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Perhaps, what stands out most about open plan is how easy it is to implement different organizations. However, this system implies having certain skills to find spatial mechanisms able to differentiate the areas according to the specific needs. But, what do we exactly understand as open plan? Which are its characteristics? 

¿What is an open plan?

An open plan is the one whose structure has been designed to perform independently of the dividing elements of space, such as partitions and walls. Since they don't have a structural function like the classic load-bearing walls, it is possible to organize the space as desired, without having to maintain a specific and pre-arranged spatial layout. 



It is a concept strongly linked withthe modern movement, and it has been widely used by leading architects such as Le Corbusier or Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. This open plan system is possible thanks to the use of steel and concrete in architecture, as these materials enable structures designed with columns instead of load-bearing walls, making the free organization of space possible.

Characteristics of the open plan in architecture

The static plan is shifting to the open plan thanks to the flexibility of the modern building, which allows interior dividing walls to be shaped in the most suitable way. Fine or curved irregular lines allow a space to be organized as desired, leaving pre-established divisions behind, and connecting areas that would not be linked so before. Therefore, it is not strange to see how spaces are interconnected without  walls. 

In short, in open-plan architecture, the division of spaces by means of furniture is advocated, or they are simply organized without any kind of division. In addition, it is common that these divisions are made to be movable, through elements such as screens or panels, enabling the temporary modification of the room. 


There are two movements currents that share "the open plan concept" as the basis of organization in modern architecture: functionalism and the organic movement. The first one has the Swiss architect, Le Courbusier as its maximum exponent, and the organic movement, with Frank Lloyd Wright as its main representative. In functionalism, the open plan is established for a practical purpose, while in the organic movement, the main goal is to free space from the already established paradigms.


One of the great advantages of the houses with open plan is that they have more useful surface available. Almost 10% of the total square meters of a house are traditionally used for partitions. In addition, the flexibility in distribution, the improvement of natural light or the elimination of architectural barriers are  some of these other advantages.

Examples of Open Plan 

If we focus on some examples of this type of plan in architecture, we can find not only living spaces but also exhibition spaces, among others. Thanks to this free floor plan, it is possible to distribute the space and change it without difficulties.  

  • Ville Savoye and Ville Stein, both built by Le Corbusier, were built in France following a free plan, modulated by columns that form a structural system independent of the walls. Divided into three floors, Ville Savoye is also structured by its function: the first floor is linked to the services, the intermediate floor allocates the private rooms, and the last one includes the living space and visual delight.
  • Rietveld Schröder House, designed by Gerrit Rietveld, represents the total flexibility of the domestic areas, where the internal divisions vary almost completely. All this is thanks to the use of retractable walls and furniture specially designed for that house.


  • As far as public programs are concerned, we found a good representation in the New National Gallery in Berlin. This building designed by Mies van der Rohe hosts temporary exhibitions with the total flexibility of its free floor plan. 

These are just a few examples of what open plan means in architecture, but we are sure that now that you know what it really means, you will find many more in modern architecture.


Master in Collective Housing UPM/ETH

The Master of Advance Studies in Collective HousingMCH, is a postgraduate full-time international professional program of advanced architecture design in cities and housing presented by Universidad Politécnica of Madrid (UPM) and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH).
The next edition of the MAS in Collective Housing will start in March 2021. The application period is still opened, and it will remain so till 10.02.2021 or until vacancies are filled. Apply now!


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