Should Form Follow Function? Or Vice Versa?
I started college majoring in architecture. I remember clearly the Golden Rule of my first instructor: Form follows function. In other words, design it to function properly first. Then make it rock visually!
Having lived now in two different apartments in Paris, I underscore the validity of that lesson. One had a newly-renovated interior, the second was much like it was 400 years ago. Both are located in the old, historical part of the city, the area that is strictly controlled by building codes. Both had major challenges from tiny elevator shafts to small overhead clearances. Preservationists have fought hard in this city to retain every historical structure possible.
As I walk all of these neighborhoods, I wonder what the cost must be to keep them in ‘show quality,’ not to mention how hard it must be to live in them day after day. And to raise children in some of these structures? Impossible!
Not only do Parisians pay a big price to keep their ‘form’ on the outside, but they also make concessions to live in buildings built for residents who lived centuries before us. The plumbing, electrical, the door heights are tough to alter. Old cobblestone streets are impossible to navigate in low, much less, high heels. Moving a bathroom to be near a bedroom may prove impossible if the plumbing aligns with 5-6 stories above it. Adding a light fixture? Forget it, the 400-year old beams are petrified and there’s no drilling into them. Simply nailing a picture hook into centuries-old plaster is not worth the effort.
I’ve run into three malls so far, all within the perimeter of Paris. All three are new, shiny, much like ours in America. But all three are underground. Totally submerged, outside the confines of historical preservation codes.
So my question this morning, as I walked the streets of the 1st Arrondissement, is: To what expense should society go to preserve the past? Is it worth preserving? When should we let go of the past and grab hold of the future?
It’s a tough question. Form or function . . .