Functionalism Revisited
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Functionalism Revisited

Architectural Theory and Practice and the Behavioral Sciences

Jon Lang, Walter Moleski

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eBook - ePub

Functionalism Revisited

Architectural Theory and Practice and the Behavioral Sciences

Jon Lang, Walter Moleski

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About This Book

A range of current approaches to architecture are neglected in our contemporary writings on design philosophies. This book argues that the model of 'function' and the concept of a 'functional building' that we have inherited from the twentieth-century Modernists is limited in scope and detracts from a full understanding of the purposes served by the built environment. It simply does not cover the range of functions that buildings can afford nor is it tied in a conceptually clear manner to our contemporary concepts of architectural theory. Based on Abraham Maslow's theory of human motivations, and following on from Lang's widely-used text, Creating Architectural Theory: The Role of the Behavioral Sciences in Environmental Design, Lang and Moleski here propose a new model of functionalism that responds to numerous observations on the inadequacy of current ways of thinking about functionalism in architecture and urban design. Copiously illustrated, the book puts forward this model and then goes on to discuss in detail each function of buildings and urban environments.

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Part I
Introduction: Architectural Theory and Functional Theory

Burj al “Arab Hotel (2000) left
Tom Wright of WS Atkins PLC, architect.
Jumeirah Madinat (2003) right
DSA [Dubai South Africa], architects.
This introductory part of the book describes what we understand by theory in architectural practice and education and how that understanding can be taken a step forward. The argument presented is simple. We need a general model of the scope of architectural theory. We need to differentiate between our understanding of how the world of buildings, streets and landscapes functions and our theories of what good architecture and a good built world are. The first can be quasi-scientific but the latter is always socio-political and thus shaped by the political economy within which architects work (Clarke 2004).
There are, it will be suggested, three bodies of theoretical knowledge for the design fields: a) a theory of functionalism, b) a set of architectural theories—statements of the purposes that buildings and urban designs should serve in a particular circumstance and how to achieve them, and c) theories about the design process. The first draws on the experiences obtained in practice and on systematic empirical research while the second consists of the normative philosophical statements of individuals and schools of architectural thought on what is deemed to be important and what good environments are. The third deals with design methodology—the theory of designing. That too can be divided into two parts: knowledge of design processes and techniques and ideological positions on how to employ that knowledge. The issues of design methodology fall outside the scope of concern of this book but they are discussed in passing in Chapter 2 and later in Chapter 16, the conclusion to this book. The objective here is to revisit the concept of functionalism.
Although the Modernists who were designing functional buildings (Behne 1926, Le Corbusier 1923, Sert and CIAM 1944, Gropius 1962, Giedion 1963) and critics (e.g., Norberg Schulz 1965, Steele 1973) wrote much about what the functions of architecture should be, they provided only sketchy outlines of the functions that buildings can serve. There are many descriptions of architectural theories (see, for instance, Conrads 1970, Nesbitt 1996, Hays 1998, Jencks and Kropf 2006). What the range of functions of architecture is perceived to be in these ideological statements is unclear. In response there have been a number of calls for an explicit and broader theory of functionalism than that the Modernists provided and we now possess (see, for example, Canter 1970, Lynch 1984, Milner 2001, Venturi and Scott Brown 2004, Madanipour 2007).
The purpose of Chapter 1: The Inheritance: Architectural Practice and Architectural Theory Today is to give a synopsis of what is happening in current architectural practice, the philosophies that guide it, and their twentieth-century antecedents. Much current practice fails, however, to attract the attention of architectural critics. Its work fails to interest the cognoscenti. The concern here is with what is actually being built. As a consequence we provide a broad overview of the range of current practices. The purpose is to provide a foundation on which to build a model of functionalism that can serve architects well today.
If Chapter 1 establishes what we now regard as architectural theory, Chapter 2: A Framework for Theory in Architecture distinguishes more thoroughly between the nature of functional theory and the nature of architectural theory. It also relates these two bodies of knowledge to procedural theory in architecture, to design methodology.


The Inheritance: Architectural Practice and Architectural Theory Today

He who loves theory without practice is like a sailor who boards a ship without a rudder and a compass.
Leonardo de Vinci, architect, sculptor, inventor
We live in fragmented times. The arrival of the twenty-first century was accompanied by a diversity of architectural attitudes and thus designs. This diversity is not surprising because the Modernists’ focus on what they called “function” gave way to concerns of style and during the latter part of the twentieth century to “signification” (Venturi and Scott Brown 2004). Architectural theory today focuses not on describing and explaining how the built world can and does function but on the ideas and works of individual architects, and/or schools of architectural thought whose members espouse similar views. In practice the concern for the functionality of buildings has not disappeared but rather architects today emphasize different functions than their predecessors. To understand our contemporary architectural theories and practices we need a clear theory of functions. Such a theory must be of practice and live and die by its practical utility. In order to achieve this end our story begins by looking at our contemporary architectural ideas and their philosophical underpinnings.

The Intellectual Heritage

Two streams of philosophical thought shape architectural theory and practice (Broadbent 1990, Pevsner, Sharp, and Richards 2000). They are the Rationalist and the Empiricist. The former line of thought has roots in Platonic philosophy and later in the philosophies of Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz and more recently in the Napoleonic legal code. It is associated with the urban design and architectural ideas that poured out of Continental Europe during the twentieth century. The latter line is rooted in Aristotelian ideas, the scientific tradition of Bacon and the Enlightenment, the philosophies of Locke and Hume, and English common law.
Rationalists among designers rely on reasoning not tradition to establish ideal buildings and urban designs. The functions that the Modernists among them believed architecture should serve were best elaborated in the Athens Charter of CIAM (see Sert and CIAM 1944, Le Corbusier 1973, and Sharp 1978). The problem in Rationalist views of architecture and particularly urban design is that in seeking the ideal in a geometrically ordered world the baby often gets thrown out with the bathwater—what works well in terms of people’s lives with what does not.
In designing for the future Empiricists rely on their perceptions of what works as well as what does not, and on learning from precedents—images of the good places and buildings of the present and past. The Empiricist position is exemplified by a whole series of statements written during the past 30 years (for example, Alexander et al. 1977, Appleyard et al. 1982, Lynch 1984) but can best be illustrated during the early twentieth century by the writings of Ebenezer Howard (1902) and, in a very different vein, Camillo Sitte (1889, Hegemann and Peets 1922). Today Empiricist attitudes are displayed in the advocacies of Jane Jacobs (1961) and the Neo-Traditionalists (see Katz 1994, Perera 2005, Talen 2005). Designs, however, have to function in the future. The future is unknown and to be created. No architect can be an extreme Rationalist or a complete Empiricist.
Rationalists and Empiricists are united in their concerns for enhancing the quality of life of people and their belief that the built world can be made a better place than it is now. They differed because each had its own image of what future societies should be like and, implicitly, the functions that buildings and urban places should serve. Neither, however, had a fully fleshed model of the functions buildings do serve and might serve for people on which to clearly build their arguments.
Today, in the globalized economy, a distinction is often made between Western and Asian attitudes towards the world and thus towards architecture. The distinction between Western liberalism (emphasizing tolerance) and Asian authoritarianism (emphasizing discipline and order) is, however, very misleading. It would classify Plato and Saint Augustine along with Confucius and Kautilya as Asian philosophers and Rationalists while Ashoka, Gautama Buddha, Akbar the Great, Lao-tzu, Mahatma Gandhi or Sun Yat-sen as Western and Empiricists (Sen 2000).

Early Modernist Schools of Thought

The architectural theories and practices that attract the attention of the cognoscenti—those people who are highly respected for their deep knowledge of a field—still owe much to Modernist theories, both Rationalist and Empiricist, and to the designs developed during the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. Modernist architecture is, however, generally associated with avant-garde European architects of a period extending from the late nineteenth century to the 1970s. These architects were primarily Rationalists.

The First Generation of Rationalists

The Rationalists among Modernists shared a common concern for functionalism and the use of orthogonal geometries in design. They embraced modern technologies, industrialization and the standardization of building forms but rejected the use of applied ornamentation. The most influential Rationalist architects were those associated with the Bauhaus (1919–33) in Germany, and those allied with Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret). There were, however, many other groups such as the Expressionists and the Italian Rationalists. The goal of all of them was to have an architecture congruent with the requirements of their image of what modern life should be. Although they rejected the past their designs, nevertheless, drew on nineteenth-century Rationalist ideas (see Turner 1977 and Brooks 1997 on Le Corbusier).
Modernist architecture first appeared in Europe before World War One in such urban design proposals as those of Tony Garnier and in such buildings as the Fagus Shoe- Last Factory at Alfeld an der Leine (1911) designed by Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer (see Figure 1.1a). Gropius and his colleagues at the Bauhaus considered functional architecture to be one in which built forms are efficient in accommodating activities that, in turn, are carried out efficiently and that destinations in buildings and cities should be reached in as simple a manner as possible. The structure and construction techniques employed would also be efficient (Giedion 1963, Banham 1967, Benevolo 1980).
Le Corbusier’s proposal for the “city for the machine age civilization” (1924; see Figure 1.2a), his designs for the Maison Suisse (1932) in the CitĂ© Universitaire, Paris and the Citrohan houses proposals of the early 1920s had a major impact on the development of architectural and urban design thought during the middle third of the twentieth century. His designs between the two World Wars reduced building forms to the basic geometric shapes of rectilinear, plane surfaces, cubes, and, sometimes, cylinders. His buildings stood on pilotes and, often, had strips of fenestration, glass walls, and flat roofs. They had no applied decoration. In his urban designs the streets were edges to orthogonally placed clusters of buildings and were strictly channels for vehicular movement not seams joining the two sides of a street to make unified wholes. Streets were thus not seen as the center of life of communities, but, rather, places to avoid except for vehicular movement. His ideas were driven by the Spartan, puritanical view of life in which he was raised as a Calvinist (Brooks 1997).
Fine Modernist buildings celebrating the purity of forms and the interpenetration of spaces were built (for example, Figure 1.1aiii) and continue to be built around the world. The least successful are the mass housing projects built for low-income people. Based on the perceptions of what a good sanitary simple functional environment is, they largely failed to offer any broader qualities of life (J. Jacobs 1961, Smithson 1968, Brolin 1976, Blake 1977, Gold 2007). Many such projects built in Europe and in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s have been demolished. They continue to exist, however, in extremely large numbers in the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe and are still being built in Asian countries such as Korea and China (Figure 1.2d and e).

The Second Generation of Rationalists

The second phase of Modernist architecture gave the world a series of buildings more visually lively than their immediate predecessors. Patterns o...

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