Why Discuss Form and Function?

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From: [email protected] (N John Tsuchiya)
Newsgroups: alt.architecture
Subject: Why Discuss Form and Function?
Date: 6 Oct 1993 17:54:35 GMT
Organization: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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Architects often ponder over what is or makes good design. And
have proceeded about trying to achieve this goal in many ways. Modernists, for
example, set up a definition of "beautiful" as being machine-like and focused
their efforts toward this end. Post-Modernists, just like most American
architects before the turn of the century, have decided that a beautiful facade
in some historical style (usually adapted in some manner) makes a good design.

However, it seems to me that these architects have failed in making
designs which are BOTH practical AND pleasing to the public.

The problem and solution can be discovered by applying "form
follows function" to the buildings that have been design. This is why the
PHRASE, for the point of discovering, in a qualitative manner, problems in a
design of a certain work of architecture.

| Note: |
| |
| To be useful in this end, however, requires a definite and USEFUL |
| definition for the "function of architecture." If this definition is stated |
| as "an artificial environment to improve the existing environment," the |
| phrase "form follows function" becomes extremely useful. (N.B.: with any |
| other definition of the "function of architecture", the usefulness of the |
| phrase will change.) |

Going back to the Modernists and Post-Modernists:

The modernists have focused on one part of the whole function of
architecture. While the "whole function" of architecture is to create an
artificial improved environment, the modernists have focused just on the
structural and construction aspects. These aspects are merely tools by which
the "whole function" can be achieved. Modernists have emphasized these tools
rather than the end which they are supposed to achieve. In other words:

Modernists have mistaken a tool for transforming
a function into reality (into a form) for
the function itself.

On the other hand, the Post-Modernists and 19th century architects have
taken a form (a historical form) out of its original context. The form,
to the phrase, represents a certain function. When the function of the form
matches the function that is INTENDED, then the form "works." However, these
architects have taken a form (alongs with its inseparable function) and used it
with the intent of a DIFFERENT function. So, the form does not work with this
INTENDED FUNCTION, even though it worked well with the OLD INTENDED function
it originally served.

To describe this with an example: a common architectural form that
has been used in the United States is the Greek portico. This form represents
a certain function; this function includes, among other things, designs suited
for Mediterranean bright sunlight, a roof/cornice designed for little rain, and
generally warm temperatures. However, in the U.S., such as here in Boston, this
form DOES NOT fit the function determined by the situation here. While the form
implies bright sunlight, little rain, and warmth, the situation here in Boston
that it has been transplanted to has mostly cloudy days (being next to the
A LOT of rain, and can get VERY cold! That is why this form is beautiful in
Athens, but NOT beautiful in Boston. One can only appreciate the beauty of the
form on very few days---it is spectacular when the conditions are right, but
horrible most of the time.

In other words:

Post-Modernists and 19th century architects have
taken a form that was beautiful in its original
context (the function associated with the form
fit the intended function), but have transplanted
it into a context where the new function does not
fit with the function associated with the form.

John Tsuchiya
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