architects such as Adolf Loos have excluded buildings from the domain
of art, emphasizing on “function” as the distinguishing quality of architecture
compared with other plastic arts: “So hätte
also das Haus nichts mit Kunst zu tun und wäre die Architektur nicht unter
die Künste einzureihen? Es
ist so. Nur ein ganz kleiner Teil der Architektur gehört der Kunst an:
Das Grabmal und das Denkmal. Alles andere, was einem Zweck dient, ist
aus dem Reiche der Kunst auszuschalten.”
In this context,
Loos defined tomb and monument as the pure architecture referring to their
perceived lack of function enabling them to touch human beings in a way that
From this non-artistic point of view, it can be argued that the evaluation
of architectural works is strongly user-oriented, as buildings cannot
exist independently of their users and any good architecture should be
individually identified by its so-called “inhabitants”. Therefore the
criteria for judging architecture are contingent to user’s interpretation
and “function” is the most determined constituent element of architecture
which ascribes meaning to the work. Functional analysis captures the essence
of an architectural work in its materiality optimally satisfying user’s
utilitarian “needs” and links conventional meaning to buildings. In this
regard, architecture becomes a coherent entity, a unity where every element
is perfect and nothing is redundant in it. But can we fully understand
a building referring to its functionality and arrive at a correct interpretation
by the physicality of its material properties? Is there really an objective
property of a thing that constructs its meaning?
With an ambition surpassing even Loos’ argument, Hannes Meyer – the second
director of the Bauhaus – showed a stronger affinity for function and
defended willingly the facile performance as the essence of a building,
articulating twelve concrete human needs for which architecture has to
provide solutions: Sex life, Sleeping, Keeping Pets, Gardening, Care of
the Body, Weather Protection, Domestic Hygiene, Car Maintenance, Cooking,
Heating, Solar Exposure and Service.
Attributing a good architecture to what his client intends, Meyer undermined
the dominant position of architects and severely curtailed architecture
to a process of utilitarian organization.
But how far is the question of function relevant to the process of architectural
evaluation? As a counterexample to what Loos and Meyer have proposed,
Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois (1945-1951) is, despite its general
recognition among the most important monuments of all twentieth-century,
an absolute failure in reference to user’s experience, affording functional
satisfaction of Edith Farnsworth. Mies van der Rohe’s grandson wrote:
“(The House) owes its stature as one of highlights of modern architecture
to its spiritual rather than its functional values. … So unconventional
is the house that every move and every activity in it assume an aesthetic
quality which challenges behavior patterns in different surroundings.”
Edith Farnsworth, the owner of the house accused later Mies of fraud,
alleging that he had falsely represented himself as a skilled, proficient
and experienced architect.
Yet Farnsworth House is still a significant example of modern architecture
memorized and widely admired by a large group of art historians and critics
grasped the value of the work in its context. The question arises over such an argument is quiet clear: Is an inhabitant
really in position to judge the worth or quality of a building disregarding
the higher theoretical,
aesthetic, and philosophical aspects of architecture?
Sullivan’s coined phrase of “Form Follows Function” which predicates a
modern building by its intended purpose, has largely penetrated throughout
the physical realm of modern architecture making the borderline between
function and architecture get somewhat blurred up to present time. But
in case of Farnsworth House, functional concerns of the client are outstandingly
repressed helping the outraged architect, coming down to the greatness
of his design. Farnsworth house is a “pure” masterpiece without responding
to the minimum need of its occupant for keeping a garbage can in her house.
As we can see from the example, functional analysis cannot necessarily
guarantee the legitimacy of any architectural reading. Function is neither
the necessary (in case of tomb and monument) nor the sufficient condition
(in case of Farnsworth House) of architecture and any question of function
would rather result in defining architecture itself. How we define the
concept of architecture determines how we define function. Thus, function
can be in some cases more and in some other cases less important. For
instance, Bruno Taut took the approach toward function for unjustified
defending his decidedly non-functional projects as follows: “Yes, impractical
and without utility! But have we become happy through utility? Always
utility and utility, comfort, convenience – good food, culture – knife,
fork, trains, toilets, and yet also – cannons, bombs, instruments of murder!”
Moreover, functional elements are still partly unbeknownst to both architects
and users of the buildings. There is no way to determine by observation
whether a person has a particular need or not, then the concept of need
is too ambiguous to end up with some objective functions for an architectural
work. Inhabitants could acquaint with concepts such as comfort and convenience
in different manners based upon their personal preferences. Hence, the
chance for an architect to prescribe a singular design which could gratify
the desire of its every user seems to be scarce. Christopher Alexander
and Barry Poyner have argued, even if you could firstly define a functional
programme and “state clearly what a building has to do, there is still
no way of finding out what the building must be like to do it. The geometry
of the building is still a matter for the designer’s intuition; the programme
doesn’t help with the geometry. Secondly, even if you state clearly what
the building has to do, there is no way of finding if this is what the
building ought to do. It is possible to make up a very arbitrary programme
for a building. There is, at present, no way of being sure that programmes
are themselves not arbitrary; there is no way of testing what the programme
Function is a contingent matter and cannot develop once and for all solutions
to the question of need. Nor architecture can be reduced to its performative
use. Therefore, it is doubtful whether we can determine the value and
significance of a building by evaluating its utilitarian activities and
establish our interpretation on the concept of use. Once we acknowledge
the deficiencies in clarifying the definition of function, we have to
admit the failure of Hannes Meyer’s theory in turning architecture into
a science by its functional means and retrieving information about the
user’s intention. Furthermore, architecture as a scientific entity could
be developed by skilful engineers rather than architects and artists.
Following Immanuel Kant’s aesthetics and it will to purity, some architects
have made analogies between architecture and art bringing function to
the center of their arguments. Being identified independently of user’s
intention, Loos tried to distinguish architecture as an artwork by dispensing
it from any ”Zweck”. Contrary to Loos, John Ruskin tried to appreciate
the buildings as art by highlighting ornament as the essence of architecture.
He believed that the most artistic part in architecture is the least necessary
and the most dispensable element in it,
writing: “I suppose no-one would call laws architectural which determine
the height of a breastwork or the position of a bastion. But if to the
stone facing of the bastion be added an unnecessary feature, as a cable
moulding, that is architecture.”
In a similar vein, Kant had separated artworks from objects he categorized
them preliminarily under the concept of having a particular end.
Art should set itself free of any utilitarian interest that involves an
ulterior motive or a concept by which the object is evaluated. Self-subsisting
beauties of this kind is the subject of pure art. Thus, two types of beauty
are distinguished by Kant: Free beauty (freie Schönheit) which
corresponds with the spectator’s pure judgment of taste and appendant
beauty (anhängende Schönheit) which is ascribed to those objects
like most architectural works described as beautiful under the condition
of a definite concept. ”Flowers are free beauties of nature” because
they appear to be “purposive without purpose” and nothing underlies
our judgment calling a flower beautiful, “but the beauty of a building
(such as church, palace, arsenal, or summer-house) presupposes a concept
of the end that defines what the thing has to be, and consequently a concept
of its perfection; and is therefore merely appendant beauty.”
Architecture conspicuously keeps distance from pure art according to Kantian
notion of beauty unless it could liberate itself from its so-called users.
Whatever a user intends, including the will to fulfillment of his/her
needs, would substitute transcendent reality of architecture with a physical
one. In other words, function will contaminate user’s aesthetic judgment
about a building by the concept of its purpose.
Ruskin strongly believed Kant saying: “Much might be added to a building
that would immediately please the eye, were it is not intended for a church.”
Any exclusive contribution to functional requirements of a building hinders
purity of user’s aesthetic experience.
To see if a correlation between art and architecture exists, one should
examine limits of independency architecture represents. In other words,
we might focus on things architecture has in common with other arts, rather
than things like function which is subject to their differentiation. Thus,
for truly constructing an architectural work, a functional analysis seems
to be irrelevant. Instead of linking architecture to function by constructing
a causal explanation concluding function as the cause, it is more reasonable
to make our predication in favor of architecture, for the building cannot
be reduced to its functional contingent construction and function in turn
might be constructed by the buildings. Moreover, in case a particular
function is abandoned in a building it could be realized in the next building
and the idea of function as the immutable essence of architecture cannot
work in every situation.
To sum up, human interpretations in terms of functional aspects of a building
cannot take a satisfactory position in evaluation of architectural works.
The effect a building has on its inhabitant is too variable to be ever
measured experimentally and functional requirements of a building vary
from one case to the other. Architecture is more a process of continual
negotiation and therefore it should remain open in reference to every
interaction between architect, his/her clients and the cultural context
articulated by critics of the discipline. What goes on in these interactions
would shape interpretations applicable for “constructing a building”.
As a result, the criteria for judging architecture are contingent to all
individual interpretations involved in designing, living and understanding
Adolf, Architektur (1910), in Über Architektur. Vienna:
Georg Prachner Verlag, 1995, p. 84.
Meyer, Hannes, Bauen und Gesellschaft, Schriften, Briefe, Projekte.
Dresden, VEB Verlag der Kunst, 1980, p. 69. Cf. Jormakka, Kari and
Schürer, Oliver, Secret Agents, in Wirklichkeitsexperimente;
Architekturtheorie und praktische Ästhetik. Weimar: Verlag der
Bauhaus Universität, 2006, pp. 75-106.
Lohan, Dirk, Mies Van der Rohe: Farnsworth House, Plano, Illinois,
1945-50. Tokyo: Global Architecture, 1976, p. 4.
Friedman, Alice, Women and the Making of the Modern House: A Social
and Architectural History. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc, 1998,
Van de Ven, Cornelis, Space in Architecture. Assen: Van Gorcum,
1980, p. 154.
Alexander, Christopher and Poyner, Barry: The Atoms of Environmental
structure, in Emerging Methods in Environmental Design and
Planning. Ed. Gary T. Moore. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1973 (original
1966), p. 308
Jormakka, Kari, Geschichte der Architekturtheorie.
Edition Selene, 2006, pp. 189-191.
Middelton, p. 364: Mignot, p. 123.
Kant, Immanuel, The Critique of Judgment. Tr. J. C. Meredith,
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961, pp. 72-74.