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2 Abandoned Principles Of Architecture And The One Were Stuck On

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

How our thoughts on form have evolved over time

I was in a meeting today and three people, across multiple centuries, were in attendance. Of course, I don’t mean literally. But their ideas were there. Working in the background, influencing our discussion, without us knowing.

Since the beginning of time there have been guiding principles for each architectural generation. ranted these things tend to last for about 100+ years. Are we stuck on form follows finance?

Solid, Useful, Beautiful

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio was a 1st Century Roman author, architect, civil and military engineer. His work on proportions is what inspired the well-known image by Leonardo DaVinci. He also wrote, De architectura, libri decem, known today as, The Ten Books on Architecture. In De architectura, he wrote “Firmitas, Utilitas, Venustas”. Translated as, “Solid, useful, beautiful”.

Vitruvius’ principles on the form of a building: we want it to last a while, we want it to be useful, and we want it to be beautiful.

Form Follows Function

Fast forward to 1896. For the first time in human history, modern engineering techniques and the availability of cheap steel are allowing American’s to build skyscrapers. The father of skyscrapers, Louis Sullivan, writes “form follows function.” The shape and design of a building will relate to what human activities will be happening there.

But what happens when a building’s primary activity is to make money?

Form Follows Finance

Meet Carol Willis. Associate professor of Urban Studies at Columbia University. In 1995 she published, “Form follows finance”. If a building’s primary activity is to make money, the form will be dictated entirely by getting high rents and keeping costs low. If you’ve got 30 minutes, read Carol’s case study about the Empire State building.

Urbanism can exist in many forms but when investment and incentives only support building particular projects, specifically the ones that provide the highest rate of return, those are the only ones that get built.

What’s Next?

Have you ever wondered why there are so many suburbs, so many skyscrapers, and nothing in between? Why do those neighborhoods feel different than the older neighborhoods?

Form follows finance.

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