Form and Function

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In architecture,  a term often used is form (ever) follows function.  This was coined and practiced by the 20th century U.S. architect Louis Sullivan and inspired, for example, Frank Lloyd Wright.


  A loose form of this emerged during a recent class trip for the Horticulture and Crop Science 3410 class (Sustainable Landscape Maintenance). We had just visited the wonderful “Building Ohio State: From Forest to the Renovation of Thompson Library” exhibit on the first floor of the magnificent OSU Thompson Library (exhibit until May 14) on the Main Campus in Columbus. This exhibit alone is worth a visit, and if you have not visited the renovated Library – do it - today.    


  We then ascended to the 11th floor of the Library for its sweeping views of the OSU Oval. Looking out over the wind-milling pattern of sidewalks on the Oval, student David Farrell quipped: “This is the most terrible example of design I have ever seen – these look like cowpaths”, decrying the asymmetrical array of concrete. Another of this most-excellent class of students, Pete Grantham, immediately responded: “genius”.   HCS students view the OSU Oval from the Thompson Library



Form, as in aesthetics, vs. function, as in where students, staff, faculty, and visitors probably chose to walk – same as cows. Then, Stephen Tomasko, a professional art photographer who was one of a group of guest instructors with the class that day including book editors, arboretum horticulturists and carpenters down from Wooster, said – the cowpath/human idea for urban design is one of the principles of the famed 20th/21st century Dutch architect Rem Koolhaus, who taught at Harvard. Stephen then expounded a bit on Koolhaus and his books, such as Delirious New York.   


Out came the cellphones. Teachable moment. Form and function. Urban landscape architecture. Rem Koolhaus. Form and function is, of course, an oversimplification, and a dynamic interface that is never pure, but it is an important dynamic when it comes to buildings, sidewalks,  and – landscape architecture, design, installation, and maintenance.


Students on their Library Day



This principle “that the shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose” was expressed by Louis Sullivan with these words:   


  Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law.  


  And from Rem Koolhaus:


When I published my last book, "Content", in 2003, one chapter was called "Kill the Skyscraper". Basically it was an expression of disappointment at the way the skyscraper typology was used and applied. I didn’t think there was a lot of creative life left in skyscrapers. Therefore, I tried to launch a campaign against the skyscraper in its more uninspired form.” [22]


 A perfect lead-in to the New York City field trip coming up for the class


Final Note: Check out the 11th floor views and 1st floor exhibit…It will get more and more spectacular as the Greening of the OSU Campus unfolds this spring.


OSU Library Forest Exhibit