FORM MATTERS (…) !

CWR II – Excercise 1

We had to look through a list of architectural positions, adopt one and construct arguments to support it. This is the result.

Form matters, but more for what it can do than for what it looks like.

I put it to you, that the form of something should be derived from its purpose and function, it should be scaled to allow human understanding and interaction and it should be in accordance with the materials, structure and technology to which it.

For instance, a building in brick, has to adhere to the properties of the material. It can take pressure, but not tension. Once you allow bricks to span a large opening without an arch, this tells us that there is some other material at work behind the scenes. The brickwork becomes a tapestry and the form has no relation to it other than being clad in bricks.

“Form and construction, appearance and function are no longer separate. They belong together and form a whole. (Zumthor 1998, p.25)”

But no one wants to look at a concrete wall on a dark, rainy, windy day in Gellerup, why wouldn’t we use bricks to get more life in the surfaces of our surroundings, why should we care if the wall is as it seems or not if it makes us happier?

Conversely, the blocks of Gellerup may have similar proportions. There is still a block, with a garden around it – but it has become too immense for any one individual to take in. Ron Muecks sculpture “Boy” at Aros art museum squats inside the otherwise spacious atrium. In his scale the massive space is tiny and he is pushed into a corner. Aros is in other words made for people – not for ‘boy’.In Gellerup and other mass social housing schemes there is a definite over-use of cheap concrete elements, and boring flat lawns between the blocks. But the desolate and isolated feeling you get from these places relates more perhaps to the scale, repetition and quality of the structures. Take a normal one family house with a garden. Everyone can relate to it, it responds to the need of one family and the windows are placed in relation to the eye-height of a human being. The garden surrounds it and makes a nice setting.

In contemporary architecture we see many examples of how form is made for the sake of form. The “walkie-talkie” in London recently got infamous for burning cars in the streets because it’s concave façade concentrated the light from the sun into a death ray of sorts. And even if London isn’t famous for being a sunny place that is hardly a logical form for a building to take. Now they are replacing the panels on its front to make it less reflective. Something that would not have been necessary at all if only the form had been considered more carefully.

“I have elected to adress the issue of tectonic form for a number of reasons, not least of which is the current tendency to reduce architecture to scenography. This reaction arises in response to the universal triumph of Robert Venturi’s decorated shed […]. Kenneth Frampton, Rappel a l’ordre, The case for tectonic, 1990”

In another scale – as an example – look at Phillip Starcks lemon squeezer. It looks like a space ship. Very sleek and shiny in chrome finish. Untill you see someone actually squeezing a citrus fruit on it – it’s just a sculpture. But it’s scale and its form makes it perfect for squeezing lemons. Form and function come together.

Door handles made to fit the hand, smartphones made to fit in your pocket. These considerations are just as relevant in the scale of objects as in the scale of architecture.

“Near is a place to which i can get quickly on my feet” (…) Man is the measure. (…) A mans feet are the measure for distance, his hands are the measure for ownership, his body is the measure for all that is lovable and desirable and strong.” Raskin 1954, citing E.M. Forsters “collected tales”

Large scale building projects have a tendency to be out of scale with humans, and can in some cases be Form, scale and repetition can when considered well create spaces, squeeze you and let you breathe, make you look at your surroundings in a new way. As soon as a building relates to humans and to the materials it is built of, it will be much easier to achieve these things.

Different forms do different things. For instance, a circular room with nothing on the walls will have horrible acoustics. Put something in the room and then it obviously does, but the shape of the room itself could have made this unnecessary. The metro-station Nasjonalteatret in Oslo which has horrible acoustics because of its low dome space. They fixed that by calling it an art piece – but it was unintentional.

There are also several examples of large structures looking like they do because of consideration to structure and construction. In Sagrada Familia and the Eiffel Tower, the form comes directly from the structure needed to carry the building with the least possible material.

If we want to move towards a more inclusive architecture that adds to the quality of life of the citizens our, then structures need to reflect to us how they are made, what they are made of and how they work. They need to relate to us as humans and include us in their workings. New technologies require an expression that explains them to us. Things hidden won’t be understood or talked about.

”form is not the goal (in itself), it’s the result” Mies van der Rohe: Kleine Reihe – Architektur, page 10.

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