Gordon Cullen

Gordon Cullen is best known for his book (The concise) Townscape, where he approaches the city as a serial vision with a sequence of revelations. The slightest deviation in alignment has disproportionally powerful effect in the third dimension. He distinguished closure from enclosure and therefor discusses the square as part of the towns sequence.

External space

Many houses built together form streets and squares. They enclose space with a width and height and create an outside space. Internal volumes or spaces – such as rooms – are justified in the purely function of construct and shelter. Now what justifies the external volume? Social life is not confined to the interior of buildings. Instead of a shapeless environment based on the principal of flow, we have an articulated environment resulting of breaking-up flow for social interaction. The flow needs space to get around this interaction.

Outdoor room

Cullen poses that if the outdoor room – in contrast with the indoor landscape – is to be colonised, architecture is not enough. “The outdoors is not just a display of individual works of architecture like pictures in a gallery, it is an environment for the complete human being, who can claim it either  statically or in movement”. That human being demands more than a picture gallery. Cullen claims the human demands the drama “that can be released all around him from floor, sky, building, trees and levels by the art of arrangement“. The outdoor has to be created as an entity with the right enclosed spots.

Gorden CullenClosure and enclosure

There is a different between closure and enclosure. Closure is the creation of a break in the street. This break does not block out the sense of progression beyond. You are focused on the break and the space behind. With enclosure on the other hand, you are completely surrounded. The reaction is static: once an enclosure is entered, the scene remains the same as you walk across it. When you walk out it, a new scene is suddenly revealed. Enclosure provides a world apart which is inward looking, static and self-sufficient. Cullen: “Enclosure is the end product of traffic, this is the place to which traffic brings you. Whiteout enclosure traffic becomes nonsense”.

Here and there

And than there is here and there. The here is known, the there can ben known or unknown and revealed in the sequence of the serial vision. Usually in an enclosed entity the here remains the same and the there is unknown. With a high archway or a proper perspective the there can be revealed from the enclosed here. And when the object building is deflected away, you expect that it is doing for a reason: that there is a new place at the end. This expectation links to Penns intelligibility and Voorhorsts Claritas (unambiguity).




– G. Cullen: “The concise townscape” [1961], Architectural Press – Oxford.




  • who wrote this? need to reference for my university essay.Thank you, Mike

    • mauritsvoorhorst

      Hi Mike,
      It is my (E.M. Voorhorst) interpretation of Cullen’s work.
      I hope your essay works out well.

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