Function of Architecture


In Form and Function1, the authors explicate the terms form and function, along with their origins and implications, but neglect to identify the primary function of architecture.  The Oxford Architecture Dictionary gives a non-definition for the word architecture, instead giving reference to the way others have defined the term in the past, beginning with John Ruskin.  These definitions all vaguely identify architecture, as ‘building that is beautiful’, implying that the primary function of architecture is to be beautiful; but beautiful itself is an abstract and arbitrary term that has no meaning as a definition.  I would propose that the distinguishing factor setting architecture apart from mere building is that architecture strives to be environmentally aware.  Environment is not in this case the ecology of the site as defined by its local watershed area, though it can include that, but rather the sum of all physical, social, cultural, and human concerns that affect the building under question.  Of course, environmentally aware is no more definable than is beauty, but it does at least point in a clear direction towards which progress can be measured.  It is always possible to become more aware, and to design in a way that reflects that awareness; and, having a clear standard allows form to follow function in a way that it cannot if the abstraction ‘to appear beautiful’ is the primary function.  This might suggest that architectural education should consist of broadening the awareness of the architect by the study of culture, art, politics, economics, film, sport, cuisine, etc., but not of form.  To develop form by studying form can only lead deeper into a self-referential vortex that becomes farther and farther removed from any relevance to society with every passing generation.




1Tim and Charlotte Benton with Dennis Sharp, Form and Function: A Sourcebook for the History of Architecture and Design 1890-1939, London, 1975)