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FLW Again

Posted by acdtest on August 29, 2003

FLW Again

Weblogger Aaron Haspel of God Of The Machine, a very bright fellow, demonstrates, in responding to my recent piece on Frank Lloyd Wright, how even very bright fellows can, when the proper button is pushed, spout arrant gibberish. Such as,

“Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.” Frank Lloyd Wright said this. Wright built houses, and the function of houses, as I understand it, is to be lived in. Roofs, too, have functions, among which is to keep out the rain. One might think that a leaky roof would disturb this “spiritual union,”….

One might indeed think such a thing, but only if one willfully misunderstands both the original apothegm, and Wright’s correction of that misunderstanding.

“Form follows function” is not an engineering or structural credo, but an aesthetic one. It means that the architectural (i.e., aesthetic) gestalt of a building should obtain as the organic expression (i.e., unified natural outgrowth) of its (internal) program and of the materials with which the building is built. In short, it’s got nothing to do with leaky roofs and such, which are matters of structural not aesthetic concern.

Aaron then writes,

Buildings, no matter whose, are not “first and foremost works of art” [quoting me] because they are not works of art at all. “Art” is not an encomium. It is a technical term, referring to things that are intended solely as objects of contemplation.

Art merely “a technical term, referring to things that are intended solely as objects of contemplation”(!)? What an idea! Not in any canon of aesthetics I’m familiar with. Art refers to the domain of the aesthetic, always, and any or all man-made things that dwell therein, architecture very much included, as it has always been. Art in fact is what architecture is all about; what separates it from mere building. No art, no architecture, as I’ve elsewhere pointed out.

And this final bit:

This is a case [my calling architecture art] of a misapplied metaphor. The modern religion, as Tom Wolfe beat me to pointing out, is art, which has become the highest term of praise for anything at all. A well-played bridge hand, a well-placed insult, a nice-looking ashtray are all “works of art.” Except they aren’t, and neither is architecture.

Calling a work of architecture art is a statement neither misapplied nor a metaphor nor merely an encomium (as Aaron would like to have it that that’s the way I’m using the term), but clearly a case of proper and appropriate taxonomy. Architecture has been considered art (i.e., belonging to the domain of the aesthetic) from the time of ancient Egypt, and so it shall be considered in future as long as those with other than bourgeois sensibilities and populist concerns have any say in the matter. If a time ever comes when such have no say, or when what they say means little or nothing, that’s the time to start being afraid, very afraid.


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