28 June 2010

Of Modernism and Form Following Function

I fear I am becoming a "design nerd". You know, one of these people that lauds or evangelizes a product for great design, regardless of it's functionality in my world.

Still a fuzzy concept? Let me explain. I would really like this bicycle. It is ultra-light, based on quality historical design, uber-functional, and pretty dang cool looking. And it is $690. Ya, for a bicycle...designed for intra-city transportation. Not a mountain bike or a racing bike...just a run-to-the-grocery-store-to-grab-some-milk bike.

And yet it is the design that is so alluring. It is no more complicated than it needs to be. It is no heavier than it needs to be. It doesn't have unnecessary bells or whistles and yet it isn't left so spare so as to discount the beauty of a creation either. It is well-designed.

This bicycle showcases the best aspects of the architecture phrase "Form follows function". This is basically the idea that the space or creation should first remain beholden to the functionality intended and then allow the form to coalesce around that desired use.

So some of us buy houses with formal dining rooms. And most of us will never host a formal dinner in our entire lives. Really, I would wonder if the formal dining room isn't just bad design. Wouldn't we rather have more room for casual entertaining, family activities, or some other oft-repeated pasttime? And yet the majority of new suburban homes offer some sort of formal living and/or formal dining space.

As such, we have a lot of homes with seldom sat-in couches and seldom-used crystal because function has become slave to form.

Our lives are this way.

We often allow the terms of our cultural existence to dictate our practical being. We hear the lies from marketers and shrug them off only to wonder if they may be right after all...

You need a bigger car...

You need a nicer house...

You need a $690 bicycle...

You should make more money...

You should study something that pays well...

You should be like everyone else...

Because we live in a mass-produced world and a culture of efficiency, there is a temptation to fall in line and have the function of our lives fit into the form (the mold) that has been set before us.

We can choose instead to listen to the wisdom of American architect Louis Sullivan, who declared in 1896:

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function. This is the law.

The way of our life should be slave to the direction we are heading. Those of us who claim Christ should organize our lives not after the form of a world fascinated with its own consumption, but rather with the functionality of the Christ-life as our primary driver.

I don't know what that looks like for your specifically. What I do know is that many of our lives would look very different if they would follow the simple credo of a fringe 19th century architect. And it may not look like everyone else's...it may be weird or derisive or even painful. But it will be true. And that must be a good thing.

Good design matters. In what order is your life being designed?

1 comment:

  1. Louis Sullivan is without a doubt my favorite architect...he coined the phrase "form follows function", his National Farmers Bank building in Minnesota is one amazing, he mentored Frank Lloyd Wright, lived in Chicago,and was an alcoholic. What isn't to love!? This was a man who was transparent...his purpose, passion and direction were laid out for all to witness.