Book Review: The Function of Form

The Function of Form by Farshid Moussavi with Daniel Lopez, Garrick Ambrose, Ben Fortunato, Ryan Ludwig and Ahmadreza Schricker, published by Actar, 2009. Paperback, 520 pages. (Amazon)

One of my favorite books of 2007 was The Function of Ornament by Farshid Moussavi and Michael Kubo, the result of a Harvard GSD studio. In its wonderful drawings of building facades I hope for future editions or volumes "that expand on this very promising beginning." The Function of Form can be seen as such a sequel, but where the first book focused on the affects of contemporary exterior walls this book explores structural form throughout history, in terms of tessellation, or repetition and differentiation. About three times the size of Ornament, this book is not as visually impressive, perhaps owing to the fact that most of the illustrations are abstract exercises, variations on themes. One example, at left, starts from a Miesian horizontal/two-way frame and warps it, adds holes in it to discover the potential latent in basic material forms. The goal is the discovery of novel forms generated by varying repeated units; the book becomes a visual reference of these manipulations and their affects.

This book suffers where the first didn't in the decision to be exhaustive (hence the size of the book), featuring so many variations of the basic "building blocks" that the variations blur together, the affects lose their distinction. The book is ideal for students, as it enables them to discover how subtle differences in the manipulation of structure impact the spaces, articulated as the affects noted for each entry. What may be an inadvertently influential aspect of the book is the inclusion of numerous examples predating Modernism, such as Gothic cathedrals; the tessellation of the vaults illustrate how contemporary forms can arise from learning from traditional architecture. Inspiration can extend beyond the last decade. That is a valuable lesson for students and professionals alike.