Wednesday, 2 May 2012

What does form actually follow?

The Hoki Museum was awarded last year's Grand Prize of the Japan Institute of Architects.  It is a remarkable building by any criteria, not least because it so easily confounds interpretation of its singular architectural form. I just came across an article on this issue in the latest installment of Architecture Week, by Japan resident author C.B. Liddell.

"When we are astonished by a building, it is often because we don't fully understand it. In such a case, we strive to close the gap between what we see and what we already know of architecture.  As we do this, we may arrive at the truth of the design — or we may simply fill the gap with plausible-sounding explanations that turn out to be wrong."

Long ago, in his delightfully slim book The Nature and Art of Workmanship, David Pye convincingly demolished the very notion expressed in 'Form follows Function'.  He argued that we are unlikely to simply 'see' a direct formal relationship to the purpose of a particular building. Liddell writes about his personal experience of this same problem in relation to the Hoki Museum, and offers us invaluable extra insight gleaned from an interview with Tomohiko Yamanashi, lead architect of the design team.

Normally, I'd be suspicious of the rationalizations of the architect, and prefer the experience of the building.  But as he flags in the quote above, Liddell makes the case that it's easy to bring the wrong preconceptions to the critic's experience, from which can flow both a misinterpretation of design intent, and an inaccurate assessment of likely visitor experience.


A remarkable building, a thoughtful architect operating at the bleeding edge of architectural theory, a client with a strong, hands-on purpose (he is the sole curator of the exhibitions the building houses), and a critic gently but compellingly challenging architectural criticism itself.  Well worth reading. Read the whole article here.


Hugo Chan said...

While I completely agree that misinterpretation and incorrect preconceptions can cloud the truth of architecture, in many ways I also feel that the nature in which architecture is practiced commercially is flawed. As Le Corbusier famously once commented “I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster, and leaves less room for lies.” Having now completed several architectural internships, I have at times seen how practitioners have traded meaning in architecture for superficial and almost deceptive reasoning to justify ideas and concepts.

The clouding of ‘truth’ in architecture, in my opinion also stems from an increasing public fascination of architecture which has given rise to the need for spectacle. Zaha Hadid’s latest work (A Megaplex of Art & Culture in Chengsha, China) for example has been described by Architizer as “more Zaha than we can handle” and arguably, this is true. The fluidity and recognisable style, once upon a time, sublimely meaningful has become a mere obsession with form and apparently, nothing more. At the other end of the spectrum, firms such as SOM generate repetitious rectilinear towers, in a manner which almost seems as though no thought or design process was involved and with a stark rationality which idolises functionalism.

Through the course of my studies in architecture, I would argue that form without function becomes blind, yet form cannot rest exclusively within the realm of function. Rather, having read Peter Zumthor’s Thinking Architecture (Book Summary HERE), my interpretation of form and function is that underneath a fa├žade of rationality, there must be the architect’s underlying passion which inspires it and gives space its meaning and quality. In particular, Zumthor highlights that “the essential substance of the architecture we seek proceeds from feeling and insight” but is at the same time controlled by “the critical power of reasoning” thus resulting in “a constant interplay of feeling and reason”. This for me is what function and form is. They are not merely the separate and conscious rational decisions of architects but also an interwoven and irrational complexity which provides aesthetic and meaning into the built environment.

Sophie Yang said...

Form follows function is a primary function before modernism emerged to revolutionize the way artists think. Later on, postmodernism era began and says function and form are both important. According to Francis, the form is one of the things that make objects to have distinctive and recognizable appearance by its visible contours^1. As Yamanashi stated, "if you see the architectural world, most functional architecture is very square. It is not interesting. But in the world of product design, functional designers can attract people's eyes, so I'm very influenced by that"^2, when it comes to realizing of the concept into architecture, composition plays a major role in determining the expression of the built form.
Being regarded as a technique of constructing enclosures, architecture has form when the plan and structure flow from one another. Goodman also mentioned that a structure has architectural form when the inside leads outside and the outside leads inside^3. I would argue that when it comes to function and form in architecture, it does not matter that Form follows Function or Function follows Form, and in fact, they are completely rhythmic with each other. Therefore, the meaning of ‘Form’ for me is merely a medium for spatial communication through consequent shape to transmit a certain information.

1) F.Ching, ‘Drawing from Observation’, in Design Drawing, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, New Jersey, 2010, p.66.
3) Goodman, Percival, Architectural Form , Chicago Review, 3:2 (1949:May) p.1

Sohyeon Park said...

The theory of ‘form and function’ emerged from modern and industrial design of 20th century and these principles determined the shape of building or an object that are primarily based upon its intended function. However In today’s, it is believed that there is strong inter-relationship between the ‘Form’ and ‘Function’ in terms of architectural perception. During the process of designing the building, form can be decided the function of the building, whereas sometimes the function also affects the way how building express its form. For this reason, the idea of two design principles ‘Form follows function’ and ‘Function follows form’ are much affects each other and both running side by side.

In the same way with ‘Hoki Museum’, its distinctive two curved shaped of exhibition space was derived from the idea of encouraging visitors to move through once without backtracking experience within the gallery, but this long narrow shaped gallery form also create an experience of single processional route at the same time. I think that people who experience that space may be able to understand the functional logic of the building but on the other hand, other people straightly captured or imagine the activities that can be drawn within that building by looking at the form of building.

In my opinion, the architecture can be seen as the result of controlling balance between the art and science. Because architect can be an artist who makes the idea of perfection space for human habitation through his reflection of creations however there are also many other environmental factors or design elements have to be dealing with.
This is not the process of considering function first to design building shape or decide the building shape based on its function, rather it seems like manage the balance between form and the function of the building.

Therefore, I think that the idea of ‘form and function’ in architecture, it is hard to determine one principle that has higher priority than the other; it rather can be independence of form and function.

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