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Functionalism in Modern Architecture “The house is a machine for living in” Le Corbusier “It is the pervading law of all things… that form ever follows function” Louis Sullivan “Who ever regrets that the house of the future can no longer be constructed by craftsmen should bare in mind that the motorcar is no longer built by the wheelwright” Mies van der Rohe “the evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from utilitarian objects”. Adolf Loos The context of functionalist architecture From its earliest roots in the middle of the 19th century, the modern movement was concerned with a return to the honest expression of materials, structure and purpose and a rejection of things that were deemed useless and false. This concern is evident in the structural clarity of Gustave Eiffel’s famous iron tower, in the honest expression of material and structure in the houses and furniture of the Arts and Crafts movement and in the pioneering creations of the Chicago School and the Deuscher Werkbund. The first generation of modernists embraced the idea of giving primarily concern to the satisfaction of purpose in design, rather than to aesthetics. Behrens’ AEG Turbine Factory and Wagner’s Imperial Post Office are outstanding examples of this approach to functional design, but it was the generation of their successors, the Le Corbusier’s, the Mies’ and the Gropius’, that developed not only a functional approach to planning, but also a functionalist style; a rational, machine aesthetic. What is functionalist architecture? Functional planning: Functionalist architecture is essentially architecture that is designed primarily to satisfy the purpose for which the building is intended. The appearance of the building, its shape and decoration should be a secondary concern to the requirement for the building to work well for its users, to be functional. In 1896 Louis Sullivan expressed his belief that ‘form ever follows function’, meaning that a building’s appearance (form) should be determined by the most practical relationship of its necessary parts (functional considerations). In this way Le Corbusier believed a house could become ‘a machine for living in’. In his 1923 publication Towards and New Architecture Le Corbusier exhorted architects to adopt the same rational process as the designers of aeroplanes, typewriters, bicycles and ocean liners. Sullivan’s idea became a hallmark of 20th century design and there are many famous examples of this functional approach to design, although inspiration also came from similar precedents in medieval architecture. The functionalist aesthetic: With the availability of new materials and technologies a new style emerged in the 1920s to complement the functional planning of buildings and to express a rational approach to design and a machine-age conception of buildings. In this respect the International Style became identified with functionalist architecture. Typically functionalist design had a flat roof, skeletal frames of metal or concrete, lots of glass and modular components devoid of colour and ornament. Bauhaus functionalism The architectural style most associated with functionalism is that of the German Bauhaus School. The term ‘Bauhaus’ is an expression meaning ‘house for building’. In 1919, the German economy was collapsing after the defeat in World War I. The architect Walter Gropius was appointed to head a new institution that would help rebuild the country and form a new social order. Called the Bauhaus, the Institution called for a new rational social housing for the workers. Bauhaus architects rejected ‘bourgeois’ details such as cornices, eaves, and decorative details. They wanted to use principles of Classical architecture in their most pure form: without ornamentation of any kind. Bauhaus design became more popularly known as the International Style, especially in the United States where Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius had emigrated during the mid 1930s. The name came from the book The International Style by historian and critic Henry-Russell Hitchcock and the architect Philip Johnson. The book was published in 1932 in conjunction with an exhibition at the Le Corbusier’s functionalist design for the United Nations Secretariat Building, Museum of Modern Art in New York. New York, 1952. Louis Sullivan, Guaranty Building, Buffalo, New York, 1896 Functionalist features: The organisation of the building’s different functions dictates its form- the first two levels are shops open to the street with large windows for display. The main shaft of the building consists of modular office spaces with repetitive window and spandrel elements. The top level houses mechanical devices expressed with round windows and a decorative cornice. The metal frame of the building allows for its height, the large glazed expanses of the lower levels and the flexible floor plan devoid of load-bearing walls. With expensive land values there was a need to build vertically and the steel frame and the elevator realised this in practical terms. The piers between the windows and the four large corner piers emphasise its verticality as “a proud and soaring thing”, though only every second pier of the shaft of the building is structural. The geometric grid of vertical piers and recessed spandrels gives visual expression to the pattern of individual office spaces inside the building. The street entrances are visually expressed with an arched motif to distinguish them from the display windows The ornament is ‘of’ the building, not ‘on’ it. It reflects the activities done within. C. R. Mackintosh, The Glasgow School of Art, Renfrew St, Glasgow, Scotland, 1898-1909 Functionalist features include: The Renfrew Street façade has seven enormous windows that let light into the studio spaces beyond. This provides maximum illumination for the students. Studio spaces along the attic have a continuous glazing as a kind of precursor to the curtain wall. Ornament is kept to a minimum. The School board asked for “a plain building” and Mackintosh gave them exactly that, an austere, monumental building that put practicalities and cost-effectiveness before decoration and aesthetic refinement. The exterior form partly expresses the interior planning; form follows function. Ornamental effects are largely confined to functional objects such as the window-cleaning brackets, handrails, lighting fixtures, window recesses and iron fences. The buildings’ materials and its construction are honestly expressed. Glass, iron, concrete, stone and wood are treated frankly in the Arts and Crafts manner. The building utilised the latest technologies in electric lighting, heating and an early form of air conditioning. The exhibition gallery is located on the top floor so that light from the skylight best illuminates the students work on display In 2009 this building was voted the best design by any British architect in 175 years. Le Corbusier, Unite d’Habitation, Marseilles, France, 1947-53 Functionalist features: The separation and visual distinctiveness of public spaces (park land, roof facilities, shopping street) from the private apartments Colour is the only ornament. All else is brutalist (raw concrete) The stacking and interlocking of individual apartments (like bottles in a rack) The visual emphasis on tectonic structure and form (pilotis, repetitive brise-soleil) The modular design and proportions The 27 varieties of apartments The ventilation, and grid of internal streets The views out to trees, parkland, sea, mountains Skidmore Owings and Merrill, Lever House Park Avenue, New York City, 1952 Functionalist features: Building elevated above street level gives ground back to pedestrians with open civic space for displaying sculpture to bring sunlight and garden space into the city Separation of communal (horizontal) and office (vertical) spaces. Communal facilities consist of kitchen, lounge, cafeteria, medical centre and roof garden. The blue-green glass and stainless steel curtain wall reflects sunlight and reduces heat build-up in the building, keeping ventilation costs down The building is easy to clean and its clean lines and pristine transparency advertises Lever Brother’s business as the world largest manufacturer of soap-detergent. The pilotis support cantilevered floors that can be partitioned into flexible, functional working spaces. The top section contains the service machinery, including window washing machinery Walter Gropius, The Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany 1925-26 Functionalist features: Each distinct function is given its own space and visual expression- workshops, classrooms, residences, auditorium/cafeteria. Architectural form is determined by the practical arrangement of functions Flat roof for use by staff and students as living space Pilotis allows for free and flexible planning of the floor slabs Healthy because horizontal windows and curtain walls admit light and air with views out to the surrounding fields Fittings and fixtures are all conceived as rational, machine-like elements to be massproduced (lighting, radiators, chairs, railings, window frames, door handles, etc) Clean lines, white walls, metal frames, flush surfaces, strict geometry, machine precision. The building was rational and utilitarian, like a machine. Mies van der Rohe, Seagram Building, Functionalist features: The building has a tripartite division like the base, shaft and capital of a column following a formula prescribed by Louis Sullivan. The separate functions of street-level entrance reception; of high rise levels of modular office spaces; and of the top-most mechanical and service areas are given distinct architectural expressions. The building has a rational functional appearance with its machine-like precision, its clean lines, modular components, rigidly geometric forms and metal skeleton. Interior spaces were mechanically ventilated, powered and illuminated. It was a controlled environment, sealed from the outside by a bronzed metal and glass skin. Mies set the building back from the street and raised it above a pedestrian plaza so as to admit space, light and nature into the city. The metal frame allows for each floor to be open-plan and to be divided with partition walls independently of the configuration of other levels. This flexibility accommodates a wide variety of functions. The conception of the building as an assemblage of standardised, mass-produced components devoid of handcraft and ornament makes the design suited to industrial processes and the modern city. New York, 1956-9 Louis Kahn, National Assembly Building, Dhaka, Bangladesh, completed 1982 Functionalist features: Deep porches surround the complex screened by concrete walls with enormous geometric openings. In the humid, tropical atmosphere of Bangladesh these porches provide shade and cool air for the interior spaces. They act as a kind of brise-soleil. Forms denote functions. The importance of the national assembly room is symbolised through: ■ its centralised position at the core of the building ■ it is the tallest space, reaching higher than the surrounding functional spaces ■ it is lit entirely from above giving it a spiritual feeling. Democracy is sanctified. The octagonal plan is generated by the requirements of the eight divisions of the Bangladeshi parliament. The assembly room and its related servant spaces are surrounded by eight peripheral blocks that serve different government functions. Each block is eight levels high and all are inter-linked by servant spaces: corridors, lifts, stairs, ramps, and light courts. Hand-made of concrete, marble and mud brick, the building was relatively cheap to construct. Rogers and Piano, Pompidou Centre, Functionalist features: The building uses only half the allotted space, giving a plaza for street performers and pedestrians. Large underground car park and concert halls Above ground the building has six layers of continuous space, each divided flexibly by partition walls according to the different needs. Structural systems such as the tie rods, cross bracing and cross beams are visible, exposed, utilitarian. Walls are entirely of glass to allow light into the spaces Interior space is maximised; all services are coded and fixed to the exterior of the building: blue for water; yellow for electrical; green for ventilation and air conditioning; red or circulation, elevators and escalators. Inspired by oil rigs, NASA launch pads and science fiction. Paris, France, 1977 Functionalist Furniture “ A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous.” Mies van der Rohe, Time Magazine, February, 1957 Modernist architects and designers believed that the shape of furniture should be determined by its function and by the materials used. They stripped furniture down to its basic elements, using a minimum of parts and eschewing ornamentation of any kind. Even colour is avoided. Made of metal and other other high-tech materials, Modernist furniture is black, white, and gray and is designed to compliment the functionalist design of the buildings they furnish. Ironically many of the finest examples of functionalist furniture were finely handcrafted and beyond the budget of the working class.