What Matters Most? Form or Function?Published on 24th June 2017
Start any conversation about architecture, anywhere, with anyone, and you can guarantee that within the first five minutes, form and function will be mentioned.
Goodness knows, we’ve mentioned them enough on these Apropos blog pages! They are the ever-driving forces behind the craft, the yin and the yang that make up the whole, but can they be separated and prioritised? Is it possible to say which matters most?
It’s easy to hazard that for the majority of people the gut instinct answer would be that function comes first; what is a house if it can’t be lived in? What is a hospital if it can’t shelter the sick? What is a prison if it can’t keep inmates within? A conservatory can be beautiful, but is there any point if in homage to the aesthetic integrity no steps are taken to ensure thermal protection, meaning that it is only fit for use two months out of every twelve?
Function, when it comes down to the nitty gritty, is everything.
But then, we talk to the person who hates their house, who dreads going home because home is a shell which provides shelter and amenities, but not a lot more. Talk to the doctors and nurses who have found that in an attractive, nurturing environment patients heal and recover with unprecedented speed; ask them about the psychological, biological and behavioural impact of curative surroundings. Speak to the prison warders, the police, those in favour of rehabilitative justice; Bastoy prison in Norway is a case in point, demonstrating that criminals kept in a pleasant environment show more respect for their surroundings, interact more politely with officials and are better equipped for returning to a life ‘on the outside’, eschewing illegal activity.
Function without form is almost an oxymoron in architecture; if no attention is paid to a structure’s form, it will often fail to reach its full functional potential. Equally, however, without the support of a functional backbone, aesthetic appeal loses its beauty.
Celebrated architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, posited that the meaning of Louis Sullivan’s statement has been misunderstood; ‘Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.’ At Apropos, we’d tend to agree. It’s a premise that can be noted in all that we do.
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