Skip to main content

Bifurcated Plan | House


Beginning in the 1940s architect Marcel Breuer experimented with an interior organization for house design he called “bi-nuclear.” This Bifurcated Plan consists of two separate functional elements (public and private) joined, roughly, in the shape of an H.


Marcel Breuer’s “bi-nuclear plan” first appeared in 1940s era projects, including the H-house (1943) and Bi-nuclear house III (1945). These plans separated daytime functions (living room, dinning room, and kitchen) from night time functions (bedrooms and bathrooms) as an organizational scheme Breuer believed could better serve American family needs. “ . . . Only the daytime wing needs to be kept up in a presentable condition, while the bedroom-playroom element can safely become the necessarily chaotic domain of children; furthermore, the connecting link forms an excellent sound baffle between the parents’ rest and work space, and the children’s realm of self-expression. The plan is, moreover, so flexible that differences in the slope of the land can be overcome in the link itself . . ., while problems of orientation, view, and other site conditions can be solved by shifting the binuclear elements in relation to each other.” Architect and critic Peter Blake’s influential book, Marcel Breuer: Architect and Designer, drew from Breuer’s material in the Museum of Modern Art to describe the attributes of the plan: clean organization, simplicity of management, and its creation of zones of privacy.1

Breuer experimented with a bifurcated plan in various projects, including the Geller House in Lawrence, Long Island, New York in 1945. Breuer discovered that the space left between the two spatial nuclei, aside of the entry area, could be used as an open porch that provided a third functional space. Breuer was also interested in reflecting the new interior distribution as the form of the house, thus projecting the interior plan as the main aesthetic component of the exterior. To achieve this in the Geller House, Breuer provided each nucleus with a squared silhouette in plan and elevation that could be easily read from the exterior. He then accentuated their distinction with a butterfly roof (a roof conformed by two sloping planes joined in opposite directions to resemble the wings of a butterfly). Breuer's Robinson House (1947) Williamstown, Massachusetts, is another bifurcated plan type.2

A Bifurcated Plan was widely used as a model for residential space planning throughout the 1940s and 1950s. In 1949 Walter Gropius designed the Howlett House in Belmont, Massachusetts using Breuer’s conception of separating the public areas of the house from the private ones through an entry way. Gropius, however, used a secondary entry way (rather than the main entrance) as the separating element. And, instead of an H-shaped plan, Gropius used an L-shaped one to avoid symmetry. Like Breuer, Gropius used the space between the two nuclei for a courtyard.

In 1955, two firms, E.H. and M.K. Hunter Architects and Carl Kolch and Associates, each designed bifurcated houses that divided public areas from private ones through main entry spaces. However, neither of the designs took advantage of the entry as an acoustic isolator. Although the forms were similar to Breuer’s the design by E.H. and M.K Hunter Architects reduced the entry space to a minimum, thereby pushing two nuclei closer together. The plan by Carl Kolch and Associates converted Breuer’s outdoor porch into an indoor living room resulting a shared wall between the public nucleus and the private one. Both designers isolated one space from the other through circulation, but not in terms of sound.

Since the 1950s a bifurcated organization can be found occasionally, but its clarity as a plan reflected on the exterior has blurred. The two once clearly shaped nuclei now intermingle into more complex forms. When a Bifurcated Plan is applied to two-story houses, the entry way no longer divided public and private spaces; instead, the separation comes from varying floor levels. The entry way now separates other functionalities within the residential space. In the 1995 Spiral House designed by Dean/ Wolf Architects, the entry space separates on the first floor the study area from the social rooms, and on the second floor, the master bedroom from the children’s areas.3 Similarly, in the 2001 Pennsylvania House by Wesley Wei Architects, the entry volume separates on the first floor, the service area (kitchen) from the social spaces (living room and dinning room) and on the second floor, the main bedroom from the secondary spaces.4

Although plans with two functional spaces composing two nuclei are the most common, contemporary plans with three or more functional spaces constituting of various nuclei can be identified in emerging prefabricated houses. In these houses, each container or unit constitutes a different nucleus, and each nucleus is united to the other through an entry way. In the Garret House designed by Richard Wintersole in Hood County, Texas three containers are united by two entry spaces constituting a trifurcated plan.

end notes

  1. 1) Peter Blake. Marcel Breuer: Architect and Designer (New York: Architectural Record/Museum of Modern Art, 1949), 86, 87, plates 154, 155, 156.
  2. 2) Blake, Marcel Breuer, 88-89, 91, plates 157, 158, 159, 161, 162.
  3. 3) Spiral House [1995] Dean Wolf Architects; North Castle, NY in Charles K. Hoyt, “Hitting Bedrock,” Architectural Record 183, no. 4 (Apr. 1995): 62-67.
  4. 4) Pennsylvania House [2001) Wesley Wei Architects; Media, PA in Clifford A. Pearson, “Wesley Wei Forges a Balanced Whole with his Pennsylvania House,” Architectural Record 72, no. 4, Record Houses 2001 (Apr. 2001): 154-160.
  5. 5) Evidence for the use and the chronological sequence of Bifurcated Plan as a house archetype was developed from the following sources: 1950 Walter Prokosh House [1951] Walter Prokosch Architect;  Old Greenwich, CT; in John Hancock Callender, "Six East and West Coast Houses," Architectural Record 110, no. 5 (Nov. 1951): 131; PhotoCrd: Joseph Molitor; John French House [1955] E.H. and M.K. Hunter Architects; Woodstock, VT; in "Year ‘Round Vacation House in New England," Architectural Record 118, no. 3 (Sep. 1955): 194; PhotoCrd: Joseph Molitor; Vacation House for Thomas Estes[1955] Carl Kolch and Associates, Frederick L. Day Jr. Associates; Oyster Harbor, NY; in "Vacation Houses," Architectural Record 118, no. 2 (Aug. 1955): 140; PhotoCrd: Ezra Stoller; Vacation House for Mortimer M. Denker [1955) Hudson Jackson Architects, H. Seymour Howard Jr. and Harold Edelman Associates; Westhampton Beach, NY; in "Vacation Houses," Architectural Record 118, no.2 (Aug. 1955): 138, 139; PhotoCrd: Louis Reens / 1960 Hawaiian House [1960] Vladimir Ossipoff, Architect; Honolulu, Hawaii; in "Hawaiian House Quietly Echoes a Lush Setting," Architectural Record, Record Houses of 1960 (Mid-May 1960): 78; PhotoCrd: Robert Wenkam; Desmond House [1960] John Desmond, Architect; Hammond, LA; in "A Village of Pavilions for a Home," Architectural Record, Record Houses of 1960 (Mid-May 1960): 111; PhotoCrd: Frank Lotz Miller / 1990 Plan, Spiral House (Dr. Andrew and Lisa Goldberg House) [1995] Dean Wolf Architects; North Castle, NY in Charles K. Hoyt, "Hitting Bedrock," Architectural Record 183, no. 4 (Apr. 1995): 66 / 2000 Plan, Pennsylvania House [2001) Wesley Wei Architects; Maria Izak Nevelson Interior Design; Media, PA in Clifford A. Pearson, "Wesley Wei Forges a Balanced Whole with his Pennsylvania House," Architectural Record 72, no. 4, Record Houses 2001 (Apr. 2001): 158; Box House [2006] Maya Lin, Maya Lin Studio; CO in Sarah Amelar, "Inspired by Asian Puzzle Toys, Maya Lin Crafts the Kinetic Box House," Architectural Record 77, no. 4, Record Houses 2006 (Apr. 2006): 112; PhotoCrd: Paul Warchol.

bibliographic citations

1) The Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, Cornell University, (accessed month & date, year).

2) Mendez, Marta. “Theory Studies: Archetypical Practices of Contemporary House Design.” M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2008, 151-160.