Dissertation: Architecture Modernism

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Architecture

Modernism in architecture came about in the 20th century as it introduced completely innovative ways of thinking. The way that "designers, architects and engineers conceptualized, fabricated, and evaluated these environments has been the subject of very intense debate" (Doordan 2003, p x). The maxim created by Louis Sullivan, "form follows function," was one of the most central points of debate and will be contemplated in Chapter One of this paper.

Form follows function is often credited as the main principle of modern architecture; however, there are a slew of modern architects who would disagree with this tenet, one of those architects was Frank Lloyd Wright, a former assistant of Sullivan. Adolf Loos is another important designer of the 20th century who spoke passionately about architecture, stating that "ornament is criminal." Both tenets, "form follows function" and "ornament is criminal" became fundamental aspects of 20th century architecture and design, though there are noteworthy architects of the era that went against these two doctrines.

Two notable skyscrapers of the 20th century are the Woolworth Building and the Empire State Building, both located in New York City. Sullivan was adamant that form must follow function when it comes to highrise buildings -- skyscrapers -- as well. The Woolworth Building and the Empire State Building are unique structures and have unique stories that go along with their design and construction process. They will be a matter of focus in this paper.

Chapter Two will concentrate on the issues that contemporary architects and designers have with the maxim form follows function, as it often limits the scope of how things, or in what way, something can be done. There are a number of new trends in architecture in the present day. The necessity of paying more attention to the environment and thus using more sustainable materials is one direction in which architecture is heading. Also, people are becoming more and more interested in buildings where they can do a number of different activities: live, work, exercise, and play. This means that structures are becoming larger and more innovative in styling. Climate change also affects the way that buildings are being designed. More and more architects are designing buildings to stand up to the harsh elements of a world that is undergoing global warming. As temperatures rise, some argue that more and more people will flock to the cities where they can find shelter from the heat.

The traditional equation -- "high density plus high land values equals high buildings" (Dupre & Smith 2008, p 137) -- is not what urges on the construction of skyscrapers in the 21st century. This is something that will be examine in Chapter Two as we look to Dubai, an emerging city, where there is "a lot of nothing except, of course, the money and the ideological drive to build proudly tall" (2008, p 137).

Chapter Two will examine a couple of unique constructions: The Torre Agbar in Barcelona Spain, and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which is not the tallest (half a mile high) freestanding structure in the world. We will see in these two distinct skyscrapers how new elements are driving the construction of skyscrapers. Nouvel, architect of the Torre Agbar focuses more on epoch and the culture and history of the past and the present and how his designs will fit into that environment while the Burj Khalifa's architects focused more on creating a luxury building where people can work, play and live.

In conclusion, a brief overview will be done, looking at the trends of 20th century architecture and "form follows function" especially in pertaining to skyscrapers as well as trends in the 21st century and how form appears to be equally as important as function while also considering the demands of a different world where environment issues such as global warming and lack of resources must take center stage when it comes to architecture design.

Chapter One

"Form follows function" is a maxim that is related to modern architecture and design in the 20th century. The idea is that the design and shape of the building should be mainly based on its intended function (i.e., purpose). Louis Sullivan, an American architect and oftentimes called "the father of modernism," is universally credited with the chief principle of 20th century modern architecture: form follows function. Sullivan actually said "form ever follows function," but the simpler term "form follows function" is what has been remembered. He said:

"It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,

Of all things physical and metaphysical,

Of all things human and al things super-human,

Of all true manifestations of the head,

Of the heart, of the soul,

That the life is recognizable in its expression,

That form ever follows function. This is the law." (Heskett 2005)

In 1891, Sullivan put this maxim to work in St. Louis with the design of one of the world's very first skyscrapers, the Wainwright Building. In thinking about the adage -- form follows function, it does seem to make proper sense, and however, if one is to concentrate on the meaning, the adage brings up different interpretations. Relating the form of something and its intended purpose is something that good architects should do, but it cannot, no matter what, always be the most important solution when it comes to design. Defining the true meaning of the maxim brings up a conversation pertaining to design integrity that has been and will continue to be quite a controversial topic.

Sullivan created the shape of the tall steel skyscraper at a moment when technology, taste, and economic forces came together in a fierce sort of way, making it necessary to lose the established styles of the past. If the design or shape of the building was not going to be taken from the past ways of designing a building in order to establish form, something had to determine that form. Sullivan said that it would be the building's function or purpose. Frank Lloyd Wright worked as Sullivan's assistant and he took on the same principle, but in a different form.

There is still to this day a longstanding debate about whether or not form always follows function. Many 20th century architects argued that form does, indeed, follow function. As noted, Frank Lloyd Wright adopted Sullivan's belief, though changing it a bit. He believed that form and function are not any different from one another. Many contemporary architects may, in fact, argue that function follows form, because if there is not a certain understanding of form, how can we ever get to function?

Harris (2008) states that twentieth century architecture has its roots in the modern era and is therefore thought of as modern architecture. In those modern buildings of the 20th century, aesthetically pleasing buildings are less important than functionality; functionality is the most important factor, but this doesn't mean that in their functionality they are not aesthetically pleasing. In the case of twentieth century skyscrapers, Nash & McGrath (2010, p 17) suggest that they may be seen as more "form following function," but the skyscrapers of the twentieth century were not and are not just an object of their own time, they also had the ability to point the way towards the future.

Adolf Loos, an Australian architect, wrote an essay in 1908 that has become a foundation of Modernism and had a deep impact on other designers such as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Alvar Aalto, Mies van der Rohe, and Gerrit Rietveld. Loos famously stated that architectural ornament was criminal. The Modernists adopted both principles -- form follows function and ornamentation as criminal -- and they praised industrial artifacts like steel water towers as shining examples of plain and simple design integrity. Between the years of 1945 and 1984, Modernism was essentially the only respected form in the architectural profession; everything else was considered to be criminal.

The principles that ornament is a crime and that form ever follows function do not say anything, in particular, about function. It appears to be simply a preference -- aesthetically speaking for the industrial age. The Industrial Revolution of the mid-19th century saw the mass production of steel beams and other types of materials that led to the very first skyscraper in the world, the Home Insurance Building in Chicago, built in 1855 (Harris 2008). In the first half of the 20th century, a lot of the architecture out there was based on 19th century architecture in which buildings were designed as works of art; if there was space that was unused because it would make it more aesthetically pleasing, it didn't really matter as long as the building looked good (2008). By the end of World War II, there was a new need for more functional buildings and this is why we see a big shift toward more functional buildings in the mid-20th century. In Chicago, specifically, but in other cities as well, the architects of the 20th century modified more aesthetically-oriented buildings… [END OF PREVIEW]

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