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 . . .

  • Constance Trover
    Posted at 10:10h, 15 September

    My vote would be for keeping the fancy-dancy malls underground and preserve the dignity of of that fine ol’ gal…gay Paree! Btw, how was that wine in the beautifl bottle? Lol..luvs ya, Connie….keep on truckin’ ! <3

  • Lisa weldon
    Posted at 10:12h, 15 September

    Oh, boy was it good! Might have to try some more tonight. I’ll toast u with it!

  • Sheila Witherington
    Posted at 12:25h, 15 September

    I vote for original form. It wouldn’t be Paris without it. Therein lies the value, especially in the future. It’s not the modern suburbs we run to when we visit any new city. It’s the Olde Towne environment. Why did you pick Paris, in the first place? Because it’s Paris! We crave it. And many of us are discouraged by the modernity. Just give me my iPhone, iPad, iPod, and i-Whatever else. and take the rest. I’m actually moving into a 1921 apartment on the National Historic Registry, with all its mandated codes and limitations, giving up dishwasher, garbage disposal, kitchen cabinets, central heat and air, etc. and looking forward to it. In return, I’m getting sidewalks, tree-lined streets, park next door, and coffee shops/shopping a step outside the door. And the landlord said no orange or purple paint.Keep having a good time.

  • Sally
    Posted at 23:07h, 15 September

    Lisa, I didn’t even know you started in architecture. And I thought I knew you!
    Sheila, that was an interesting commentary. I would love to have a conversation with you (though I have no idea who you are) and Lisa about this over a glass (or two) of wine. Yes, I agree that people don’t head for the suburbs when visiting a new place, but is that merely because that’s the thing they know and are used to and they want to see the stuff they don’t know and aren’t used to? I do love the old stuff, but I also love a few creature comforts – indoor plumbing springs to mind. Which means, at what age does the “old” end and the “new” begin. This needs more thought (and probably wine) than I can devote to it right now.