Form Over Function

Alexander McCall Smith has commented on the large eaves of traditional Botswanan buildings, which were for keeping the sun away from the windows, until Western architects made such a fetish of “clean-cut building lines’. To the latter, it was more important what buildings looked like from down the street than how they functioned as dwellings and workplaces.

Where I live, all country bus shelters are made of concrete and aligned flush with the road. This means that when you are sitting and waiting, you cannot see an approaching bus, which will not see you either and go past without you. So you have to stand outside in the rain, defeating the whole object of a bus shelter; this is a complicated form of stupidity. The solution would be to angle the shelter vis-à-vis the road, but then the lines would no longer be straight and the angles no longer right. Perhaps the architects think it more important to be rectilinear than dry – or perhaps they are not the ones who have to stand in the rain so as not to miss the bus.

Examples can be multiplied, and we are lacking a good psychological analysis of just why people fetishised the straight line anyway. Why is it more pleasing to a certain type of mind to contemplate those straight lines than to consider the comfort of the denizens? I would suggest that the aesthetic impulse has here gone to seed and separated out from the rest of our values. In its essence though less atrociously as to effects, not unlike when people make aesthetics out of (someone else’s) death and torture.

Whatever the metaphysics of the disease, the vector of infection is clear: a system based on cooing and clucking over two-dimensional images of a three-dimensional object. I have stayed in a hotel where the bathroom fittings had a uniform design with cool logos but did not deliver hot water, and in an award-winning mountain lodge where the dormitories reeked of ammonia from being just above the chemical toilets: but never mind the reality, feel the brochure!

When people say that non-functional things look cool, what is this coolness? What are they actually perceiving?

Posted on April 30, 2009 at 09:56 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: CULTURAL ODDS AND ENDS, The Futurist Fever-Dream

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