Function vs. ornament

Present view:

  • function — analyzed, intellectually understandable
  • ornament — liked, intellectually not understandable

In present views of architectural order, function we can understand intellectually; it can be analyzed through the Cartesian mechanistic canon. Ornament, on the other hand, is something we may like, but cannot understand intellectually. One is serious, the other frivolous. Ornament and function are therefore cut off from each other. There is no conception of order which lets us see buildings as both functional and ornamental at the same time.

A post-cartesian non-mechanistic view will create a new relationship between the concepts of ornament and function:

  • both function and ornament are equally important to order
  • they are different aspects of a single kind of order

Order is profoundly functional and profoundly ornamental. There is no difference between ornamental order and functional order. We learn to see that while they seem different, they are really only different aspects of a single kind of order.

Alexander is fusing order observed in science with order created in art.

As we learn to understand it, we shall see that our own feeling, the feeling of what it is to be a person, rooted, happy, alive in oneself, straightforward, and ordinary, is itself inextricably connected with order. Thus order is not remote from our humanity. It is that stuff which goes to the very heart of human experience. We resolve the Cartesian dilemma, and make a view of order in which objective reality “out there” and our personal reality “in here” are thoroughly connected.

Ornament has function

The key function of ornament is to communicate non-verbal clues, like attitude, status, a feeling of connection, etc.

  • Create a boundary between different materials or series of construction
  • Establish a connection between different objects or spaces or to a story, narrative, social or cultural context
  • Communicate status or importance and provide legibility, eg. making clear where the entrance of a building is
  • Leave a personal imprint on what you are building (identity)
  • Making ornament is fun (celebratory)

#book/The Nature of Order/1 The Phenomenon of Life/Preface/7 A new vision of architecture#

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