Form follows function – the central tenant of modern architecture – is an idea most often employed to justify cheap, ruthlessly efficient factories and office buildings. But for everyday living, it’s too rigid. A kitchen should be suitable for cooking, sure, but can’t the space also reflect the more complex, less rational things that happen within: family gatherings, romance, heartbreak? Does a clinical, all-white, ruthlessly organized space really suit?
Instead, maybe a messier update on modernism is needed – one that better relates to the human condition. Certain practicalities can stay – rectangular rooms are great for arranging furniture, flat walls are ideal for hanging art – but there should also be a place for delight and wonder, as well as the strange, irrational and unpredictable.
It’s not a new idea. The very architect who coined the form-and-function mantra in the late 19th-century, Louis Sullivan, used joyfully useless, totally frilly decoration on his early skyscraper experiments (his most famous buildings in Chicago look like a flower garden exploded on them). And since then, many designers – Frank Lloyd Wright, Frei Otto, Frank Gehry – have espoused different types of organicism. (Lloyd Wright, in fact, declared “organic architecture to be the modern ideal … if we are to see the whole of life, and to now serve the whole of life”).
Now, new technologies (3-D modelling software, 3-D printers, computer-guided routers) are making the aesthetic easier for architects and interior designers to integrate into our everyday lives – applying an amorphous quality to our homes and cities. And they are proving that when form and functionality collide, the result isn’t necessarily a stark, uninspired box.