Modernism in architecture came about in the 20th century as it introduced completely innovative ways of thinking. The way that “designers, architects and engineers conceptualized, fabricated, and evaluated these environments has been the subject of very intense debate” (Doordan 2003, p x). The maxim created by Louis Sullivan, “form follows function,” was one of the most central points of debate and will be contemplated in Chapter One of this paper.
Form follows function is often credited as the main principle of modern architecture; however, there are a slew of modern architects who would disagree with this tenet, one of those architects was Frank Lloyd Wright, a former assistant of Sullivan. Adolf Loos is another important designer of the 20th century who spoke passionately about architecture, stating that “ornament is criminal.” Both tenets, “form follows function” and “ornament is criminal” became fundamental aspects of 20th century architecture and design, though there are noteworthy architects of the era that went against these two doctrines.
Two notable skyscrapers of the 20th century are the Woolworth Building and the Empire State Building, both located in New York City. Sullivan was adamant that form must follow function when it comes to highrise buildings — skyscrapers — as well. The Woolworth Building and the Empire State Building are unique structures and have unique stories that go along with their design and construction process. They will be a matter of focus in this paper.
Chapter Two will concentrate on the issues that contemporary architects and designers have with the maxim form follows function, as it often limits the scope of how things, or in what way, something can be done. There are a number of new trends in architecture in the present day. The necessity of paying more attention to the environment and thus using more sustainable materials is one direction in which architecture is heading. Also, people are becoming more and more interested in buildings where they can do a number of different activities: live, work, exercise, and play. This means that structures are becoming larger and more innovative in styling. Climate change also affects the way that buildings are being designed. More and more architects are designing buildings to stand up to the harsh elements of a world that is undergoing global warming. As temperatures rise, some argue that more and more people will flock to the cities where they can find shelter from the heat.
The traditional equation — “high density plus high land values equals high buildings” (Dupre & Smith 2008, p 137) — is not what urges on the construction of skyscrapers in the 21st century. This is something that will be examine in Chapter Two as we look to Dubai, an emerging city, where there is “a lot of nothing except, of course, the money and the ideological drive to build proudly tall” (2008, p 137).
Chapter Two will examine a couple of unique constructions: The Torre Agbar in Barcelona Spain, and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which is not the tallest (half a mile high) freestanding structure in the world. We will see in these two distinct skyscrapers how new elements are driving the construction of skyscrapers. Nouvel, architect of the Torre Agbar focuses more on epoch and the culture and history of the past and the present and how his designs will fit into that environment while the Burj Khalifa’s architects focused more on creating a luxury building where people can work, play and live.
In conclusion, a brief overview will be done, looking at the trends of 20th century architecture and “form follows function” especially in pertaining to skyscrapers as well as trends in the 21st century and how form appears to be equally as important as function while also considering the demands of a different world where environment issues such as global warming and lack of resources must take center stage when it comes to architecture design.
“Form follows function” is a maxim that is related to modern architecture and design in the 20th century. The idea is that the design and shape of the building should be mainly based on its intended function (i.e., purpose). Louis Sullivan, an American architect and oftentimes called “the father of modernism,” is universally credited with the chief principle of 20th century modern architecture: form follows function. Sullivan actually said “form ever follows function,” but the simpler term “form follows function” is what has been remembered. He said:
“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and al things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function. This is the law.” (Heskett 2005)
In 1891, Sullivan put this maxim to work in St. Louis with the design of one of the world’s very first skyscrapers, the Wainwright Building. In thinking about the adage — form follows function, it does seem to make proper sense, and however, if one is to concentrate on the meaning, the adage brings up different interpretations. Relating the form of something and its intended purpose is something that good architects should do, but it cannot, no matter what, always be the most important solution when it comes to design. Defining the true meaning of the maxim brings up a conversation pertaining to design integrity that has been and will continue to be quite a controversial topic.
Sullivan created the shape of the tall steel skyscraper at a moment when technology, taste, and economic forces came together in a fierce sort of way, making it necessary to lose the established styles of the past. If the design or shape of the building was not going to be taken from the past ways of designing a building in order to establish form, something had to determine that form. Sullivan said that it would be the building’s function or purpose. Frank Lloyd Wright worked as Sullivan’s assistant and he took on the same principle, but in a different form.
There is still to this day a longstanding debate about whether or not form always follows function. Many 20th century architects argued that form does, indeed, follow function. As noted, Frank Lloyd Wright adopted Sullivan’s belief, though changing it a bit. He believed that form and function are not any different from one another. Many contemporary architects may, in fact, argue that function follows form, because if there is not a certain understanding of form, how can we ever get to function?
Harris (2008) states that twentieth century architecture has its roots in the modern era and is therefore thought of as modern architecture. In those modern buildings of the 20th century, aesthetically pleasing buildings are less important than functionality; functionality is the most important factor, but this doesn’t mean that in their functionality they are not aesthetically pleasing. In the case of twentieth century skyscrapers, Nash & McGrath (2010, p 17) suggest that they may be seen as more “form following function,” but the skyscrapers of the twentieth century were not and are not just an object of their own time, they also had the ability to point the way towards the future.
Adolf Loos, an Australian architect, wrote an essay in 1908 that has become a foundation of Modernism and had a deep impact on other designers such as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Alvar Aalto, Mies van der Rohe, and Gerrit Rietveld. Loos famously stated that architectural ornament was criminal. The Modernists adopted both principles — form follows function and ornamentation as criminal — and they praised industrial artifacts like steel water towers as shining examples of plain and simple design integrity. Between the years of 1945 and 1984, Modernism was essentially the only respected form in the architectural profession; everything else was considered to be criminal.
The principles that ornament is a crime and that form ever follows function do not say anything, in particular, about function. It appears to be simply a preference — aesthetically speaking for the industrial age. The Industrial Revolution of the mid-19th century saw the mass production of steel beams and other types of materials that led to the very first skyscraper in the world, the Home Insurance Building in Chicago, built in 1855 (Harris 2008). In the first half of the 20th century, a lot of the architecture out there was based on 19th century architecture in which buildings were designed as works of art; if there was space that was unused because it would make it more aesthetically pleasing, it didn’t really matter as long as the building looked good (2008). By the end of World War II, there was a new need for more functional buildings and this is why we see a big shift toward more functional buildings in the mid-20th century. In Chicago, specifically, but in other cities as well, the architects of the 20th century modified more aesthetically-oriented buildings to make them more functional. From approximately 1930 until the 1980s, rectangular and functional spaces were the chief form of architecture around the world in general. The latter part of the 20th century — the 1980s onward — saw change once again, however (2008). For the most part, 20th century architecture, however, “focused on machine aesthetics or functionality and failed to incorporate any ornamental accents in the structure” (2008). The designs were, for the most part, simplistic, uncomplicated, and lacking excessive detail in both the design and the construction process (2008). The term “form follows function” was based on this type of architecture (2008).
Ornamentation on a building does not necessarily have to be seen as criminal because, in many cases, ornamentation has social uses like serving as landmarks, offering the identity of the building, referencing scale, and attracting individuals to go inside the building. Ornamentation, under these examples, can be seen as quite functional indeed, and it puts the two principles of doctrine at odds with one another.
Modernism when it comes to architecture started as an effort to let the shape and the organization of a building be determined only by functional requirements rather than by tradition or traditional concepts of aesthetics. It presupposes that a person has done what they needed to do in order to develop functional requirements. The architecture that resulted appeared to be very simple, flat, and lighter in comparison with older architecture, perhaps because of the limited number of functional requirements upon which the designs were based.
Sullivan, though he coined the phrase “form follows function” and which was adopted by many important modernist architects, did not design along such dogmatic lines during the height of his professional career. His buildings were oftentimes quite spare, but he frequently punctuated the plain surfaces with an outburst of Art Nouveau that were usually cast in terra-cotta or iron and they were used to design ivy or more geometric shapes, but usually always, in some form of another, influenced by his Irish ancestry.
The Woolworth Building, New York City, New York
Sullivan stated that when it comes to skyscrapers, form actually does follow function. Dupre and Johnson (2001, p 87) note that the Woolworth Building is one of the first skyscrapers and is a “larger-than-life advertisement of the ascendancy of the corporation in the twentieth century.” Willis (1995) states that in Sullivan’s seminal 1896 essay, “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered,” Sullivan advised that the universal law “form ever follows function” should be applied to highrise structures. Sullivan was not referring to three-dimensional form, but rather, to the symbolic expression of different interior use on the facade (1995) and this is precisely what we see with New York’s Woolworth Building, which was constructed in 1913 and was, as Wiseman (2000, p 48) notes, the tallest building in the world at the time.
Matlins (2011) states that Frank W. Woolworth commissioned architect Cass Gilbert to design the Woolworth building, a Gothic-style skyscraper, in 1910. It is an unusual story as the building was completely financed in cash, thanks to the wealth of Mr. Woolworth, which is something that is rather unheard of nowadays. The Gothic-style skyscraper, which would later come to be known as the “Cathedral of Commerce,” (2011), was designed to tower over City Hall Park on a full block site on Broadway and Barclay Street (2011). The height and cost was first estimated at 625 feet and $5 million, but ended up being 792 feet and costing $13.5 million (2011). Woolworth wanted a very tall and slender tower as well as an dramatic terra-cotta exterior and luxurious lobby. The extensive foundations as well as the elaborate design choices for the exterior and interior lobby of the building are what inflated the cost of this skyscraper (2011).
The Woolworth Building is a special skyscraper not only because it was one of New York’s first but because Gilbert was able to achieve new aesthetic and physical heights. The Gothic cladding made a dramatic impact aesthetically speaking, but it is the skill in which Gilbert handles its massing and proportions that is especially noteworthy. The office block, which makes up the complete lower region is integrated in a seamless fashion using slim terra-cotta piers for the tower, which reaches 792 feet. These elements set it apart from all of its competition. The Woolworth building could have its Gothic details taken away and yet is would still remain to be a “satisfying composition,” according to Wiseman (2000, p 48). However, without the ornamentation, the building would be completely different, but Gilbert was so good when it came to organization of form that he could shed the cladding if he had to, deeming it unnecessary. “He had, in the end, all but exhausted the ornamental tradition for the tall building of his day” (2000, p 48).
The Woolworth Building is indeed a picturesque skyscraper and, because of that, it has remained a classic. Dupre and Smith (2008, p 31) note that Gilbert’s challenge was to synthesize traditional aesthetics in the structure of a new office building. The base of the building is a u-shaped mass that maximizes the amount of light that is let into the offices. The top of the Woolworth building spirals up to the sky in a Gothic style replete with arches, spires, flying buttresses, and gargoyles (2008, p 31). This Gothic reference was considered to be Gilbert’s salvation, as it was a way for him to design a tall building that would have the verticality of a skyscraper, while at the same time keeping a connection with the classical form. The Woolworth Building possesses a “twentieth-century structural system clad in fifteenth-century Gothic details” (2008, p 31).
The Woolworth Building rises from a 29-story platform to become a tower inset on all four sides at the 42nd-story. Nash & McGrath (2010, p 17) compare it to a medieval spire, as the tower changes from a square to an octagon at the 48th-story, and culminates in a three-story, . The Woolworth Building is especially interesting because Gilbert solved the problem of placing a smaller tower on top of a base by integrating the tower into the front facade (2010, p 17). The building was designed to appear as a free-standing tower, so all four sides were treated architecturally (2010, p 17).
Nash and McGrath (2010, p 17) describe the Woolworth as a creamy, ivory-colored terra-cotta cladding anchored to a brick backing tops the three-story limestone base with granite at the street level. Terra-cotta is light and decorative as opposed to it being a more structural type of material, which helps to emphasize the steel cage that is supporting the building (2010, p 17). The straight, structural lines of the piers end in the tower, which are then decorated with gargoyles and panels of terra-cotta in different colors such as green, blue, sienna, and a deep rose (2010, p 17).
Another interesting aspect about the Woolworth Building, according to Nash and McGrath (2010, p 17) is that is was the era’s most famous example of the coming together of advertising and ego that went into the development of skyscrapers. Woolworth let Gilbert know that he wanted it to be 50 feet taller than the Metropolitan Tower so that his building would beat the record (2010, p 18). Woolworth certainly knew that there was symbolic worth as well as an advertising function of having the world’s tallest building. He said, “I do not want a mere building. I want something that will be an ornament to the city” (2010, p 18).
Much like William Lamb, the architect of the Empire State Building (covered later in this paper), Gilbert felt that the design of the building was an expression of what was being demanded of him. He said, “The economic conditions which call for the use of every bit of available space and at the same time provide ample light for rooms leave little opportunity for the arrangement of the masses” (Nash & McGrath 2010, p 18). Still, there are several details in the design which surpass a merely functional building. For example, the lobby is Romanesque with barrel-vaulted ceilngs with glass mosaics patterned after the early Christian mausoleum Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy (2010, p 18).
The Empire State Building, New York City, New York
The Empire State’s
Is, take it from the critics, class.
— Price Day, the New Yorker, 1932
Dupre and Johnson (2001, p 39) note that when the Empire State Building was first opened, it was billed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” It was hailed as an example of architectural and mechanical engineering genius and, though it was constructed in the shadow of the Depression (which actually made the labor quite cheap hence the speedy construction), the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world for over 40 years. Even though the World Trade Center, which was built in 1972, eclipsed the height of the Empire State Building, the Empire State Building still remained the quintessential landmark in New York City (2001, p 39).
The Empire State Building, located on 350 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, is often described, according to Tauranac (1997, p 151) as “Art Moderne” with “Art Deco” touches as seen in the spandrels, however the architects of the Empire State Building — Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon — were classic functionalists. They never called the building “Moderne,” “Moderne,” or “Art Deco” (1997). Completed in 1931, it took the Chrysler Building’s place as the tallest building in the world (Doordan 2003, p 3). The building went from preliminary design to completion of construction in only 18 months (even though Lamb’s design went through 15 different versions before settling on a final design — Dupre & Johnson 2001, p 39) and “it is a superb example of rational planning and engineering as well as architectural design” (2003, p 3). It was and is still, to this very day, a skyscraper that stands alone “in the mountain range of New York’s skyscrapers,” as described by Tauranac.
Dupre and Johnson (2001, p 38) state that the Empire State Building’s final design fell into place when it was decided that the building’s 64 elevators would be the central core of the building. it’s functionality can be seen in the building’s sleek limestone and stainless steel design, even though it may appear to be a chiefly aesthetic choice. Standardized units that could be put together quickly were needed and thus the architects chose to work with limestone and stainless steel (2001, p 38). The Empire State Building is simplistic in its Art Deco form consisting of stainless steel and limestone, a seven-hundred foot tower (originally intended as a mooring dock for airplanes and helicopters), and a television antenna (which was added in 1950 and gave the building an additional 225 feet – Commkey 2011). The Empire State Building’s two-story high ground floor corridors are crossed at different intervals by stainless steel and glass-enclosed bridges (2011).
At the height of its construction, there were more than 3,000 men at work at the same time. They worked to stack “roughly10 million bricks and 200,000 cubic feet of Indiana limestone into the shape of a pencil standing on its eraser. The 103 floors took 410 days to complete” (NPR 2002). The workers worked long, hard days to get the Empire State Building erected. Most were just happy to have jobs during such a bleak economic time in the U.S. (2002).
In true testament to form follows function, there had been nothing originally determined about how the building should look (the only thing that was said is that it should look like a pencil), and there was nothing that discussed the building’s style (Tauranac 1997, p 154). Lamb thought that the style would be determined by logical answers to the problems set by the economic ad technical demands of the program (1997, p 154). “No caryatids would be straining for effect, no buttresses would be running up the corners of the tower, no oversized heads would be staring blankly into space” (1997, p154). Nor would there be any kind of conventional ornamentation to break lines. The design was meant to be completely functional, “determined by the notion that the function of the object should determine its design and materials. It was Louis Sullivan’s ‘form follows function’ redux” (1997, p 155)
Architect Raymond Hood, whose work Lamb admired, believed it was the demands of tenants who were responsible for the functionalism of the Empire State Building. Tenants desire office spaces that were light and modern buildings afforded this and they were willing to go along with a modern design for this (Tauranac 1997, p 155). If this design had seemed in some way radical, by this time it was being accepted for its functionalism (1997, p 155). Ornamentation did not necessarily cost more, however, investors wanted to get the most from return on their investment and so even if they were willing to tie up their investment over several years, they did not want to pay for anything that they viewed as “redundant” (1997, p 155). Architect Raymond Hood said that both architects and developers were realizing that mortgage money would go faster to office buildings that were built in modern, functionalist styles rather than buildings that were designed more traditionally. This trend would continue because the “two building styles were for one building type performing the same function” (1997, p 155). On that same note, Lamb said that building managers “did not give a fig” (1997, p 155) about fancy ornamentation. An office building should be very strictly a structure of utility. “The nearer the design of an office building came to fulfilling its purpose, the more beautiful it was” (1997, p 155).
Because of the Empire State Building’s magnificent height, wind bracing was vital, necessitating a “complete gridiron of in-line steel posts and beams both vertically and horizontally” (Tauranac 1997, p 155). It was only when the “steel skeleton” was roughed out that the basic size and location of both ventilation and pipe shafts be considered (1997, p 155), and of course, after that the general cost of the building could be estimated. The architects then had the best idea, which was to put the elevators in the center of the construction, at the core, which would allow the office spaces to be extremely well lit (1997, p 155). Lamb knew that the most floor space wasn’t always the best way to go, so instead they replaced small but well-lighted floors on the op stories for large, unbroken floor space on the bottom floors (1997). There would be 64 elevators, mail chutes, staircases, and other equipment, centered in space that tapered upward to a cone, rather than them being distributed throughout the building’s wings. In 1931 Lamb said,
The logic of the plan was very simple. A certain amount of space in the center, arranged as compactly as possible, contains the vertical circulation, mail chutes, toilets, shafts, and corridors. Surrounding this is a perimeter of office space 28 feet deep. The sizes of the floors diminish as the elevators decrease in number. In essence there is a pyramid of non-rentable space surrounded by a greater pyramid of rentable space, a principle modified of course by practical consideration of construction and elevator operation (Tauranac 1997, 156).
The center of the Empire State Building would be utilized to house the required utilities; the rentable tenant space, being very well-lighted, would surround the center (Tauranac 1997, p 156). This idea of a freestanding tower with all of the services in the core well wasn’t a new one. Cass Gilbert’s Woolworth Tower incorporated this same ideas — as did Raymond Hood’s American Radiator Building and John Mead Howell’s Panhellenic Tower (1997, p 156). This kind of plan made good economic design sense because “it established the basic office unit, the cell whose multiplication around the central group of building utilities set the standard for the typical floor plan and so produced the total structure” (1997, p 157). Proper floor planning was fundamental to the successful design of an office building if the building was to earn income in surplus of expenses. Everything else was unimportant (Tauranac 1997, p 157).
J.F. Barnes and J.O. Reinecke wrote, “Such criteria as ‘form follows function’ are unsound becausethey make the error of assuming that there is one, and only one right way of doing a thing” (Meikle 2001, p 134). There are a myriad of ways that architects work in the present day depending on where the structure will be situated. Unlike architecture in the 20th century, 21st century architecture has nothing to do with being the one with the tallest building (as was Woolworth’s main ambition in building the Woolworth Building). Today, there is a great variation in both external and internal views with an integrated development of artifact (New Living City 2011). What has also become clear is that 21st century architecture seems to want to create buildings that have a variety of uses: “21st century architecture in the city is about the integration of living, working, and recreation space in the one contiguous building” (2011). Perhaps this is because of the way that the cities in the world are growing. The development of this kind of growth is oftentimes not in line with the natural environment. “As more forest and prairie lands give way to suburban houses and strip malls, the ecological balance of our nation’s exurban and rural areas becomes increasingly precarious” (Gissen 2003, p 6). Many architects these days are trying to find ways to design and construct buildings that will consume less energy in their daily operation, use renewable materials, and depend upon natural ways to ventilate and light the interiors (2003, p 6).
Climate change has also impacted the way that 21st century architects design and plan for the construction of their buildings. The buildings and the technologies of buildings of different eras can be of help when it comes to designing buildings to deal with issues of climate change. Roaf, Crichton and Nicol (2009, p 39) suggest that with global warming, people may begin to migrate around the spaces in buildings and cities in order to be in places that are cool and offer greater comfort. Because of this, buildings are going to have to be adapted to deal with climate change and new buildings will have to incorporate these factors into their plans.
Torre Agbar, Barcelona, Spain
The Torre Agbar is a 21st century skyscraper in Barcelona, Spain and is the new headquarters for Aguas de Barcelona (Agbar), the municipal water company. According to a View on Cities (20011), Torre Agbar was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, Torre Agbar opened in June of 2005 and was inaugurated officially by the King of Spain in September of 2005 (Icon Group International 2008). In speaking of his design of Torre Agbar, Nouvel has said, “This tower might be a distant echo of old Catalan obsessions, carried on the winds that blow in from Montserrat” (Torre Agbar 2011). It was inspired by the hills of Montserrat as well as by the architecture of Gaudi. The architecture style is known as “bioclimactic architecture” (2011) as it is adapted to the environment and is “sensitive to its impact on nature and minimizing environmental contamination” (2011). It was designed to take advantage of the environment surrounding it so as to result in dramatic reductions in energy consumption as well as to improve the quality of life of the people who will use the building (2011). Bioclimactic architecture proposes to: 1) regulate the flow of air, 2) take advantage of sunlight and the building’s orientation, 3) use insulating, recyclable and non-contaminating materials, 4) choose the most efficient energy materials and equipment, and, 4) include the use of renewable energy sources in the design (2011).
According to a View on Cities (2011), Torre Agbar is 34 stories tall and 466 feet in height. The building is technically made up of two that are topped by a glass and steel dome. The building doesn’t have any columns in the structure, instead, the building’s services and emergency stairwells are placed in the central concrete core.
Torre Agbar consists of 4,500 windows that were designed to achieve natural ventilation and make the best use of sunlight so as to reduce energy costs (Torre Agbar 2011). None of the materials used contain any amounts of formaldehyde, asbestos, or lead (even in the paint) (2011). The air flow is regulated due to the double glazing in the dome, which helps natural ventilation (2011). The chamber of air that is formed between two skins (a first skin covers the concrete structure in a polished aluminum in blues, greens and grays; the second skin adds an iridescent sparkle to the building and is made up of 59,619 sheets of clear glass — a View on Cities 2011) helps reduce the buildings temperature, which also favors ventilation (2011). There is an optimization of elevator routes thanks to a computer system that helps to avoid unnecessary consumption of energy and make sure that there is service for people who have special physical needs (2011). There are areas that will be specifically given for people who want to park their bicycles (2011). “The proportion of energy gain with respect to incident solar radiation reaches an average of 25.11%” in Torre Agbar (2011) and there aren’t any CFCs used in the coolant gases (as it is more ozone-friendly). “Phreatic water is used for secondary applications (cleaning paving and ornamentation) in order to save water (2011).
Some of the characteristics of the Torre Agbar and its 34 floors consist of: 28 floors intended for office use; three technical floors to centralize the installations; one floor that is the cafeteria; one floor devoted to multi-purpose rooms; and, one floor for a panoramic viewpoint in Torre Agbar’s dome (Torre Agbar 2011). There are four floors below ground: two floors for an auditorium with the capacity to hold 316 people and two floors for parking. There are eight elevators plus one service elevator and two elevators for the underground floors (2011).
The characteristics of the offices are quite original. The offices are spacious and do not possess any columns whatsoever. There is a false steeling made of galvanized steel plate with soundproofing. Lights are also embedded in the false ceiling. There is downlighting utilized in the higher traffic areas as well as the elevator access areas. There are fixed and tilted windows. Voice-data wiring and electricity in panels are installed underneath the false floor as well as in the perimeter skirting of the facade. There is a kitchen on each floor (Torre Agbar 2011).
Nouvel calls a tower a “vision machine” (Charlie Rose 2010) and for each building he is looking for what he calls “the missing piece of the puzzle” (2010). He is a self-described “contextual architect” (2010), finding the greatest disasters in urban areas today where he calls “generic architecture” — the buildings that are found in every city of the world — is the norm (2010). Nouvel’s buildings, which are all different, are more about “function following form” as he never knows what he is going to design until he has researched a culture of the city where the building is to go. He says, “What I like in cities is like a museum. You have a testimony of different epochs I want to create the relationship of my building, of my architecture with other architecture and with geography and history. You cannot do architecture without that relationship” (2010). Epoch is important in Nouvel’s work. He states that one cannot do the same thing with a different time or a different year. When asked if he would design the same building in the same way as he did 20 years again, he says no, that he would have other techniques and “architecture is a testimony of the epoch” (2010).
Despite Nouvel’s focus on form and making sure that a building is an example of an epoch, function is also important as is the need today to build buildings that make good economic sense and is accord with the environment. In 2006, Torre Agbar won the 2006 Award for Excelling organized by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) in both the European and the world edition (Designbuild-Network 2011). The award was given to recognize the design, its significant part in “the development of the [email protected] in Barcelona, efficient land use, its sensitivity toward society and the environment and the economic financial success it has achieved” (2011). It also won the 2006 International Highrise Award (2011).
Burj Khalifa, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Burj Khalifa, named Khalifa after the president of the United Arab Emirates and emir of Dubai, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan, but also sometimes known as Burj Dubai, is the tallest building in the world as well as the tallest free-standing structure in the world. It has the highest number of stories and the highest occupied floor in the world. Not only that, but the Burj has the highest observation deck (yes, in the world) and the tallest service elevator in the world. The elevator is the longest travel distance to add to its list of “in the world” (Burj Khalifa, 2011). The building also boasts the highest mosque and swimming pool in the world, located on the 158th and 76th floors, respectively (BBC, 2010). Of course, all of these elements make the Burj Khalifa a glorious example of construction, but the design of the Burj Khalifa is incredibly unique and what puts the building in a category all its own. In fact, the building attracted the world’s most successful and most highly-praised architects to take part in the design competition (2011).
The architecture consists of a “triple-lobed footprint, an abstraction of the Hymenocallis flower” (Burj Khalifa, 2011). The tower is made up of three different elements that are situated around one central core (2011). The building itself is a model, Y-shaped structure, consisting of setbacks along each of its three wings. This provides a stable configuration for the structure (2011). The 26 helical levels decrease the cross section of the tower gradually as it spirals towards the sky. The Y-shaped floorplan also offers for incredible views of the Arabian Gulf. When the structure is viewed from the air, the Burj looks like one of “the onion domes prevalent in Islamic architecture (2011).
Construction of Burj Khalifa began in 2004 during an economic boom. It is clad in 28,000 glass panels and has 160 floors and more than 500,000 square meters of space for offices and apartments (BBC, 2010). It possesses quite traditional Islamic architecture elements and, as mentioned, the inspiration for the base is a desert flower. The Burj Khalifa will eventually be the home to 1,044 luxury apartments, 49 floors of offices and at some point it will be home to a . Approximately 12,000 people will eventually live and work in the Burj Khalifa, which is a part of a 500-acre development (2010).
In considering the construction of the Burj Khalifa, the design had unprecedented technical and logistical challenges (BBC, 2010) — not solely because it is so tall, but because Dubai frequently experiences high winds and is quite close to a geological fault line (2010). The Burj Khalifa is incredibly slender in structure and “it takes a more traditional approach to piercing the ceiling of giganticism” (Dupre & Smith 2008, p 137). It sits on top of a tripod base that essentially channels the power of gravity and deflects the wind (2008, p 137).
William F. Baker, a partner at the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), which designed the Burj Dubai (Khalifa), has said that if skyscraper construction would have ended in the 1990s, then the definition of skyscraper would be a steel structure, built in the United States, and consisting of office spaces, but the ones of the 21st century are made of concrete or composite, are made in Asia or the Middle East, and are more likely to be residential (Artect 2007). This shows how the function of skyscrapers and architecture to go along with it (i.e., form) has changed since the 20th century.
Kamin (2010, p 126) notes that the interior of the Burj Khalifa has succeeded in function as well as form. The Y-shaped floor plan creates narrow apartment depths that keep interiors close to the beautiful views of the Persian Gulf, the Dubai skyline, and the desert (2010, p 126).
Some have said that the Burj Khalifa reflects, just as the Empire State Building did in its day, “the exuberance and overreaching ambition of its age” (2010, p 126); however, like the Empire State Building as well, “today’s white elephant is often tomorrow’s beloved landmark” (2010, p 126). The area in which the Burj Khalifa is located is one that is as misunderstood as anywhere could be, but the Burj has said to be a structure that represents a more human Dubai. One might ask how, “but Dubai is now a city that knows the story of Babel” and it is “a functioning city gradually emerging, one healing its growth wounds and tempering its bravado so that it might one day have another chance of being great” (Lahoud & Rice 2010, p 43).
“Form follows function” was the 20th century architects rule of thumb. Louis Sullivan, the “father of modern architecture,” coined the term and fervently believed in its definition (WorldLingo 2011). He took this doctrine to heart when he designed one of the world’s first skyscrapers, the Wainwright Building, in St. Louis, Missouri. Though form follows function was the doctrine of the 20th century, there were architects who did not wholly support the credo (e.g., Frank Lloyd Wright thought that form and function were essentially the same thing, even though he had worked closely with Sullivan).
Form follows function has become one of the most controversial topics of architectural debate. Sullivan thought that older architecture — before his time — took a lot from past architecture, but if one didn’t want to design based on more traditional architecture, then what would inform the design? Sullivan believed that it would be function. Yet many architects of today believe that function must follow form because form has to be understood in order to get to the function. This back and forth, which some may see as semantics, is still heated topic among architects and designers.
Another important maxim of the 20th century created by Adolf Loos was that ornament was criminal (WorldLingo 2011). He and many of the architects he inspired such as Le Corbusier and Gropius believed that simple was best as it placed the focus on function, where it should be (2011). However, many architects disagreed because ornament does not equate to superfluous. In fact, ornamentation on buildings oftentimes has a very specific function (2011). It is how people recognize where they are in an environment. Take Manhattan, for example, by knowing that the Empire State Building is one block up, they know that they are in midtown Manhattan. Ornamentation therefore works as a landmark but it also works to give other things scale and attract individuals inside of the building, which is great for commerce (2011). Thus ornamentation does indeed have a function in the mind of many architects because function is not simply about how people move and work (or live) in a space, but it is about what else happens in that space and how the construction affects the world around it.
Sullivan insisted that with skyscrapers form must follow function (Willis 1995). New York City’s Woolworth Building, designed by architect Cass Gilbert and completely funded by Woolworth with cash (something that is unheard of today) was erected in 1913 and at that time was the tallest building in the world (Wiseman 2000, p 48). The Gothic style in which it was designed was dramatic aesthetically speaking, but the functionality of the building was the emphasis of its construction. Gilbert was not one to think that ornament was criminal despite the functionality of his work.
Another skyscraper that has come to define the 20th century and also comes to define a city, is also located in New York City: The Empire State Building. Constructed in 1931, the Empire State Building is often referred to as “Art Deco” or “Art Moderne” in style, but this is not what architects Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon were striving for as they were complete functionalists in every aspect (Tauranac 1997, p 151). On the contrary, there had been nothing that was originally determined about how the Empire State Building should look, and there certainly was not anything discussed about the building’s style (1997, p 154), which means that in the case of the Empire State Building, form absolutely followed function. Proper floor planning is what made the Empire State Building so successful, according to Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, because it allowed them to earn income in excess of expenses. Nothing else was important (1997, p 157).
By the 21st century, form follows function was seen as “unsound” because it meant that there was only one way of doing things (Meikle 2001, p 134). There are so many ways that architects could work by the 21st century and they didn’t want to be limited by an old maxim. The goal of 21st century architecture in cities and pertaining to skyscrapers had nothing to do with a race to be the tallest (as in Woolworth’s case). Today there is a plethora of ways to design the exterior and interiors (New Living City 2011) and it has more to do with considerations about the environment, how the world is globalizing, and what people actually want out of a building.
Twenty-first century architecture is all about creating spaces that have a variety of uses. Popular nowadays are skyscrapers where people can live, work, and play — such as the Burj Dubai in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Cities and suburbs are growing quickly, however, and this kind of growth doesn’t bode well for the environment, so there are fewer forests and prairies, which means that our ecological balance is tipping (Gissen 2003, p 6). Because of this, today’s concern with designing buildings is finding materials that are renewable and using natural means to ventilate and light interiors (2003, p 6). The Torre Agbar in Barcelona, Spain, is just one example of a building that cohabitates with its environment as opposed to simply taking up space in an environment.
The Torre Agbar, designed by Jean Nouvel, was completed in 2005 and is defined as “bioclimactic architecture” (Torre Agbar 2011) because of its sensitivity to the environment. Nouvel, while wanting to be kind to the surrounding environment, at the same time wants to create buildings that are not generic (Charlie Rose 2010). His designs are more about function following form. He puts great emphasis on the environment in which the building will be located, the geography, the landscape, and the culture in which it will stand (2010).
The Burj Dubai or Burj Khalifa is the tallest freestanding structure in the world and is located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a quickly growing city on the Persian Gulf. Its design is a glorious achievement in architecture and logistics, sitting on a tripod base and channeling the power of gravity and deflecting the wind (Dupre & Smith 2008, p 137). The Burj Khalifa is residential mostly, which shows the shift in function from the 20th century when skyscrapers were mainly used for offices (Artect 2007).
The ways in which architecture has changed from the 20th to the 21st century may not appear to be all that astounding — or even that much for that matter. There may appear to be a shift from form following function to function following form, but rather stating that something should come before the other the argument that it does is rather obtuse. Instead, taking the perspective that the two go hand-in-hand or Frank Lloyd Wright’s perspective that they are, in fact, the same thing seems more rational.
“Form follows function” makes sense when one thinks that the way that something looks should determine its function, but that purpose or what is needed of a building, is going to impact its form. So “function follows form” also makes sense. But why can’t there be agreement that they are both vital to a design and that the two inform each other? There is not one more important that the other because there cannot exist one without the other.
The epoch that a person lives in, as Nouvel suggests, is what should inspire the design. Why make a building out of steel if it can be made better out of concrete or a composite? Why, in an age where more can be done design-wise, should that not inspire a design? Even if it means that there can be more ornamentation?
Considering the time that “form follows function” came along (or when it was made a popular phrase by Sullivan and one that was adhered to by contemporary architects), one has to think that it was a time of great change — both technologically speaking and economically speaking — not to mention taste-wise (Bradley 2010). The buildings of the 20th century were still being worked out and they were mainly based on innovation that went back to the Greek and Roman architecture (2010). Sullivan wanted to find a new form for buildings and he thought that it should come from function rather than some “historical precedent” (2010).
Functionality in the 20th century may have focused more on function than form, but it inspired modern architecture and the architecture that would appear in the 21st century. Its clean lines and simple forms may have been seen as functional by the 20th century architects, but they are certainly aesthetically pleasing functional aspects as well, which reminds one of the adage, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Artect., 2007. “Burj Dubai Exhibit at Skyscraper Museum.” Artect. Accessed on January 18,
A View on Cities., 2011. “Torre Agbar.” Accessed on January 10, 2011:
BBC., 2010. “World’s Tallest Building Opens in Dubai.” BBC: News. Accessed on January 10,
Bradley, S., 2010. “Does Form Follow Function?” Smashing Magazine. Accessed on January 20,
Charlie Rose., 2010. “Jean Nouvel.” Transcript. Accessed on January 18, 2011:
Commkey., 2011. “Empire State Building.” Daniel’s Manhattan Architecture. Accessed on January 13, 2011: http://commkey.net/daniel/empirea.htm
Designbuild-Network., 2011. “Torre Agbar, Barcelona, Spain.” Net Resources International, Inc.
Accessed on January 19, 2011: http://www.designbuild-network.com/projects/torre-agbar/
Doordan, D., 2003. 20th Century Architecture. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall; 1st edition.
Dupre, Judith. & Johnson, P., 2001. Skyscrapers. London: Black Dog & Leventhal
Dupre, D., & Smith, a., 2008. Skyscrapers: A History of the World’s Most Extraordinary
Buildings. London: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers.
Harris, M.A., 2008. “20th Century Architecture.” Family Ancestry. United Kingdom: Global
Limited. Accessed on January 12, 2011: http://www.family-
Heskett, J. (2005). Design: A Very Short Introduction. USA: Oxford University Press.
Icon International Group, Inc., 2008. Skyscrapers: Webster’s Quotations, Facts and Phrases.
Icon Group International, Inc.
Gissen, D., 2003. Big and Green: Toward Sustainable Architecture in the 21st Century. New York: Princeton Architectural Press; 1st edition.
Kamin, B., 2010. Terror and Wonder: Architecture in a Tumultuous Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lahoud, a., Rice, C., & Burke, a., 2010. Post-Traumatic Urbanism: Architectural Design.
Hoboken, NJ: Wiley; 1st edition.
Matlins, Melissa., 2011. “Woolworth Building.” Skyscraper.org. Accessed on January 12, 2011:
Meikle, J., 2001. Twentieth Century
Limited: Design in America, 1925-1939; Second Edition,
with a New Preface and Enhanced Photographs. Philadelphia: Temple University Press;
Nash, E., & McGrath, N. 2010. Manhattan Skyscrapers. New York: Princeton Architectural
Press; 3rd edition.
New Living City., 2011. “21st Century Architecture.” Accessed on January 16, 2011:
NPR., 2002. “Empire State Building.” Accessed on January 13, 2011:
Roaf, S., Crichton, D., & Nicol, F., 2009. Adapting buildings and cities for climate change. New York: Princeton Architectural Press; 2nd edition.
Tauranac, J., 1997. Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark. New York: St. Martin’s
Griffin; First edition.
Torre Agbar., 2011. “Torre Agbar.” Accessed on January 10, 2011:
Willis, C., 1995. Form Follows Finance: Skyscrapers and Skylines in New York and Chicago.
New York: Princeton Architectural Press.
Wiseman, C., 2000. Twentieth-Century American Architecture: The Buildings and Their Makers.
New York: W.W. & Norton Company; Reprint edition.