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Functionality an important architectural concept

For architecture to remain a relevant and important industry, should style ever hold preference over functionality? Here's what the experts are saying.

For architecture to remain a relevant and important industry, should style ever hold preference over functionality? Here's what the experts are saying.

Experts are debating the validity of modern architecture trends, with artistic design versus functionality dividing opinions among industry leaders. The discussion was ignited after The New York Times published an opinion piece by architect Steven Bingler and former Metropolis Executive Editor Martin Pederson.

The catalyst

Published on December 15 last year, the editorial highlighted the disconnect between the architect and the 'unsophisticated layperson'. With design becoming a crucial aspect of cutting edge construction, are the needs of the average occupant really being met?

Mr Bingler and Mr Pederson argue they're not. It is their opinion that in some instances, design has forsaken functionality, and architects need to consider returning to their roots to ensure the buildings of tomorrow are meeting the requirements of the human race.

"To get back there, we must rethink how we respond to the needs of diverse constituencies by designing for them and their interests, not ours," the authors explained.

"We must hone our skills through authentic collaboration, not slick salesmanship, re-evaluate our obsession with mechanisation and materiality, and explore more universal forms and natural design principles."

The rebuttal

Columnist for Architecture magazine, Aaron Betsky, offered his thoughts on the matter of style versus functionality. Posted on December 23, his piece argued that the New York Times' editorial was misguided due to the very essence of why architecture is an industry in high demand.

"The truth is that architecture is not made by or for 'a wide spectrum of the population'," he wrote. "It is made for those who have the means to commission it, and reflects their values and priorities."

Mr Betsky believes that building designs need to be striking, experimental and high concept. This is one of the only ways to ensure architecture evolves to appeal to trend-setters and stretches expectations to achieve the beauty that is so quintessential to the industry.  

However, further input from Sourceable contributor Steven Hansen discounts Mr Betsky's argument. Mr Hansen instead agreed with The New York Times piece, that buildings need to be designed to meet people's needs, rather than appeal on a superficial level.

"People need shelter and better designed places. They need relatively efficient systems for transportation and sanitation. But buildings as art, and avant garde design? Not so much. We need architects to do their best for the rest of us," he wrote on February 3.

The takeaway

For architecture to remain a thriving and important industry, functionality and design must work hand-in-hand. The ability to construct a building that not only appeals aesthetically but meets the needs of current and future occupants should be at the forefront of every design.

This will require insight, foresight and high-quality architecture products. Understanding what people require from their buildings, and delivering on these demands, is crucial for ensuring architecture is relevant for years to come.