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Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Book Review: The Function of Style

The Function of Style by Farshid Moussavi, edited with Marco Ciancarella, Jonathan A. Scelsa, Mary Crettier, Kate Kilalea
Actar / Harvard GSD / FunctionLab, 2015
Flexicover, 600 pages



Those familiar with the first two "Function of" books – The Function of Ornament (2006) and The Function of Form (2009) – will recognize the consistent format that architect/professor Farshid Moussavi and her FunctionLab at Harvard GSD have created with the third installment: hundreds of projects are explored in two-page spreads, with a computer rendering on one side and diagrams and text on the other side. This consistency allows projects to be compared and contrasted, and it enables the main functions – or effects – of a project to be grasped quickly. It's a book by students that, I'd say, is produced for other students. Practitioners might find some value with so much information packed into one book, but what is presented is elementary – the building blocks upon which future architects learn how to think and design.



With a title that collects a lot of projects in one place, the main questions for a reviewer are "what" and "how": What is the selection? How are they presented? To discuss the "how" first, all of the projects are inserted into chapters based on function, some with slightly different wordings than the norm: Residing, Working, Residing and Working, Learning, Reading and Research, Viewing Exhibitions, Viewing a Performance, Watching Sports, Shopping, Traveling by Airplane. The buildings and projects (the former are built and the latter are not) are presented, as mentioned above, consistently, meaning there is no distinction between built and unbuilt; a design does not need to be built to be of consideration and value. This squarely focuses the content on a project's effects: how function, plan, enclosure and site work together to shape space. Each of these is evident in the diagrams and renderings, such as in the below spread from the Working chapter.



Continuing with the how, the projects are "tagged" at the top of the diagram page with certain characteristics, such as forms (towers, slabs), functional considerations (central core, multi-core) and spatial ingredients (atrium, courtyard). These traits are then bundled together at the end of each chapter into "common threads," with each spread focusing on some aspect; the spread below, for example, is all about "occupancy pattern" (the building from the spread above is found in the lower-right corner).

I appreciate the diagrams and the attempts at grouping the buildings and projects together, but in a number of cases the renderings fail to capture the most important space or detail of a design. The double-loaded corridor of Eero Saarinen's GM Technical Center is so bland, the building should have been omitted or another view should have been selected. Elsewhere, there are numerous stadiums – I mean places for "watching sports" – that render the outside rather than the seating bowl, the main space of the building; this makes no sense.



To quickly comment on the "what" then, overall the book is a solid collection of notable buildings and projects. It includes just about every modern building that students of architecture should learn about. It also includes far too many Farshid Moussavi projects. I counted twelve projects by her eponymous firm or FOA, her predecessor firm with Alejandro Zaera-Polo. If it were up to me, half of them would have made the cut. Yokohama Passenger Terminal? Definitely. John Lewis Department Store? Sure. Carabanchel Housing? Why not. The Bundle Tower (WTC competition entry)? No way (unless every other entry was included, which wasn't the case). And the finalist entry to the Bao'an International Airport competition? Definitely not, especially since it's followed immediately by the winning, built entry by Fuksas, which is clearly much more interesting. This quibble aside, the book is a hefty tome that students will love to browse and learn some basics of how function, plan and site come together to create space.


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