The Dom-ino Effect

The Dom-ino Effectdomino
A One-Day Symposium at the Architectural Association, London

Friday 14 March, 10am – 7pm
Lecture Hall

One hundred years ago Le Corbusier developed Dom-ino, a housing prototype consisting of horizontal slabs and pilotis that reduced the building to its minimum. Never has architecture been stripped so bare. The system – an acronym that combined domus and innovation – never saw production but became an emblematic project of twentieth-century architecture and a precursor to one of the most widespread building systems: the concrete structural frame. Today, however, Dom-ino looms as a representation of our slum-like megalopolis, illustrating the industrialisation of housing construction and the vernacular appropriation of itself as a generic model. Placed within its contemporary urban condition, this symposium investigates the enduring relevance of Dom-ino.

Pier Vittorio Aureli & Thomas Weaver

10.00 Introductory Remarks

10.30 Francesco Passanti, University of Texas
Five Dom-ino Points
Le Corbusier’s Dom-ino project (1914–17) and his ‘Five Points of a New Architecture’ (1927) are linked by their reliance on a rigid post-and-slab structure. Together, the former’s tentative exploration and the latter’s synthetic distillation frame a decade of enormous growth for the architect. This talk will first attempt a reading of the ‘Five Points’, questioning whether Le Corbusier saw it as a functionalist statement about architecture or something else entirely. It will then address the impact of Dom-ino on the formation of ‘Five Points’ and the nature of that process.

11.00 Tim Benton, Open University, London
Dom-ino and the Phantom Pilotis
In the public imagination the ‘invention’ of the Domino system and the piloti are almost coterminous. The conceptual and visual detachment of the support from the supported, and the separation of structure from enclosure is only resolved through the use of the piloti. However, the element’s distinctive feature – a circular plan and unarticulated cylindrical form – comprised no part of the Dom-ino project. Concrete piers indicated in the patent application plans and perspectives of 1915 were to be absorbed by enclosing and partition walls. This discussion will explore the piloti and its gradual incorporation into the Dom-ino principle.

11.30 Peter Carl, Metropolitan University, London
On Dom-ino
This talk will suggest that the Dom-ino configuration is part of a family of combinatory frameworks for Le Corbusier. Seemingly ‘rational’, they are theatres of distortion and iconographic intensity. Working primarily with the Villa Stein/de Monzie and the Pavillon Suisse, the lecture will conclude with an overview of the motif in later architectural and graphic works.

12.00 Mary McLeod, Columbia University
From La Maison Dom-ino to Les Maisons Murondins: Le Corbusier’s Housing for War Victims
This talk examines Le Corbusier’s responses to the devastation caused by the First and Second World Wars by comparing his solutions for refugee housing. While Dom-ino used modern construction methods and materials, most notably prefabricated steel scaffolding and reinforced concrete, Maisons Murondins (1940) was conceived to provide temporary shelter and was to be constructed by local youth groups using readily available local materials such as pise (mud), tree trunks and branches. Although in both cases Le Corbusier envisioned a multi-combinatory system for building a variety of structures, the ideas and values underlying the two projects are dramatically different and suggest a radical transformation in his political and social concerns between 1914 and 1940.

12.30 Roundtable debate with speakers

1.00 Lunch

2.00 Stanislaus von Moos, Yale University
Dom-ino as Ruin in Reverse
Architectural drawings typically show how things look. Technical drawings show how things are made. In their interactions with the public, architects tend to favour the first mode, seeing the second as relevant only to the logistics of the building site. However, what interests politics and the media is not a building’s form but its potential to document growth or decay. Using Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh and Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasilia as case studies, this discussion illustrates how during the 1950s–60s architects and state administrations manipulated the media’s depiction of building sites and ruins.

2.30 Platon Issaias, Bartlett, London
Tout va bien: The Maison Dom-ino and the Social Contract of Modern Greece
This lecture introduces the Greek city as a case study for rethinking the political instrumentality of Dom-ino with research that discusses one of the project’s descendants: the polykatoikia – the multi-storey apartment building of Greece. By addressing the massive postwar expansion of this residential system the talk attempts to reveal the domestic form as an emblematic moment of social engineering and thus a political project for managing territory and population through private ownership and construction. Build, rent, buy or sell and everything is fine.

3.00 Justin McGuirk, Strelka
The Dom-ino Tower
In Caracas Torre David is an accidental extrapolation of Dom-ino – a 45-storey version. Abandoned near its completion in the 1990s, the skyscraper is now home to 3,000 squatters who have turned the concrete skeleton into a vertical village. Here, people define not only living space but also their terms for living. Is Torre David just temporary or is it the future? That depends on whether cities can accommodate the idea of buildings as flexible and imperfect mutating works-in-progress.

3.30 Maria Shéhérazade Giudici
A Soft Story: the Invention of Formless Space
Although the rhetoric of Dom-ino is based on technical performance, its vertical structure is not entirely rigid, and its beamless slabs are inefficient. Here, alleged simplicity generates real complexity. Partitions and skin detach from any tectonic rationale to no longer be discussed in terms of finite form, but as flexible, interchangeable shapes. As the physical elements that helped relate the self to the world disappear, a new inhabitant emerges – more free yet condemned to permanent instability. This talk traces shifts through a genealogy of projects that either resisted or exacerbated the Dom-ino model, thus exposing its fundamentally ideological character.

4.00 Roundtable with speakers

4.30 Concluding remarks and drinks