Posts Tagged ‘Architecture’

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.

A Wonderful Day In The Neighborhood – Reflections On Steel and Glass

Posted by Robert Weitz on May 20, 2009 9:48 AM

A Sign of Change – SunAmerica Wipes the AIG From Its Face!

Posted by Robert Weitz on May 5, 2009 10:48 AM

More changes in our neighborhood! The AIG SunAmerica sign that looked so very temporary to brand designers like ourselves has come down! The change has come, and now the tacky temporary sign that represented billions and billions of dollars is down. So, what’s next?

AIG SunAmerica

As we watch old established structures crumble, we inevitably wonder: What’s going to fill the void? The jokes have been flying around our studio—what three letters should take its place? IOU? PIG?

If you have any ideas, let us know and we’ll use our digital magic to add our favorite to a future post!

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.

Renzo Piano’s Green Museum – A Modern Idea Reborn

Posted by Robert Weitz on January 12, 2009 10:18 AM

There are countless examples of brilliant ideas that are way before their time. I’m always fascinated when the idea is finally doable. Human flight, space travel and wireless communications were all fanciful ideas way before they could be actualized.

In postulating a new set of rules to govern architectural design for the modern industrial world, Le Corbusier came up with the idea that a home is a “machine for living.” His five rules were: (1) Lift the supporting floor slabs up onto columns, this allows (2) A free facade (3) A free floor plan (4) Unencumbered views, and (5) A roof garden so that we give back to the landscape what we’ve taken away.

Oddly, the first four points have enjoyed fairly universal adoption and have been doable for many years. Also, we are well on our way to being able to make highly efficient machines for living in. The missing partner has been the “giving back” part: The roof garden.

While roof gardens have been around for quite a while, roof gardens that really work are a rarity, can leak and are usually decorative and not necessarily environmentally sensitive. Le Corbusier’s idea was to create a machine for living that is efficient, healthful and spiritually uplifting and that is what Renzo Piano has done with his design for the new California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

california academy of sciences

I think I could say that this building is a kind of Holy Grail for the modern movement in architecture. It takes the “machine for living” concept a step further – it is a living machine! It’s a beautiful building that teaches us how we can live with nature by being intelligent, efficient and sensitive.

It teaches and shelters by example, having attained a LEED-Platinum rating, making it the only public building of its scale to do so globally. This makes it the greenest large building – and most sustainable museum – in the world. Oh, and the roof garden seems to be working too.