Form vs Function

Is it just me, or are building facades getting crazier and crazier? I personally love walking down the street or surfing the web and finding cool buildings that spark the imagination, or give you pause and think “huh.. I never would have thought about doing that to a building.” But when does the building envelope go too far? When do we need to take a step back and ask, “Is this overdoing it?” I personally think that that limit may be reached when the skin of a building becomes more of a focus, and more important than the content inside.

One example of this is the Tiffany Building located in Ginza, Japan. I have nothing against this building itself but it strikes me as odd that so much more time and thought went into making this building look interesting then probably went into the actual design of the space that will be inhabited. I feel like priorities should be reevaluated when more attention, money, and thought were put into the changing façade lighting that makes the building look as if were sparkling, similar to a diamond, rather then the lighting that would actually be used.

In a way the Tiffany building made a smart and bold move with its skin design, by making the shape roughly translate to that of a diamond it has become a giant billboard in the streets of Ginza, encouraging onlookers to enter and shop. But in the end, would I call it architecture? Maybe, but I think I would most likely call it a very clever paint job.

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2 comments

  1. I really this post because I was going to write on something similar to this so I choose to comment and add to this instead. Yes building envelops are getting crazier and I don’t think it’s mostly because of the intended design. As we saw in lecture on Tuesday, the need to respond to certain issues like sustainability, zoning and codes, climate control, etc has been the main factor building envelops continue to get “Crazier”.
    In my opinion, Frank Ghery has the craziest facade designs e.g. the Weisman Museum here on campus. The facade is so eye catching that one wonders what the inside looks like. I must say I was disappointed when I first walked into the building and saw how different the interior looked from the exterior. I notice this is very typical with most buildings that have “crazy” facades.
    However I must say that as an up coming designer, it is amazing to see some of the building facades that have been built around the world. Some of the examples we saw in class like the Vodafone building Lisbon, Chad Oppenheimer cor tower Miami, are just inspiring. Most of these buildings are built in response to something, or displays a certain type of technology. It is not too often that we find a buildings facade looking so bizarre without it having any real purpose and just built for decoration.
    Whatever the case might be, the improvement of technology provides room for innovative designs and stretching our design boundaries. Harnessing energy, interactivity, and illumination are some of the common reasons buildings have “crazy” facades and it is always nice to see how architects and designs think outside the box and experiment with new designs.

  2. I don’t think that building facades are much “crazier” than at various other times in architectural history. They are newer, and perhaps the outliers, such as Frank Gehry, craft facades that are beyond what could be accomplished in the past, but facades such as this one (http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_l-fiPlg2ZOk/SjUcSe_HezI/AAAAAAAABSE/3qwvvX5giwg/s400/Rococco-Bldg.jpg) are undeniably crazy in their own way. We just happen to be much more use to complex stone filigree, or the elaborate wrought iron shapes common to Art Nouveau (http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-C1BWENkXFLQ/UFTz0RTMRDI/AAAAAAAAsgs/AceYVOPN4CQ/s640/strauv_l.jpg). The facade is important, especially in a building like a museum, theater, or store. It is the introduction, the first impression, it’s the billboard and the trailer for the building. In many cases it is the only place the designer can really introduce some real whimsy and elaborate beauty, if the requirements of program, structure, and economy dictate the internal spaces. This is true throughout the eras; walk around Minneapolis and you’ll see many old buildings with elaborate (and “unnecessary”) facades on the front, while the sides and back remains undressed brick. Grand buildings of the Renaissance often had a separate competition to choose the designer of the facade, it was given nearly equal importance as the building itself. We have changed what can be done, but the desire to astound, attract, and challenge the casual observer has long been a factor in architecture, and the facade is the primary vehicle for the attempt. Louis Sullivan wrote that the form of a building should be driven by, and informed by the function of the building, but this doesn’t mean the facade must be purely “functional” in terms of aesthetic. A building like the Tiffany Co. store has a function of selling exquisite, entirely luxurious, and incredibly expensive items to people who demand more than a good, they demand an “experience”, part of that is a building which looks unique, expensive, and elaborate. It is not a subtle company, and having a jewelbox for a facade is very much in line with the requirements of the building. The facade shouldn’t be focused on to the exclusion of the interior, but for many buildings the inverse is equally true, the facade of a landmark building should never be neglected in favor of the interior, because in some ways, once someone is in the interior, the battle is already won, it’s the facade nearly always get’s the photographs, draws in visitors, and raises the stature of the building, and even the city it resides in. The Bird Nest, the Guggenheim (both in New York and Bilbao), The Guthrie, Aqua, and the Sydney Opera House are all famous for their facades, to the general public, the facade IS the building, it’s very rare for a building to be recognizable for it’s interior spaces, especially outside of the Architecture profession. I’ve been to the Sagrada Familia, and the interior is spine-tinglingly beautiful and awesome, yet to most people, it is the facade that they will recognize. So facades are neither dramatically “crazier” than at other times in history (though certainly crazier than they were in the various modern movements, thank you Adolf Loos) nor are they unimportant, or even tertiary considerations for a building which must be at once a functional space, and a living landmark.

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