The Philosopher’s Walk

The winter wind blew icy, sharp, bringing an intimation of snow with it. The sky was leaden.

Light warmth, shrill voices and bursts of laughter came from the nursery school Since April 1985, the nursery school has been replaced with apartments 101 and 102. . While he was crossing through the covered garden, now deserted and silent the Philosopher saw the child. He was very small. He sat motionless on a stone, staring into the distance, sunken in thought. lt was his eyes that struck the Philosopher: they were large and awesome in his small, round face, as if they had seen eternity. The Philosopher repeatedly asked the child who he was, and then asked him many other questions. He talked softly to him, tried to make him laugh, but he wasn’t able to get a word, or even a sound out of him. The child The idea of the child/Fate comes from a Calabrian folk tale. remained still and looked at him with his awesome eyes. Then the Philosopher decided to take him with him on his walk, along the path which led from the ground through the building up to the roof, where the plants slept in greenhouses, awaiting the spring and the sun.
He picked him up – he was as light as a feather. He sat straight up in the Philosopher’s arms, just as he had on the stone, and kept watching him.

'Neither Coincidence nor Fate exists, madam.'

As they turned the South Corner, which was as wide and round as a pregnant woman, they saw the woman. She came towards them along the same path. She was barefoot and wore a loose robe, fastened at her left shoulder. She smiled at the man with the child.
The Philosopher greeted her.
The woman said, ‘What a beautiful and special child.’
The Philosopher answered, ‘I found him. I want to show him to everyone.’
They continued on their way. The spring wind softly caressed them, carrying a scent of grass and flowers. The sky was covered with hasty, white clouds.
They met the old woman on the bridge which rose up along the West Hall. From this position, the profiles which were characteristic of this corner, sharp as the face of death, couldn’t be seen, but the Philosopher remembered them very well.
The old woman was wearing a voluminous black silk dress. The Philosopher greeted her.
With an intonation in her voice as if she already knew the answer, she asked, ‘Does that child belong to you?’
The Philosopher answered, ‘For as long as we both choose, madam.’
The old woman smiled and said, ‘Some children have Coincidence as father.’
The Philosopher answered, ‘Neither Coincidence nor Fate exists, madam.’

They continued on their way, nearly driven by the summer wind which brought distant party sounds with its warm breeze. The sky was blue, almost bleached by the sun.
They saw the man approaching in the distance, from the other side of the courtyard, while he descended in their direction. They met him at the North Corner. His open and confident face reminded the Philosopher of the rectangular forms which defined this corner of the building.
He was well-dressed and very self-confident.
The Philosopher greeted him and the man asked, ‘Are you showing the child the building?’
The Philosopher answered, ‘I think the child is showing me something.’
The child was becoming heavy now.
‘Perhaps it’s because of the heat,’ thought the Philosopher. slightly exhausted.

'A dream can become reality.'

They completed a tour of the building before they met the boy. The fall wind stormed around them, blowing up dust and leaves. The blue sky still glanced through the gray clouds.
The boy stood on the highest bridge of the East Corner. He leaned against the parapet attentfully watching the sea or perhaps he was staying at the corner profiles, wavy and undefined of form. Probably he was only following his own turbulent as yet confused ideas.
He was a handsome, somewhat unsophisticated boy.
The Philosopher greeted him and the boy turned to them and said, ‘Am I dreaming or can I believe my eyes?’, while he looked at the child.
The Philosopher answered, ‘A dream can become reality.’
In the meantime they had arrived at the highest part of the building. The Philosopher tried to take in the view: the city, the sea, the long black line of the railroad tracks … but the weight of the child had become’ ponderous and it kept him from enjoying the view, as he had on other occasions.

He decided to put the little one on his shoulders to make the way back easier. Now he couldn’t see the eyes of the child anymore, but he felt them staring into his neck.
The child was now as heavy as a stone, and he spoke suddenly, with a slow, monotonous, faraway voice:
‘I am Fate. Bring me back to the place where you found me.’
With difficulty, the Philosopher gently put the child back on the stone. The child continued to watch him with his awesome eyes.
The Philosopher had the impression that the child was no longer looking at him, but through him, at something behind him. Instinctively, he turned around. He saw only the deserted space where the winter wind tangled the gray, dried-up weeds.
The building he had walked through was only imaginary. lt had all been merely an illusion.
Tiny snowflakes stung his face. But he wasn’t cold. He remembered only too well the clarity of each part of the building mirrored in the large eyes of Fate.

The Philosopher reflected on the encounters he had had: the young woman, who light-footed and smiling had said, ‘What a beautiful and special child.’ She had seen the beauty in his awesome eyes, and had not been afraid.
He thought of the old woman, who had asked, ‘Does the child belong to you?’ Her remark about Coincidence and fatherhood had given him the idea to adopt the clear images in the child’s eyes.
He thought about the man, who had asked, ‘Are you showing the child the building?’ and he understood for the first time that this question was an assignment.
He thought about the boy’s question: ‘Am I dreaming or can I believe my eyes?’ and he smiled, for he understood that the only illusion is time.
The Philosopher decided to be on his way.

G Piero Frassinelli
1985, March 3rd

Fons Elders
1985, March 17th

Purification & Initiation rite by Paul de Leeuw on building ground for House of the Four Winds

de Volkskrant - May 1984

Author: Frank van Zijl

Vierwindenhuis biedt privacy en sociaal contact (Translation: House of the Four Winds offers privacy and social contacts)
View PDF

Telegraaf - 1984, June 2nd

Author: Rene Steenhorts

Vierwindenhuis kent geen tegenstellingen (Translation: House of the Four Winds is without contradistinctions)
View PDF

NRC - 1984, November 3rd

Author: Rainer Bullhorst

Bouwplan Vierwindenhuis (Translation: Construction plan for House of the Four Winds)
View PDF

Haagsche Courant - 1984

Author: Jan Kees Kokke

Vierwindenhuis: Privacy en sociaal contact vervlochten (Translation: House of the Four Winds: Privacy and social intimicy interlaced)
View PDF

Cobouw - 1985, October 25th

Bouw “Vierwindenhuis” kan eindelijk beginnen (Translation: Construction “House of the Four Winds” finally may start)
View PDF

Stadsnieuws - 1985, October

Vierwindenhuis siert straks Wittenburg (Translation: House of the Four Winds will ornament Wittenburg)
View PDF

Video Interview - 1985

Interview with David Elders, chairman of Stichting Bolhuis.

Parool - 1985, September 14th

Wonen op filosofische basis (Translation: Housing with philosophical foundation
View PDF

GPD - 1986, September 1st

Author: Runa Hellinga

Vierwindenhuis brengt mens bij natuur (Translation: People closer to nature by House of the Four Winds)
View PDF

HOZ - 1986, November 12th

Author: Stichting HOZ

Verslag studiedag over nieuwe woonvormen (Translation: Report, study on new housing forms)
View PDF

Telegraaf - 1987, April 4th

Author: Mark Veldkamp

Interview met Fons Elders – Leven met vier winden (Translation: Living with four winds)
View PDF

Telegraaf - 1987, April 15th

Author: Mark Veldkamp

Sociaal aspect weer belangrijk in nieuwbouw (Translation: Social aspect important again for new buildings)
View PDF

Goudse Post - 1987, July 18th

Het vierwindenhuis (Translation: House of the Four Winds)
View PDF

History and future results

Cosmology, social behavior and architecture are not separate entities

The story of the House of the Four Winds begins in January 1977, in the house of Mamadu Traoré, an antique dealer in Mopti, a trading city on the Niger in Mali. After staying a few weeks with the Dogon, an ancient African tribe which is famous for its cosmology, its educational traditions, and its architecture, my family was invited to be the guests of the Traoré family.
We moved into a room which was separated from that of Mamadu by a door. Each of the rooms of the members of this large family has a door leading onto the ample, rectangular courtyard, where there is a well and a tower. The toilet on top of the tower made daily ‘elimination,’ with the sun or the moon as silent witness, to a part of the cyclical rhythm of day and night.
Through a port was an exit which connected the courtyard with the street. The transition from the market to the street, and from the street to the courtyard, and from the courtyard to the rooms, is a spatial continuum, a mirror image of the social behavior.
Each member of the family has his own room. Some evenings, Mamadu’s wife would cross the courtyard to spend the night with her husband in his room. The rooms were apparently personal spaces rather than functional ones. The relationships among the women seemed intimate and lively. The same was true for the men.
Cosmology, social behavior and architecture are not separate entities, or theoretical abstractions, but concrete experiences which influence one another. On Bali, for example, one begins by determining the auspicious day to choose, to demarcate and to clean the terrain where one will eventually build.
In ‘ Illustrative Relation G.P. Frassinelli-Supersudio, a publication of the Foundation Sphere House, September, 1983 p.30. ‘, Gian Piero Frassinelli writes:
We will take possession of the site on a sunny day. We will indicate on the ground the direction of our shadow when it is shortest. With this very old rite, the construction will begin. Having chosen the direction we must determine the dimension; for this we take as a parameter our loneliness, which is sometimes small as a millet seed and at other times it is so large that the universe cannot contain it. It is measured in our culture by about four steps by four… The module of the structure chosen is: 4 x 4 m. These columns rise to various heights forming the spider web on which our house will be woven, and the spider web will be oriented towards the south.

People and buildings deeply influence each other: a good house, a good square, a strong city – each has what we can call a soul. Old cities such as Amsterdam, have their own life, their own atmosphere.
The integration of the three levels of cosmology, social behavior and architecture has been the starting point of the experimental housing plan in Amsterdam, which now carries the name ‘the House of the Four Winds’. This integration also implies an attempt to reconcile some of the many contradictions one finds in the daily practice of architecture and city planning. These problems range from the lack of relationship between house and street, to the many oppositions one finds in the field of human relationships: family members, for example, often feel that their house offers too little privacy, while at the same time, they experience an equally important need to be together when they choose. As a consequence of financial criteria a social and spatial monoculture has arisen. People often feel pressed into an inadequate form of expression by the living situation.
The daily practice of architecture and city planning systematically cuts off people from their experience of nature. Nature has been reduced to a few parks and window boxes with geraniums.
An important question is – can small-scale experiments and renewal in building and housing offer a contribution to the crying need for individuality, and the equally strong need for social contacts in the living environment?
Just as important is the question if it is possible to make the experience of nature more concrete in housing by means of orientation, light, color and movement.
If there are oppositions between private and public domain and between culture and nature – isn’t it possible to reconcile these oppositions; to establish a pattern of polarities which complement each other (as yin and yang) rather than negating or fighting each other?
City planning and architecture as such, lack the power to create a pattern of complementary polarities, in which private and public domain, nature and culture enhance each other. If these needs are living in people, regardless of age, sex and social-economic background, then it is essential to search constantly for a spatial structure which gives concrete expression to these needs.
Orientation, determination of a grid and spiral terraces form the answer to a program, formulated by a committee of future inhabitants and myself. The desire that people and not primarily functions would be the starting point for the division of space plays a central role. A consequence of this wish is the condition that all private spaces – rooms of 4 x 4 meters – have two doors: one to the common living room, and one leading directly outside. Another wish is to house various types of households and different generations under one large roof.
And yet, a third wish is to allow nature to enter the buildings as much as possible. This happens in various ways. The entrances to the central stairways are situated at the ends of the north-south and the east-west axes – from there the name ‘House of the Four Winds’. The orientation refers to the East Church at the head of the peninsula Wittenburg, and the Church itself relates to South Church, West Church and North Church, marking the four directions of the city.
The four large halls, lying at the crossing points of the square, represent the four universal elements: Earth (East Hall); Air (South Hall); Fire (West Hall); and Water (North Hall). These four halls have the function respectively of garden; meeting place and theater; public restaurant; sauna, Japanese bath and fountain.
Each side of the square is built 0.70 meters higher than the last. One round trip yields a difference in height of 2 meters 80, or one whole floor. One can walk around this spiral via a path at minus 0.70 meters in the courtyard facing northeast. In front of the East Hall it rises 0.70 meters, to continue via the outside of the building in a southeasterly direction, around the South Hall, again rising 0.70 meters. It continues in a southwesterly direction, turning to the inside at the passage in front of the West Hall, passing the northwest side towards the North Hall. In front of the North Hall, the path takes a northeasterly direction, but is now one floor higher than at the start. The spiral path, which is 800 meters long, ends at a height of 15 meters 40. It has the double function of giving direct access to the private rooms and providing terrace space for each apartment. On every level the path can be reached from each of the four central stairways.
The House of the Four Winds has several gardens on the southeast side; a covered garden in the East Hall; on several floors porches and greenhouses; and on the roof of the northwest wing, close to the elevator, a Japanese tea house. The small terraces which rise pyramid-like around the West-, North-, and East-entrances will be hanging gardens. An Italian poplar will grow above the entrance of the East House.
All of the terraces which make up the path catch the sun because of their orientation to the southeast or the southwest.
In the House of the Four Winds, the houses vary from 2-room to 5-room apartments, not including storage room, terrace and other facilities. The houses differ not only in size, but also in type. They offer the inhabitants enhanced privacy because the rooms can be reached directly from the outside, while the various social-cultural activities and general facilities in the House of the Four Winds increase the opportunity for social contacts without formal obligation to participate.
Children can climb the building as if it were a jungle gym. They can play in the courtyard, and make music and theater in the South Hall with their parents and neighbors as an audience.
The Association of Owners has decided to exploit a restaurant space for themselves: the space is situated in the northwest wing, next to the cafe, intended not only for members but also for the neighborhood, and the food co-op. The restaurant will be managed by the members for their own use.
The title of this story: The House of the Four Winds in its Sixth Appearence, refers to the fact that Piero Frassinelli has revised his design six times, dating from the summer of 1982, when he drew the first. The changes were the consequence of the wishes of the future inhabitants; criticism of city functionaries; financial problems and, not the least, a growing insight into how the original program could be optimally reconciled with the urban situation. In spite of the fact that Plan VI is 25 percent less ex pensive than Plan III, all the original design choices have been maintained. However, in Plan VI, bearing walls of poured concrete will take the place of the original column structure, which had been desirable because of the flexibility it lent to the building. This change was prompted by financial necessity.
The House of the Four Winds in its sixth appearance is a mature plan: design, construction and various functions have grown simultaneously. But orientation, light and movement – the time factor in architecture – can be shown to full advantage only when the terraces and roofs are being used: when people are dining in the West Hall as passersby far above them are on their way to or from their home; when the neighbors of the House of the Four Winds stroll through the courtyard to walk along the banks of the canal in the evening; when the cafe becomes a meeting place for the whole neighborhood; when the courtyard is bustling on Saturday with an art fair.

In short, only daily life can show the real beauty of the House of the Four Winds.

Tour along House of the Four Winds with Fons Elders in 2011

First Pole - 1988, May 18th

Speech by occasion of placing the first pole.
View PDF

AD - 1989, March 18th

Author: Gerrit den Ambtman

Filosofie in boek en bouw (Translation: Philosophy in book and buiding)
View PDF

Dreams Cape - 1989, May 19th

Lecture organised by Foundation Perdu in their series “de avonden”
View PDF

Parool - 1989, July 25th

Author: Catherine van Houts

Interview: Vierwindenhuis en vliegend tapijt (Translation: House of the Four Winds and flying carpet)
View PDF

NRC - 1990, August 24th

Author: Max van Rooy

Een utopie op Wittenburg (Translation: Utopia on Wittenburg)
View PDF

MUG - 1991, March

Author: Jaap-Jan de Jong

Nieuw geluid vanuit Vierwindenhuis (Translation: New sounds in House of the Four Winds)
View PDF

NAPA - 1991, April 13th

Interview with Fons Elders:
Wij zijn vergeten hoe de natuur werkt (Translation: We have forgotten natures functioning)
View PDF

Rekenschap - 1992

Author: Fons Elders

Het Vierwindenhuis, een verhaal over droom, daad en werkeliikheid (Translation: House of the Four Winds, a story about dream, act and reality)
View PDF

Parool 2002, June 22nd

Author: Marina de Vries

Antroposofisch luchtkasteel in pomo-stijl (Translation: Anthroposophical pie in the sky in post-modern style)
View PDF

De Eilander - 2009, December

Author: Henk Pauwels

Henk Pauwels interviews Fons Elders about the House of the Four Winds – on its 10th anniversary – in the Oosterkerk, Amsterdam.
View PDF

Sixth Appearance

Author: Fons Elders

House of the Four Winds in its sixth appearance (Dutch and English)
View PDF

Letter from G.P. Frassinelli

Author: Gian Piero Frassinelli

A letter from Gian Piero Frassinxlli, dated November 8th 2011.
View PDF


Start typing and press Enter to search