In architecture, a quadrangle (or colloquially, a quad) is a space or a courtyard, usually rectangular (square or oblong) in plan, the sides of which are entirely or mainly occupied by parts of a large building (or several smaller buildings).

The word "plan" is a noun, therefore I believe it to be a typo (no article). Another word that comes to mind is the word "plane" which is an adjective as well as a noun:

TFD def: noun

  1. Mathematics A surface containing all the straight lines that connect any two points on it.
  2. A flat or level surface.

TFD def: adjective

  1. Mathematics Of or being a figure lying in a plane: a plane curve.
  2. Flat; level. See Synonyms at level.

But these also don't fit for me somehow.

  • ?? a plan is a plan ... like a map is a map and a photo is a photo and a blueprint is a blueprint. It's incredibly straightforward.
    – Fattie
    Sep 9, 2021 at 19:35
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    @Fattie Who is that comment addressed to? This is a site for people learning English; that naturally means that many of the answers seem "incredibly straightforward" to native speakers.
    – IMSoP
    Sep 9, 2021 at 20:59
  • I was addressing CanadianYankee's comment.
    – Fattie
    Sep 10, 2021 at 2:53

4 Answers 4


In the context of architecture, 'in plan' means 'as viewed from above' (it's the same as 'bird's eye view'). It's because building plans are drawn as if you're looking at them from above. So 'rectangular in plan' means that the building is the shape of a rectangle when you look at it from a bird's eye view.

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    And it is contrasted with elevation which is the view from one of the sides, hence front elevation and so on.
    – mdewey
    Sep 7, 2021 at 15:55
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    I'm not satisfied that my explanation for why 'plan' doesn't need an article was correct. I know it follows the same grammar rule as these examples: 'The house is red in colour' 'The music is pleasant in tone' 'The subject is smooth in texture' 'The quadrangle is rectangular in plan.' But I'll have to leave the explanation to someone who understands it better.
    – AnonFNV
    Sep 7, 2021 at 16:48
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    I don't know for sure, but I suspect the underlying phrase is "plan view", which in the architectural and drafting contexts, means, more or less, "as viewed from above". So, I would guess that the OPs phrase "in plan" is short for "in plan view", and success since "plan" here is an adjective, it doesn't take "the". Sep 7, 2021 at 23:05
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    @Dale Hagglund: You can't edit your comment, but you can delete it and replace it with a corrected version. (Copy the comment text into your clipboard before deleting it.) Sep 8, 2021 at 1:09
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    @AnonFNV "plan" in an adjective here. The noun following "plan" would be "view", but since it is the only noun possible in the context it is omitted. You don't say "this shirt is available in the black, the white or the blue".
    – alephzero
    Sep 8, 2021 at 15:07

I don't know the technical term for it, but I believe this is a common pattern for nouns describing aspects of something:

  • the sky was red in colour
  • he was stocky in build
  • it was square in shape

The pattern is that "X (concrete noun) is Y (adjective) in Z (aspect noun)" means roughly "the Z (aspect noun) of X (concrete noun) is Y (adjective)". So "the sky was red in colour" means "the colour of the sky is red", and "the building is rectangular in plan" means "the plan of the building is rectangular".

The "plan" in this case is a noun meaning something like "shape as seen from above", as opposed to "profile" or "elevation", meaning "shape as seen from the side or front". As others have pointed out, this comes from the architectural meaning of "plan", for a flat diagram of a building in such an overhead view.

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    Also to be noted is that, geometrically speaking, "in plan" might be as opposed to "in profile". For example, "The Taj Mahal is roughly rectangular in plan (viewed from above) but has a very complex shape in profile (viewer from the side)" Sep 8, 2021 at 0:26
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    This reminds me of that Shakespeare line which I only remember/know because Picard quoted it to Q: "What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!" Sep 8, 2021 at 22:08
  • I think this "value in aspect" pattern is a useful way of understanding the grammar, but is there a technical reason why 'plan,' 'colour,' and 'build' have no article in this pattern?
    – AnonFNV
    Sep 10, 2021 at 7:14
  • @AnonFNV "Why" is always a slippery question, and it's tempting to say "because that's how it works", but I'm sure linguists would attempt to fit it into some wider framework. Unfortunately, I don't know a name for this construction, so don't know where to start looking for such analyses.
    – IMSoP
    Sep 10, 2021 at 9:07

In this context "plan" is an adjective describing a drawing or view and is distinct from "section" and "elevation". See Plan, Section, Elevation Architectural Drawings Explained In that phrase "in plan" is an abbreviation of "in plan view".

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    "A plan drawing is a drawing on a horizontal plane showing a view from above. An Elevation drawing is drawn on a vertical plane showing a vertical depiction. A section drawing is also a vertical depiction, but one that cuts through space to show what lies within."
    – Mazura
    Sep 8, 2021 at 8:57
  • 1
    the web site is crap. "in plan view" is meaningless. "in plan" is an utterly normal phrase, such as "yellow in color" or "lost in love" or "big in football".
    – Fattie
    Sep 9, 2021 at 19:43
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    OP has asked why 'plan' has no article. If 'in plan' is an abbreviation of 'in plan view', why does 'plan view' have no article?
    – AnonFNV
    Sep 10, 2021 at 7:32

A plan is:

enter image description here

aka blueprint; a schematic drawing of something from overhead, rather like a map; a piece of paper with marks on it indicating the arrangement, layout, of the building or device in question.

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    This doesn't explain the structure of the sentence. You can't say *"it is rectangular in map", or "...in blueprint", so those comparisons are not helpful. Knowing that it means "overhead view" is certainly important, but already covered by other answers, which also explain the rest of the grammar.
    – IMSoP
    Sep 9, 2021 at 20:55
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    Suit yourself. The OP doesn't know what a plan is. It's not complicated. (Notice the incorrect definitions given in the question.)
    – Fattie
    Sep 10, 2021 at 2:54
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    ? You often say, exactly, such-and-such in map, or, such-and-such in blueprint. (For example, "it looked awesome in blueprint".)
    – Fattie
    Sep 10, 2021 at 2:55
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    "it looked awesome in blueprint" sounds awkward to my ear, but I can understand what it might mean. So, is your interpretation of "the building is rectangular in plan" something like "the building is rectangular on the architect's blueprint, but might not be in real life?"
    – IMSoP
    Sep 10, 2021 at 7:47
  • I'm still baffled by your last comment, and surprised to see two people apparently agreed with it. I genuinely can't imagine what "in map" could even mean. Maybe I'm lacking in imagination, or there's some regional variation here?
    – IMSoP
    Sep 10, 2021 at 15:37

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