The aesthetics of architecture should support the function of the building

Construction failures everywhere in the United States: a residential tower collapsed on the outskirts of Miami. Another plunge and tilted precariously in San Francisco. In January of this year, devastating apartment fires in Philadelphia and New York killed residents who could not escape. And with less lethal results, countless high-profile buildings suffer from cracks, leaks, mold, and other problems. These aren’t isolated cases: In 2007, an expert estimated that nearly a third of architectural insurance policies are subject to insurance claims based on “errors and omissions” each year. Contemporary architectural culture often adopts poor construction as a routine – indeed necessary – consequence of achieving conceptually advanced architectural designs. In 2005, Peter Eisenman proudly told The New York Times that all the architects he knows have designed buildings with notable problems (he includes not only himself, but also Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and Mies van der Rohe). Acceptance is annoying and subtle.

To make matters worse, architectural critics rarely admit that utilitarian considerations are relevant to their definitions of good architecture. Paul Goldberger, reviewing the opening of housing projects in the Twin Bronx Park in 1973, argued that the buildings constituted “good architecture.” One of the towers, designed by Prentice & Chan, Ohlhausen, burned down earlier this year, killing 19 residents. The various design decisions that contributed to these deaths—the fact that there were no automatic fire sprinklers or that both exit stairs shared a single column in the center of the building, for example—were not mentioned in Goldberger’s original critique.

The compliance of these items with the building codes in force at the time is exactly the point: building codes are political documents restriction Security (the preferred word is ‘equilibrium’) within upper and lower bounds based on a cost-benefit analysis consistent with profitability and private accumulation of wealth. Code-compliant building design should not be confused with the adoption of best fire safety practices (eg use of sprinklers and fire stair configuration as smoke-resistant towers placed at opposite ends of a double-loading corridor).

Architectural theory and criticism often validate the distance between good architecture and bad construction, between poetic expression and utilitarian function. In general, the former is evaluated while the latter is explained away – as if being good in one aspect excuses an architect from being bad in the other. In abstracting from utilitarian considerations—including not only fire and life safety but also aspects of accessibility, sustainability, flexibility, acoustic control, use of non-toxic materials, appropriate deployment of building control layers (which regulate leakage, condensation, energy use, and occupant comfort)—scholars and critics enable a culture of poor construction. .

The term “bad construction”, in this sense, is not a critical judgment about how buildings are constructed a look; Indeed, an upscale or retro critic’s sense of fashion and taste can never produce a useful theory of architecture. Instead, successful architectural theory must reconcile utility with the different modes of expression through which buildings are understood as architectural. And such a theory should explain how and why the usefulness of doing architecture is often affected, not only by politics and economics, but also by the dysfunctional competition that has underpinned modern aesthetic expression over the past hundred years.

Of course, architectural creativity also serves Function in distinguishing a building within the built environment, even when utility wanes as a result. But the arguments for glitch functionWhether they are framed in terms of status cues or conspicuous consumption, or are explained in terms of an “economy of interest” where notoriety is valued for its own sake, they inevitably fail to consider the harm caused by the practice itself.

Utility constraints—that is, how systems such as fire safety, sustainability, and accessibility are restricted in buildings—are predictable outcomes under capitalism, an economic system based on private property and competition to accumulate wealth. The negative consequences of such a system are well known, both for people and the environment, and there is no need to expand on them.

The ineffective consequences of the increasingly alien forms of architectural expression are also obvious, but the reasons that drive this phenomenon, perhaps, are less clear. in my book Bad Construction: How Politics Constrains Architectural Utility and Destroys Expression, I would argue that the extreme forms of abstraction, associated with the formal/spatial innovations of early twentieth-century modernism, and which persist today, are of particular importance in the dichotomy between appearance and operation. In a departure from the earlier conceptual foundations of the building form that constitutes the Western historical canon, modernist abstraction repudiates traditional building elements and distorts their familiar while still embracing heroic expression model. This is increasingly inconsistent with not heroic Deployment and proper formation of control layers that regulate the flow of heat, air, rainwater and steam through building envelopes.

While the deployment of a proper control layer benefits from continuity, many contemporary forms of expression exploit form interruption Or, equally problematic, a kind of excessive continuity where the differences between vertical, horizontal, or inclined surfaces are not adequately accounted for. Architects engaged in this kind of expression may, in some cases, enter into a never-ending and counterproductive hero’s journey, in which disinterest in building science, along with other “bourgeois” ideas of utility and functional logic, becomes a badge of honour.

In my book, I argue that “in the world of architectural production driven by competition, any logical limitation on the designer’s freedom of expression leads the designer – inversely but inevitably – to explore strictly forbidden places prohibited by prevailing norms.” In other words, the file Normal The expression and, most importantly, the logical configuration of building elements – having lost their power to elicit an aesthetic response and thus to serve as a competition pattern – are defined in ways that often detrimental to the building’s performance.

It is clear that the value of architecture lies in both its expression and its performance, yet it is important for architects to ensure that Vitruvius Venustas– the aesthetic or expressive aspect of architecture – supports, not subverts, the functional logic of the building. This is increasingly important given the urgency of climate change. Yes, the designer’s freedom is limited by this, but it is not completely destroyed. The radical function of Hans Meyer, the second director of the Bauhaus who wrote in 1928 that “the idea of ​​‘forming the sidewalk is enough to make a cat laugh,’ hardly captures the aesthetic impulses unique to humans.” The question, then,” as I write in the book’s conclusion, “is not whether one should Exclusion of art from architecture – art is inevitable. The most important question discussed here is whether architecture can adjust its course and how to align with the basic requirements of building science. ”

Jonathan Oshorn, an architect with a background in structural engineering and urban design and Professor of Architecture at Cornell University since 1988, is the author of Bad Construction: How Politics Constrains Architectural Utility and Destroys Expression (Lund Humphreys, 2021).

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