Dulltown, Europe: Today’s existential angst is centred around the idea of blancmange.
The other day I came across that cute phrase from the early 20th c. that is used regularly in architectural chat: Form Follows Function. Did I read it somewhere, or did I hear it spouted by some smug arts presenter on the TV? I can’t recall, but it stayed hanging about in my head for a while. Of course I have heard these words before; I think the gist of it is that the way a building looks on the outside is governed by what it is designed to accommodate on the inside. Sounds reasonable enough I suppose… Although the phrase been around for a long time it sounds to me like the sort of thing smart young trendy academics would come up with now.
Right, so what is my response to this monumental statement?
Form follows function… Why?… It’s the sort of phrase which sounds as if it is self-evident, but why should form follow function at all? People inhabit and work in the rooms inside these buildings, I’m sure they are very nice. But that is only half the story, lots and lots of people every day see, and are affected by, the outside appearance of building too. For years and years we have been persuaded to admire, or at least put up with, lumpy ugly slab-faced buildings, because of course… wait for it… Form Follows Function.
I can understand why it became so popular though, at least with architects, builders, and the people who put up the cash for such things – yes, of course, it’s a lot cheaper than making a building that’s ‘easy on the eye’ and fits pleasingly into its surroundings. Also there are fewer time-consuming details and expensive curves to worry about. Boxes are great, boxes are easy to design (you don’t need compasses!) and are very quick to build – and stacks of such boxes are so economic!
Passers-by and neighbours’ opinions don’t matter much – what do they know anyway? They’ve probably never even heard of form follows function.
I suppose as an architect when you have settled on this F.F.F thing, you are pretty well stuck with it for life – I mean, hell, who is going to pay you for a nice looking building when you can get some boxes thrown up so much cheaper?
Unfortunately a while back, these confident designers decided to get ‘ironic’. “Hey! Let’s have the engineering visible on the outside of the thing, instead of keeping it out of sight like we normally do! We can save space, and money, and people will think it’s so cool!…”
So, we see, and we are asked to appreciate, the steel-work stanchions, and beams, and the crisscrossing diagonal ties holding the thing up – Oh yes, it’s so ironic!…
Sorry, I have gone on a bit too long with this, but perhaps a not unrelated photo might be a welcome relief? I took this picture as I was waiting for a bus in the Dulltown Interchange, which was glued (not very carefully) on to the nice old railway station a few years ago:
I reckon that sad-looking bloke has just been admiring the nice Victorian arch in pale brick above his head, and has been contrasting it with the raw visible steel-work, and the bleak concrete pillars, which now support it…