Image by Colin Carter
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VOLUME 5

FUSHION OF FORM AND FUNCTION

BY  CAROLYN BRISSETT

A unique blend of art and science, architecture stands at the crossroads of time. Striking a delicate balance between technology and culture, it seeks that sweet spot between form, function and sustainability.

 
The primary elements of architecture, form and space (its ethereal opposite) are traditionally defined by function. Shaped by social, historical, geographical and even meteorological imperatives, the needs, beliefs and priorities of every society are reflected in its architecture, from Europe’s arrow-slitted castles to the wattle-and-daub rondavels of Africa.


MULTI-PURPOSE PROFESSIONALS


In fact, architecture is simply the art (or the science?) of designing positive and negative spaces where form follows function within a structurally solid framework. Added to this are countless historical and cultural aspects (religious beliefs and social rankings), problems raised by local climates and terrains (floods and temperatures), and public health issues (ventilation and waste disposal), that require architects to be part-time sociologists and physicians as well. In general terms, architecture encompasses five main 
functions: 

 

1.     User function, focused on projected purposes and intended activities over a foreseeable length of time;
2.     Economic function, as any building must be financially feasible over a reasonable length of time;
3.     Environmental function, offering protection from dust, pollution, rain and sun;
4.     Technical function, blending age-old expertise with cutting-edge engineering for low-cost practicality;
5.     Symbolic function, portraying the beliefs and spirit of a community or a nation.

From a humanistic standpoint, architects are actually lifestyle sculptors, eager to reshape the world into a better place for their fellow residents on this planet!


SCULPTORS: EXPLORING NEW FIELDS


Often linked to architecture, sculpture is a field that expanded rapidly during the second half of the XX century, encompassing new objects and activities. With its roots split between religious artefacts (like amulets) and everyday utensils (like arrowheads), sculpture is a three-dimensional art form, in contrast to the two-dimensional shapes of painting. A favorite decorative device used by architects through the ages, sculpted reliefs span the gap between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional arts. 


The main purpose of sculpture is to create movement within space, traditionally using four main techniques (carving, assembling, modeling, and casting) to shape a wide variety of materials: stone, wood, metal, clay, ivory, plaster, paper, sawdust and even sand. More contemporary options include fiberglass, concrete and plastics, with other innovative possibilities glimpsed in the technology pipeline. 


Less subject to the strictures of the ‘form follows function’ school than architecture, modern sculpture moved away from lifelike representations, instead focusing on design, form and volume. Seeking fresh sources of inspiration, sculptors became more willing to experiment with new materials and innovative techniques,  focused  on fragmentation, form reduction and biomorphism.


PERFECT PARTNERS FOR MODERN CITIES 


Although a robustly outdoor art form, the concept of public sculptures is relatively new. It was only during the late XIX and XX centuries that urban upgrades introduced the concept of public parks graced with sculptures, often commemorative pieces. And as civic-minded architects drove broad boulevards through mediaeval tenements, disputes sprang up over the modern sculptures framed by these new open spaces. 
More than 150 years later, architects and urban planners are still following in the footsteps of Paris pioneer Baron Haussmann. From Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon to New York’s HighLine, the trend towards making cities more people-friendly is still forging ahead, with healthier environments offering a better quality of life in settings enriched with artworks. 


PATH TO THE FUTURE?


With urban technology progressing at such a dizzying pace, it’s hard to predict what lies ahead. But one thing is sure: steered by human ingenuity, this steady fusion of form, function and sustainability is shaping a fairer and more equal world for us all.