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The Function of Form

The Function of Form

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Published by Alan Kawahara

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: Alan Kawahara on Feb 22, 2011
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05/12/2014

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7
THEFUNCTIONOFFORM
FarshidMoussavi"Formfollowsfunction."Therehasneverbeenamoreseductivedictuminthehistoryofarchitecture.Inthenineteenthcentury,whenitwasfirstputforwardbyLouisSullivan,functionwasunderstoodintermsofitsculturalandsocialrole.Differentbuildingtypeswereassociated
I
withdifferenttypesofmaterials,which,toparaphraseSullivan,includedallthingsorganicandinorganic,allthingsphysicalandmetaphysical,allthingshumanandsuperhuman,alltruemanifestationsofthemind,theheart,thesoul.'Forthemodernistswhoadoptedthisdictuminthetwentiethcentury,functionwasnarrowlydefinedastheuseorutilityofabuiltform,"aninterpretationthathasprovokeddisagreementsamongarchitectsandtheoristseversince.But,ifnotfunction,whatdoesformfollow?Awholerangeofideasandconceptshavebeenimposedonphysicalformsinanattempttofindtheanswer.However,despitetheirdifferences,thetheoristsofmodernismandtherevisionistswhocameafterthemsharedthreeunderlyingassumptions:first,thatsocietyisdefinedbyaunitaryculture;second,thatphysicalformmustbeprecededbyafundamentalprincipleorcause,acausewhichisdrivenbyeitherobjectiveorsubjectiveconcerns-thewayformsarebuiltandused,orthewaytheyareperceived-butneverbyboth;and,third,thatformeitherepitomizesorrespondstoasingle,idealmeaning,identityorpossibility.Theseopposingviewsoffunctionandtheroleofarchitecturalformaretypicalofawholerangeofbinaryoppositionsthatdominatedthetwentiethcentury:Eastv.West,Leftv.Right,culturev.nature,mindv.matter.However,theendoftheColdWar,thespreadofglobalcommunications,theincreaseinmultinationaltradeagreements,andtheresultingmassmigrationofcapital,labor,goodsandideashavebroughtradicalandrapidlyacceleratingchangestocitiesandtheircultures,andconsequentlytothepracticeofarchitecture.Thesechangesdemandthatarchitectsthinkandactverydifferently.Ourenvironmentistheproductofdiverseprocessesthatarelinkedincomplexways.Citiesarenolongerdefinedby,orevenidentifiedwith,asingleculture.Theyarespaceswhereamultiplicityofculturesandculturalformscohabitandinterconnect,wherenovelsubculturesandidentitiesareconstantlyemerging.Culturecannolongerbeconsideredasasetofuniversalvaluesorconventionswhichhavebeenestablishedbypracticeandvalidatedbyconsensus.Citiesarecharacterizedbydifferenceandmultiplicity,andthisunprecedentedlevelofcomplexityhasincreasedthedemandforbuiltformsthatprovidehigherlevelsofperformance.Consequently,avastnumberofnewareasofexpertisehaveevolved,eachintroducingahighlyspecializedsystemwithamultitudeofdifferentcomponents.Theseincludetransportconsultants,archaeologyconsultants,windconsultants,fireengineeringconsultants,developmentmanagers,accessconsultants,riskandopportunitymanagers,sustainabilityconsultants,planningconsultants,crimepreventiondesignadvisors,publicrelationsandcommunicationsconsultants,propertyadvisorsandlettingagents,professionalconstructionconsultants,rightsoflightconsultants,facadeconsultants-inadditiontothemorefamiliaronessuchasstructuralengineers,mechanical
 
engineers,costconsultants,projectmanagers,landscapeengineers,constructionmanagers,acousticengineers,lightingconsultants,andsoon.Anewbinaryprocesshasemerged:architectsendowabuiltformwithuniquesensorialqualities,whileengineersandtechniciansaddressitstechnicalrequirements.Thisdisconnectbetweenneedsanddesiresresultsinover-specifiedandover-complicatedbuiltforms,anddoesnotallowthedesignprocesstorespondeffectivelytourgentproblemswhicharetheoutcomeofavarietyofcauses,ortopotentialsthatmayresideinmultiplespheres,whetherclimatechange,urbansprawl,thedecompressionoftheurbanindustrialcity,housingdiversity,ordigitaltoolsandtechnologies.Suchhybridconcernscannotbeaddressedthroughbinarythinking.Theyrequireachangeinourapproachtowardmateriality,awayfromanunderstandingofmaterialasexclusivelyphysicalandtangible,toincludeboththephysicalandthenon-physical-climate,soundoreconomicsaswellaswood,steelorglass.Thisexpandednotionofmateriality-onecoulddescribeitas"supramateriality"-liberatesbuiltformfromadualistapproachthatseparateideasfromsubstances,objectsfromsubjects,andproductionfromperception.Today,abstractanddynamicmaterialscanbepreciselymeasuredandvisualizedwiththeaidofdigitalsoftware,andmergedwithconcretematerialsusedtoproducethedesignofbuiltforms.Itallowsbuiltformstoaddressmultiplecausesandhybridconcerns,anditallowsustoredefinetheroleoffunctioninbuiltforms,aligningitwiththewayitisunderstoodinotherdisciplines.Inmathematics,biologyorcomputerscience,functionisseenasaunique,transversalprocess,performedbyamediumthatisspecifictothatdiscipline(forinstance,adifferentialequation,anorgan,abrowser).Multipleinputsormaterials(numbers,cells,content)arecombinedinaspecificwaytoachieveasingleoutput-asingularform(aspecificcurve,anorganism,abodyofinformation).Itisthesingularityoftheresultingformthatembedsitwithaspecificfunction.Inarchitecture,diversematerials(physicalelements,context,climate,economy)arecombinedtoproduceabuiltform,themediumbeinganassemblyofphysicalelements.Eachbuiltformorassemblyofphysicalelementsfunctionsorperformsinaspecificwayasaconsequenceofthewayinwhichthediversematerialsarecombined.Thatis,thefunctionofeachbuiltformconsistsinatransversalprocessinwhichtheproductionofformsandtheperformanceofformsarecombined,resultinginasingularform.
Per[form]anceofform
Inhisessay"CriticalArchitecture","MichaelHaysoutlinedtwopossiblepositionsforarchitecturetoadoptvis-a-visculture:architectureiseitheraninstrumentofculture,oritisanautonomousform.DrawingontheworkofMiesvanderRohe,Haysdefineda"thirdposition"inwhicharchitecture
 
-
9
operatesindependently,"betweencultureandform",asacritiqueofthedominantculture.Todaythesepositionspresentarchitecturewithtwochallenges.First,inallthreescenarioscultureisrepresentedasstatic,amonolithagainstwhichalldistinctionsandcritiquesarepositioned.Mies,forinstance,repeatedlyreferredtohisbuildingsasarefugefromthe"acuteanxietyderivedfromthemetropolitanexperience".However,giventhemolecularnatureofcontemporaryrealityandthemultiplicityofculture,findingaclear"inbetween"positionsuchastheoneMiesoccupiedisdifficult,orevenimpossible.Culturalspheresandindividualdesiresoverlapandinteractwithoneanothertosuchanextentthatsinglebinariesrarelyoccurand,whentheydo,theyarefleetingbytheirverynature.Architecturecannolongeraffordtostructureitselfasaninstrumentthateitherreaffirmsorresistsasingle,staticideaofculture.Instruments(codes,symbols,languages,etc.)simplyrepeatwithoutvariation.Asafunctionratherthananinstrumentofcontemporaryculture,architecturalformsneedtovaryinordertoaddressitspluralityandmutability.Secondly,inallofthethreepositionsoutlinedbyHays,formisanapriori,abstractprinciplethatgivesexpressionandmeaningtomatter,andconsequentlytoculture,ina
downward
modeofcausation,establishinga
hylomorphic'
relationshipbetweenthem.Historically,thisdetachmentofformfrommaterialityhasresultedinarchitecturalformsthataroseeitherfromconcernsthatrelatedsolelytotheproductionofthe"physicalobject",irrespectiveofhowtheobjectrelatedtopeopleandtheenvironment,orfromconcernsrelatingtothewayformswereperceived,irrespectiveofthewaytheywereproduced.Thatis,formswereunmediated,adirectconsequenceofeitherobjectsorsubjects-eitherrationalorsensorialconsiderations.Alternatively,asinthe"betweencultureandform"approach,formhasreferredtoautonomousideasthatmediatebetweenpeopleandculture.However,asDeleuzetells
US,5
dialecticalpositionsoperatewithpolarities,extremesofdifferencewhicharesynthesizedintoanew,thirdpositionthat,becauseitremains"inbetween",ultimatelypreservesthesepolaritiesandthusthestatusquo.Therefore,inneithertheunmediatednorthemediatedapproachestocultureandformhaveobjectsorsubjectsbeenconsideredsimultaneouslyinawaythatwouldallowthemtohaveaninfluenceononeanother.Thisishowarchitecturalculturewasdefineduntilthe1970s.
Unmediatedforms
Theapproachthatgivesprioritytothephysicalobjecthasalonghistory,includingtheancientGreekconceptof
techne,
understoodastherationalbasisfortheconstructionofobjects,andmedievalideasofthemechanicalarts,whichconsideredbuiltformsasutilitarianobjects.ItisfoundinthewritingsofGottfriedSemperinthenineteenthcentury,whoadvancedatheoryofstylethatderivedobjectiveprinciplesfromsystems,structuresormanufacturingtechniqueswhich

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