Function arising out of ornament

In hundreds of examples of deep function, as it occurs in buildings, I have found again and again — without counter example — that our ability to see the field of centers in a thing, and to produce the centers which are indicated geometrically, tends to produce an object which works better. This, I believe, was the experience of the craftsmen who made the things I have described.

Because of our still-prevailing 20th-century viewpoint, students are convinced that “beauty” comes about as a result of the concern with practical efficiency. In other words, if you make it practical and efficient, then it will follow that it becomes beautiful. Form follows function! But if we look at the examples I have given, it seems very unlikely that this is what took place when they were made. They were made deeply practical, yes. But they became deeply practical because their makers tried to make the centers strong. Example after examples suggests empathetically that this is what came first: making the centers beautiful was the driving force. The practical efficiency that came along with it was a vital part of the package. But it was never the driving force in the mechanistic sense that we believe in today.

Yet, today, this is so difficult to accept. In discussing these examples with students, I have often had a hard time convincing them that good and functional structures achieve their quality from a conscious effort by the maker to make the geometric field of centers. The essence of this point — because it puts its emphasis on beauty, not on puritanism — has seemed immoral, even heretical, t many of my students. They — often the most rational and most intelligent students — have an almost moralistic passion in their desire to prove that these beautiful things must have been produced by purely functional thinking. When I point out that these structures have a highly formal, geometric field of centers in them, they shy away from this thought — possibly because it sounds to them as though I am claiming something flippant or immoral, while they are thinking that since these things are practical and efficient they must have been created from the point of view of functional and practical efficiency.

It is a natural mistake to make. Within the mechanistic world-view of our time, it is natural to assume that something efficient must have been shaped by the desire for efficiency. But even when I point out that modern attempts to make things practical and efficient cannot be relied upon to create this formal beauty, and therefore cannot explain it, the students still have a hard time grasping this circumstance.

#book/The Nature of Order/1 The Phenomenon of Life/11 The awakening of space#

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