Archive for ‘Art + Beauty’ Category

Form Follows Function – A Truism That Isn’t True

Posted by Robert Weitz on March 21, 2013 11:25 AM

Put two or more designers, or one journalist and a designer, in a room and the subject of form and function inevitably comes up. “Form follows function” has always made me uncomfortable. As a craftsman/designer, I have found that form and function exists as a flow rather than a causal relationship.

The discussion of form and function in modern times has its origins in the nascent industrial education system forming in Europe in the late 19th century. Differing schools of thought touted either “classical orders” or a return to agrarian regional design. The latter as represented by Ruskin and Morris’ Arts and Crafts and the European Art Nouveau movements were primary influences on one of the fathers of modern design, Louis Sullivan.

Transom Ornament—Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building—Louis Sullivan


Fallingwater or Kaufmann Residence—Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935

“Form follows function” is based on “Form ever follows function,” a quote from Louis Sullivan’s Autobiography of an Idea. It was an era were iconography and narrative so overshadowed functional concerns that buildings and objects were expensive, dark and inhuman. I have no doubt that Sullivan and his protégé Frank Lloyd Wright sought to bring the delicate dance of form and function back into balance and harmony.

Both of their works and writings celebrate an organic, fluid relationship between form and function. Form follows function implies a causal relationship between form and function, where form ever follows function implies a delicate balance and a need for both to be emphasized.

Both Sullivan and Wright knew that they were creating iconography as well as shelter and that the iconography came first. Both also came under critical fire for faking technology in order to demonstrate their ideological principles. Function often accommodates form.

As a craftsman/designer, I am constantly doing a delicate dance between form and function—form exists hand and hand with function.

The chicken and the egg are always evolving!

What came first the chicken or the egg? The answer is obscured by the question. Neither came first. There was a long evolutionary process that resulted in a chicken. A chicken and an egg are the same thing at a different level of development!

When I am designing or building, I might pick up a stick and its function and form will do a little dance of intention, discovery, accident and imagination. That stick might morph from a window picket, to chopsticks, to a glue applicator and later to kindling. Even the most mechanical design process is often driven by poetry, craft, fetish, technological prejudice and budgets. I have been in many design meetings when faced with daunting technical challenges, we opted to break our backs to preserve intangibles like joy or lightness.

The Uffizi Gallery—Designed to function as offices and converted to a museum.


Saint Peter’s Basilica—Function: To be sublime!

Poetry and narrative are a primary cause for even the most rudimentary seemingly practical designs. Poetry and narrative are the most important aspect of any design. People will go to great lengths to celebrate their culture with their buildings, cities, churches and objects. Emotional connection to form usually overrides functional imperatives, even when the original use changes.

Corinthian dentils were ornamental elements that emulate structural elements of older temples

Architectural history is resplendent with examples of form forcing function. Ancient cultures often keep the design details of their traditional culture even though their building technology had advanced significantly. Stone elements would be fashioned to emulate the wooden structural elements of the older buildings.

Colonialism’s failure to adapt their form to the functions of nature resulted in rapid deterioration

Colonial architecture was constructed using details and architectural typologies that crumbled because the weather and materials were completely different than Europe’s. When I design, I dream and I analyze, but the line blurs as to what is driving what?

“Form ever follows function” allows us to start with our emotions, gesture or happenstance and create designs where we can conceive of something that is completely impossible and somehow figure out how to make it function. This relationship of form and function has always inspired and troubled me—form for form’s sake is close to my heart, but I make objects and interactive systems that must function well. Our online projects are highly responsive to the communities they serve and the form is driven directly by their emotions.

I found this eloquent article in the NY Times The Demise of ‘Form Follows Function’ when I was checking to see what Louis Sullivan actually said. Alice Rawsthorn tells this story in more detail and explains how the relationship between these two old friends will get even blurrier in the world of cyber environments and real-time networks.

Rudi Diesel’s Typhoon HD4 – Slow Mo Mojo

Posted by Robert Weitz on July 30, 2011 8:02 PM

Try an experiment: Pick a road that you drive down often and walk it… slowwwwwwly. I guarantee you will notice detail and nuance that had escaped you at higher speeds. I guess at this point, I should acknowledge that there are certainly sensations and phenomena that we experience at higher speeds that are equally amazing and beautiful.

Check out the video footage captured by Rudi Diesel’s custom high-speed camera, the Typhoon HD4. Like a great telescope or microscope, the Typhoon reveals a world that, while often right in front of our eyes, is unavailable to our unaided senses. A wave becomes a cathedral, a hummingbird’s motion is unbelievably intricate, and a splash in the pool erupts like a massive volcano.

This camera does a lot to reveal a very deep truth. Slow down a bit and you might notice that there is beauty all around you.

iPhone Finger Painting Makes The New Yorker Cover

Posted by Dylan Tran on June 10, 2009 10:27 AM

A couple of weeks ago, The New Yorker debuted its first iPhone cover – a digital finger painting done on Brushes app by Jorge Colombo, an artist whose drawings have been featured in the magazine since 1994. It was a breakthrough of sorts because never before had a virtual artwork done on such a small mobile device hit the cover of a major publication, one that’s renowed for their creative illustrations. It was truly inspiring.

Watch this video on the making of The New Yorker cover:

Columbo just got his iPhone a few months ago, and like me, immediately obsessed and marveled about all the wonderful things the little device could do. As an artist, he found that it opened up new possibilities. Using Brushes, a cool iPhone application that allows one to draw and paint on the fly, he was able to express himself anywhere and without being noticed. Brushes Viewer records the step-by-step process, and as you can see from the above video, Columbo relied on the Undo feature to get the look just right.

Imagine creating your own masterpiece while waiting for the bus, or your next appointment, or even while walking down the street. I hope this technology motivates more people to get creative and free their artistic inhibitions. As for Columbo, he’s so inspired that he’s now posting a new finger painting every week on The New Yorker blog. No word yet on when his first iPhone gallery exhibition will be, but you can see what others have come up with on Flickr here.

The Annenberg Space for Photography – Not a Museum!

Posted by Robert Weitz on April 24, 2009 10:28 AM

We have a new neighborhood community center! It’s not what you are imagining—it doesn’t have basketball hoops or a pool. And while the councilman who brokered the deal, the developer and the Annenberg Foundation would probably like you to imagine that The Annenberg Space for Photography serves a wide range of citizens, it is smack dab in the middle of “the land of lawyers, CPAs and bankers” called Century City.

The Annenberg Space for Photography

That complaint out of the way, I really love the fact that I can walk over to this incredible exhibition space for photography, take in a show, snap a few pictures and be back in time for tea! I think the building is beautiful. It is sited in horizontal juxtaposition to the now almost stately twin Century Plaza Towers. (The towers are short stubby cousins of the World Trade Center designed by Minoru Yamasaki.)

Designed by AECOM Design (formerly DMJM Design) the building is, in my opinion, a “rare bird.” It is a singularly-conceived modernist building in the style of Mies at IIT, but detailed and built in a way that could only be done in the 21st century. I was stunned by the building’s grace and presence, and was really taken with its architectural integrity and brilliant siting.

Somehow the internal space is a little less successful, although I applaud the spirit of the thing. The obvious metaphor for the interior is wrapped up in the workings of the camera optics, but I think the interior team forced the issue. The point of the “parti,” I would assume, is to provide many opportunities to live with and spend time with photographic images.

The problem for many photography exhibitions and galleries is that collections most often exceed the size of available wall space. Using various digital playback devices, the “space” (not a museum) offers some wonderfully rich opportunities to see lot of digital images. The “rotunda” of the space features super high-res 14’ x 7’ 4k screens that offer an engaging way to see photography.

Beyond the amazing digital presentation in the rotunda, there are some real misses. There is precious little space for looking at actual photographs, and the entry has a west facing window wall that is cooking and bleaching out the photos during the midday. They have attempted to use a solar shade, but the result is hot and glary to say the least.

Also, we all had a good laugh over the Microsoft Surface 30-inch table monitors. It’s great for seeing how collection works in ensemble, but the resolution is awful, and what’s worse is that it is bleached out by the sun problem.

The Annenberg Space for Photography, which opened on March 27, is the brainchild of a real photography lover, Wallis Annenberg, and IMO a great idea. Maybe they will fix some of the shortcomings, and even if they don’t, it’s still a wonderful place to visit often.

I love the fact that they have created a bridge between the analog and digital worlds. Unfortunately, the analog got short-changed, which is a shame since no matter what, you can’t capture the full nature of a print digitally and there in lies the value of displaying the analog photos in a more careful and thought-out way.

Check out the inaugural exhibit “L8S ANG3LES,” featuring 11 top-notch LA photographers, through June 28, 2009. Admission is free.

The Large Hadron Collider is…beautiful!

Posted by Robert Weitz on March 3, 2009 10:08 AM

One of our favorite blogs, Boing Boing, has been following the amazing work of photographer Peter McCready. McCready’s QTVR panoramas of the biggest, most intricate machines known to man are simply put—overwhelming. Both the expression, via simple but very high-res single node VR, and the objects McCready photographs evoke the kind of heart-thumping that occurs when one first sees St. Peter’s or the Grand Canyon.

Large Hadron Collider

McCready simulates immersion using very detailed QTVR photography, accompanied by the sounds of the actual environment. The environments he is documenting like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), Compact Muon Spectrometer, and A Large Ion Collider Experiment (ALICE) are all machines that are designed and created to challenge and explore the outer most sanctums of our understanding of the universe. While not designed with beauty in mind, they are nevertheless sublimely beautiful.

Spend some time clicking through McCready’s site and remember to use the best audio and visual set up you have. I’ll be discussing this more in a future post.

This is the QTVR of the LHC.

Modeling – The Shape of Finance, the World and Everything

Posted by Robert Weitz on February 2, 2009 1:25 PM


Product designers/artists are very reliant on physical realities, whereas poets and mathematicians can be more abstract and ephemeral. The designer is often charged with fulfilling a specific need, like “paint that ceiling and tell a religious story” in the case of the Sistine Chapel, or “let’s try and fly” in the case of the Wright Brothers.

Typically, the artist/designer does some inquiry, prepares sketches and then executes the design, and in some cases, produces the final product. This method, probably invented in the craft guilds and later extended into the industrial revolution, relies on a carefully executed dialectic that begins with a cause, is interpreted by a creative mind and then produced often according to cultural precepts and traditions.

The resulting form, whether a religious building or an Apple iPhone, is the result of cultural narratives, artistic nuance and creative imagination.


While great theoretical strides were made by radicals like the Dadaists, Fluxists, and say, John Cage, the simple structure of need, creative imagination and production remained fairly well intact until recently.

The work of German artist Andreas Nicolas Fischer exemplifies a fairly bold departure from the typical design process. It offers a glimpse of a future where the designer/artist envisions and creates with no natural object as a cause, and where the designer/artist designs the process, not the final object.

Fischer “concerns himself with the visualization of data, which normally lies beyond human perception.” His role is to set up a generative process that relies on data sources that have their own “shape” and evolve over time.


His drawings, sculptures and installations are the result of a process he sets up so that the data generates a form. Of course the artist enters the mix as the one who sets the thing up, but the resulting forms are neither random nor planned. They are formal demonstrations of natural phenomena, and the resulting form demonstrates data points collected from nature.

I found that his forms tell stories, are emotional and in some cases, are profound. I’m sure that people more familiar with the data points he is describing, say his modeling of financial markets to a financial analyst, would be able to recount specific narratives not unlike the faithful gazing at the chapel ceiling.

Imagination – President Obama Opens the Door

Posted by Robert Weitz on January 23, 2009 12:35 PM


“There are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.” – Barack Obama

President Obama’s inaugural address moved me in many ways, but the word that jumped out and grabbed my “designer’s mind” was…”imagination.” It’s something that has been misused and suppressed in the last eight years. In fact, it seems that so much energy was given to subverting the rule of law and hiding inadequacies that there was no imagination left for building and planning for our future.

Design is about nuance and planning. Designers are asked to “imagine” that which does not exist. We are asked to explain and organize chaos, excite the senses while abiding by the laws of physics and nature.

As we emerge from the first decade of the 21st century we will need to understand the role that the human imagination plays in bettering our lives and inspiring great deeds.

The last years have been dumbed down by our fear of expansive ideas, nuance and imagination. Those who boldly looked to the future in the sciences and the arts and social sciences were loudly ridiculed, stifled and sidelined. People who called for nuanced information gathering, analysis and planning were poo-pooed and the “just slam it” school took center stage, often leaving a wake of destruction and debt in their path.

“Imagination is joined to common purpose” well defines so many human endeavors. I would add that it is the balance between imagination and purpose that defines our values. Cultures and political movements that suppress imagination, choice and individuality are cruel, inefficient and hopeless. In all fairness, too much imagination coupled with a lack of purpose can result in chaos and disillusion.

It is the mix of imagination and purpose that will determine what our next century will look like and how good our lives will be. As a designer/communicator, I can see that we need to develop better ways of accessing information, improving human connectivity and conflict resolution, all towards an end “purpose” of world peace and a decent life for all of our inhabitants.

It’s a lofty goal but worth imagining.

Obama’s Cloud of Hope

Posted by Dylan Tran on January 20, 2009 3:30 PM

Listening to Obama’s inauguration speech today, I couldn’t help but visualize the change and optimism in his words. Thanks to Wordle, I’ve created a “cloud of hope” from the text to mark this historic occasion.

Obama's Speech

Also, I just went out to and was immeasurably moved by the new “Change Has Come to America” banner with Obama’s face. What an amazing sight!

Louise Bourgeois: Don’t Explain – You Can’t!

Posted by Robert Weitz on January 8, 2009 9:25 AM

“A work of art doesn’t have to be explained. If you do not have any feeling about this, I cannot explain it to you. If this doesn’t touch you, I have failed.”
-Louise Bourgeois

The 97-year-old American artist Louise Bourgeois is pure 21st century. I can’t explain, but having just walked through a very comprehensive show of her work from 1947 to the present, I can see that she fits the definition of a 21st century artist thinker. She is media agnostic, expressing her deeply emotional fuzzy narratives with sculpture, installations, drawings, paintings and prints – not to mention her critical writings and diaries as well.

Remember to put down your brochures and chase the docents away (nicely). Louise Bourgeois’ works evoke powerful emotions sans the subtitles.

Louise Bourgeois – Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles, through January 25th.

louise bourgeois