularly on the generations of students he taught at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. They found a natural extension among visual artists who saw possibilities for unique expression in Open Form — some of whose works are on display at Yale — and continue to inform debates on the future of architecture today. ■