Thursday, August 31, 2006

Function Fucks with Form

Amazon directed my attention to fascinating little work. The 21st volume of the Pamphlet Architecture series of Princeton Architectural Press is called Situation Normal. A keyword search revealed that it quoted both de Certeau and Architectural Graphic Standards.

The authors of the work--Paul Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, and David J. Lewis--riff on the idea of snafu. They discuss the origins of the term in WWII. It refers to a vast array of often conflicting regulation. If each regulation is followed, the system ultimately grinds to a halt. Hence the expression: sitation normal, all fucked up.

The idea of snafu speaks to bureaucracy and organizational rigidity. Individuals resist these "strategies" through "tactics." Referring to de Certeau, the authors note that "strategies demand locations of power, require competition, define legitimate modes of research, and establish boundaries of practice... Tactics, on the other hand, lack a specific location, survive through improvisation, and use the advantages of the weak against the strong." (p. 4-5)

Strategies are inherently built into the structures that shape professional practice and convention. They are also built into common reference works: "In the last century, an entire publishing industry had developed around the conventions of architecture, serving the needs of the architectural profession with titles such as Architectural Graphic Standards and Time Saver Standards." (p. 7) The authors note that these conventions "often insure that tenuous social construction, such as the unstable boundary between public and private, remain unexamined." (p. 7)

In their analysis, Lewis, Tsurumaki, and Lewis describe the common assumptions of architectural investigation: form and function. Conventions mandate that form must follow function. The logic of both form and function, however, are predetermined in the discourse of the pratice. They pose a more interesting question: what happens if "form follows function" is replaced with "function fucks with form?"

Good question.


Lewis, Paul, Marc Tsurumaki and David Lewis (1998). Situation Normal: Pamphlet Architecture, no. 21. Princeton Architectural Press : New York.


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