Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Fear and Function in Architecture

Lately I've been thinking about function. It seems such a long time since this has been at the heart of architectural thinking that I've started to wonder if it might be important again. By which I mean that there exists a certain orthodoxy against function now, a sense that the preoccupation with function and programme of early modernism was reductive and reactionary.

The importing of theories of the irrational, of psychoanalytic discourse and post structuralism into architecture in the '80's helped destabilise the rigidity of modernist ideas of the relationship of buildings to function. This questioning of the relationship of form to function has inadvertently promoted a new formal expressionism divorced from ideas as to how the building might be used, which dominates most fashionable architecture today. There is a sense that this formal expressiveness is inherently democratic and 'free', and that the formal randomness promotes a consequent randomness of occupation by the user. This in turn is assumed to promote a creative interplay between us and the architecture, a re-reading that is inherently anti-authoritarian. In some senses we have come to be frightened of function.

Quite apart from the naivety of this position - the fact that it ignores the less physical but unavoidable hierarchies and and controlling mechanisms of buildings - there is a creeping air of dogma about it. I know because I unquestionably sit on that side of the fence myself.

From a more left field perspective then, there also exists a sense that architecture, complicit as it is with power structures, is explicitly reactionary and must be challenged by its occupants. Theories of public space and the occupation of architecture have dwelt upon improper uses; skateboarding in public spaces, football in the street, murder in the cathedral. While undoubtedly interesting and valid I wonder whether an easy assumption has now emerged whereby the uncertainties and speculations have now become certainties and new orthodoxies.

So I thought I would try and write some things about the relationship of architecture to function. Coming up then are some thoughts specifically about houses and problems between different conceptions of use, or function in them. Bet you can't wait.

Oh yes, and I'm reviewing the Dark Knight for the next issue of Icon. Unfortunately I read this review first which is very good so now I have to think of something else intelligent to say. Holy cow.

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