I recently received a letter from Milo Baughman ASFD. In addition to saying he enjoyed the cityscape column (thank you very much), he introduced himself by saying he spent a few years (1969-1975) in Utah in various endeavors of environmental and furniture design. I knew of his background and that he spent many years designing furniture for numerous furniture companies. He has returned to Utah, teaches design at BYU and in a larger sense wants to contribute to a diversity of the design interests of his students and the public.
Baughman sent me a copy of a very talented, insightful talk he gave to the North Carolina Chapter of the American Institute of Architects several years ago, and because of the relevance it has on our concept of design and the movement internationally from contemporary to post modern architecture, I have included much of it in this article."Life in the sprawling greater Los Angeles area, like most such urban-suburban areas in the United States, is a fast, pressure, crowded life. It's a life that can perhaps best be described as too damned 20th century! And I think it is precisely this that drives these people through their quaint little gates and into their quaint little Mother Goose houses. Not to live in this century, but to get the heck out of it! Who wants to be so darned contemporary? Being modern is an exhausting business.
"I go into all this because I believe it brings to light two things. The first is the vital consideration that should be given to the emotional or, if you will, the psychological needs of people in relation to their architectural environment - the interior spaces of their home in which they live their truest lives. The second thing that is brought painfully to light is how gross our failure has been to meet these needs within the framework of sound contemporary design . . .
"Where did we go wrong? In a sense we went wrong by becoming modernists in the first place and leaving the rest of humanity behind. We accepted the definition, for example, that form must follow function without really understanding the total meaning of function. We accepted the slogan, `A house is a machine for living' without fully grasping what really living in a house should mean. In short, we put design principles before our people, and somewhat misunderstood principles at that. We intellectualized our own humanness and our clients' emotional needs right out the plate glass window.
"How are we to understand function? However exactly we may define this term, it must be understood in its broadest and certainly its deepest sense. To talk about only the mechanical or physical workability, or utility, does not get at the meaning of function. These are necessary ingredients, but more significant to our discussion is how an object, or a space environment, functions in terms of eliciting the right kind of emotional response. A house that is too important a piece of architecture may actually inhibit the life therein. A good house must include, not preclude, the ordinariness of living. If it does not, it exerts a tyrannically stifling influence over its captive occupants.
"On one hand the Bauhaus architect Hannes Meyer is reported to have said that ` . . . it is an absurdity to talk about the modern style in terms of aesthetics at all. If a building provides adequately, completely and without compromise for its purpose is is a good building, regardless of its appearance.'
"To balance this we have the following comment by architect Walter Gropius: `The slogan fitness for purpose (that is, form evolved from function) equals beauty is only half true When do we call a human face beautiful? Every face is fit for its purpose in its parts, but only perfect proportions and colors in a well-balanced harmony deserve that title of honor: beautiful.'
"The emotional need for certain decorative refinements, even pure ornamentation, and sometimes even a frank look of richness should be met. Occasionally, the very structure can supply this need; thus, ornamentation is achieved directly and integrally. But this is not always possible - and here is where the purist designer must unlimber some of his more rigid attitudes.
"Sometimes the form must become more ornamental, rather than less, for this might be the more appropriate and more deeply satisfying note to strike. Ornamentation must never be superficially applied to disguise a basic poverty in the form. It must always be valid and necessary to the purpose of the design. This broader understanding of function, or purpose - from which form is evolved - can be seen, if you will, even to include accommodation of at least some of the minor needs of the soul.
"I would like to add this comment by Rudolph Arnheim, `The endeavor of an architect and his client must indeed start with a commitment to the purposes of the building - but not just as a useful object whose usefulness deserves to be shown but as an object whose function translated into a corresponding pattern of visual behavior will enhance the spirit of our existence and conduct as human beings.' "