Saturday, November 25, 2006

Form and function

click photo to enlarge
Study of the history of architecture leads me to believe that the design of the best buildings is usually closely linked to their function. This fairly widely held view is often supported by the mis-quoting of the Chicago architect, Louis Sullivan, who (almost) said "form follows function". I am not so dogmatic as to believe that it is always so - there are exceptions that prove the rule! However, buildings that are designed principally to present an imposing face to the world, often have insufficient regard for their primary purpose of enclosing useful space. That's a problem that I have with a number of the so called "iconic" buildings that architects are producing today.

When I have discussed this issue in the past, and it's usually when I've said I'm not mad about Frank Gehry's work, people have said to me, "In that case, how is that you admire medieval church architecture, one of the most highly decorated styles in history." The fact is that Gothic architecture is a classic example of forms coming about in response to architectural demands. Pointed arches can span wider voids than rounded arches, and distribute roof loading more effectively - that's what prompted their invention. Towers are high so bells can be heard at distance. Buttresses with weighty ornamental pinnacles on top counteract the outward thrust of roofs and vaulting. Window tracery allows the use of smaller pieces of expensive glass and give structural support. String courses, drip moulding and gargoyles prevent water from running down the walls of the building. Most of what we see in a Gothic building that is a direct response to an architectural need.

The little building in my photograph - the Morecambe & Heysham Yacht Club race office - is a further example of that desirable trait. The office is raised to give a clear view of the yachts as they race off-shore. So too is the adjoining viewing platform. The stairs are necessary for access. The whole structure is light, so wood and corrugated metal are appropriate materials. A simple and effective building where a visually satisfying form derives from its function. I took my image with a wide zoom lens at 30mm (35mm equivalent), the camera set to Aperture Priority (f6.3 at 1/640 sec), at ISO 100 with -0.3EV. The wide angle allowed me to compose a shot that shows the pleasing back and forth of lines within the structure. A relatively high contrast black and white conversion emphasises these qualities.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen