Does ~Ornament~ = “Form follows Function” ?

Posted in opinion, other architects, projects by DS26 on 07.19.2010

During one of our trips around the city, we ran into the Chicago Cultural Center (CCC).

Currently the CCC is hosting an exhibit on Louis Sullivan, and his “IDEA”.

When we think Louis Sullivan, we think Ornamentation.

Many of his projects were, at one point, located in the City of Chicago; sadly not much is left.

He had a signature style. Iron work ornaments that lived embedded in many staircases.

Plus many elaborate pre-cast and special pieces that lived in façades.

Today, one could not find such level of detail… not in design, nor in craftsmanship/construction.

That said, we walked, and we wondered :

How does Ornament become “Form Follows Function” ?

Form follows function is Sullivan’s most famous quote.

We think of that quote, and we think mid-century modern, clean, industrial… far from ornament, elaborate, or baroque-ish work.

So we read, and read, and read… (ok BobbyZ did the reading… while I worried about some pics and the blog post… Ha!)

Our findings :

Though Sullivan’s work was such an artistic, ornamented, craft-filled practice, one that developed complex hand-drawn construction documents like these, far from what one could find today

“Form follows function” was about the structure, and not the “ornamented” architecture that would compliment it.

We found out that Sullivan began in Engineering for the Army Corps. Working on infrastructures and such, mostly civil.

In his mind, “Form follows function” is the form created by the bearing conditions (of columns and beams) following the “necessity” of spaces, or owner requirements/program; also the use of steel, and maybe one could go as far as assuming the steel production method of ‘rolling’ or ‘extruding’ the material into the necessary members. The form of the steel to follow its necessary function, to perform structurally.

Whatever the case maybe ( and though none of us were there to confirm ) Sullivan’s work was inspired by the industrial and post-industrial times, those times’ design tendencies, new materials in use, and ( we are sure ) also his clients needs and requests.

Louis Sullivan will always live in the history of architecture, “Form follows function” will always be remembered, and The Carson-Pirie Scott Store will always remain a part of Chicago…



3 Responses

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  1. atxarchitect said, on 07.19.2010 at 14:13

    Appears to be a good exhibit and certainly appreciate your thought provoking take on an ol’ standard “form follows function.” With studies of contemporary theory and practice we prefer to add “fiction” to the discussion. Architecture for us @ha_architecture = FORM+FUNCTION+FICTION but, ultimately the dialogue evolves too and that just makes it fun. Check out an short take at our blog: http://bit.ly/d2NMRY

  2. network camera said, on 12.02.2010 at 10:49

    Who do I contact about buying some ad space on this site? Maybe like a banner on either the header or footer. Please let me know. Great site by the way. Thanks!

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