more slides; prev.

Functionalism—engineering vs architecture

-While architecture is an elective phenomenon, building is not. The difference between the two is what raises the issue we are looking at tonight. Both are first occasioned by a need, but architecture goes beyond the basic need for shelter or program accommodation served by “mere” building, to set that effort in an explicit context of meaning, expectations of meaning. While the building’sform IS necessarily functional, architecture’sform goes further to SAY that about itself.  

-If the difference between engineering and architecture is the difference between building and architecture, THAT difference is more generally evident in the value system they follow—engineering worships efficiency while architecture worships expression. The difference between their products—building and architecture—reflects this.

-With respect to this issue of meaning then, the difference can be understood as that between visibility and invisibility: the purely efficient product of engineering is invisible behind its functionality, it disappears into performance, while the architectural object doesn’t even appear untilthat efficiency has been compromised somehow.

-Architecture is exactly the distance beyond efficiency that is traced out in expression. In fact, we could defineexpression as visibility-due-to-inefficiency, as the visible excess in something after its quantifiable (eifficient) needs have been satisfied. We all know this deep down, where we are all still laymen. The layman knows that architecture is building PLUS decoration.

-Of course, it’s not really so simple: we think of decoration as bad architecture or even not architecture. But it’s all a continuum. What does decoration do, whether applied or intrinsic, as tectonic expression? It communicates.

-So: form follows function means something different to an architect and an engineer. To the engineer, it means that form is completely determined, ideally, by function. But to an architect, for whom that possibility is suicide since it renders the form transparent to that function and thus NOT expressive, the phrase means form expresses function, which necessarily means the form expressing the function is not actually that functional, at least in the terms the function would respect. In other words, it’s not completely following the function efficiently.

-But this raises the question, even when form is following function, what is that extra, inefficient-by-definition thingthat architecture does? After all, we are not saying it’s less than engineering, but more. What is that more?

-Here is my definition of architecture:
Architecture is a visibly willful statement about medium specific order that places us in the world. Notice the lack of any reference to building here.

-I’m not going to parse this whole thing here tonight, but do want to talk about the “places us in the world” part. Today when physical shelter is no longer a challenge and thus no longer precious enough to be worthy on this basis alone of the effort architecture requires, architecture must find another reason to rise to that level.

-And today when this function of placing us in the world can be fulfilled by media other than building because our presence in the world is no longer “as-sheltered,” there must be another reason to associate architecture with this role, which it still enjoys. That is to say, we are not “sheltered” in the world, we are freethere, and architecture’s role in placing us there must be rethought now with respect to this freedom.

-Previously, AS a matter of “shelter,” architecture’s activity of placement was protective, comforting, assuring us of a “place” in an otherwise hostile or indifferent environment. This was important in a period when the idea of shelter as necessary for survival still resonated.

-Today those memories are gone and the idea of shelter is more abstract. Instead we face a world that is less physically threatening, global warming aside, and its indifference is less depressing because it does not represent the loss of a god. Instead we are liberated to possibilities and are urged everywhere to take advantage.

-We cannot simply abide, we must move. In this world, architecture’s value as a medium of placement derives from a statement of rightness or order that is not referential but intrinsic.

-Building rediscovers its superlative state in architecture in such a world ONLY as an example of a most visible physical embodiment of the possibility of advantage taken, of possibilities realized, as evident in the rightness or order achieved thereof. No longer exclusiveto building, though, this visible expression of achievement and order we call architecture may itself find an outlet in other media.

-So, it is possible to respond to Hugo that while “this will kill that,” there is now architecture in both this AND that, and what has died is simply the body or form or medium, rather than the spirit or soul.

-The rightness or order that runs through all these media, that makes them amenable to “the architectural,” the discipline, is, despite all this, and even apart from issues of shelter, the mechanical. The mechanical best captures the way we relate to the world as meat objects, governed by physics—and thus describes that spirit common to media that is engaging.

-For two million years, we evolved in such an environment, as an object among objects, and this has formed our bodies, AND our minds, our common sense, intuitions and instincts. For this reason, it is universally legible and empathetic. I assume you can tell it is the spirit behind the work that you see in the slides and exhibit.

-When we look at it more closely, we see that it is a relationship of things (one of which is us). This makes it, at root, an epistemological issue: how do we know stuff?