Emphasis On Design - Aesthetics & Function

Having received my grades for my most recent essay relating to the emphasis on a design’s aesthetics and function should be based on a client’s needs and wants i thought i would share it with you as it is a topic that for me is an important part of the process of Architecture. So here it is for you to read in its unedited format and for you to debate and discuss openly with me.

Is the emphasis of design aesthetics about the architect or should we as future and current architects look to create aesthetic and function based on a clients wants and needs. Before resolving this query we need to understand where modernism has come from, what it is and where it is heading. Once we understand these outcomes we will understand where an architect sits in the realm of a clients want and needs and the importance each takes in the process of designing new architecture.

Modernism, what is it? Some suggest it is a movement across culture and one that crosses life itself, a push for a social conscious and morality. A new age of thinking that began in the arts and architecture. Modernism and the freethinking movement that came with it blended itself into the industrialisation of architectural world to create a period of open and honest simplicity in architecture.

Case Study House 18 - Craig Ellwood

This push for modernism through the early and mid century allowed architects to extend the boundaries of design above and beyond what had previously been created and to open the home into something not seen before. With this change in architecture one thing remained – the battle between client and architect. Who has more control over a project? And who should hold the main focus of a project within their grasp, the architect or the client.

The control over design is an age old issue made only more crucial as time moves forward and came to ahead during the modernist movement where free thinking architects pushed beliefs onto clients through controlled and measured angles of superior knowledge and a desire to be master of their creations.

Considering the above paragraph we should then consider what is the role of an architect? Is it to control a project to ensure a desired aesthetic and outcome is achieved under the guidance and general rule of the architect to create his “vision” using the client as a mere financial vessel to do so, or is there more to being an architect than that? Is an architect’s role to interpret client’s wants and needs and resolve site issues with budget issues to create a response to architecture based on all those combined elements?

In theory, architects are the custodians of past, present and future history. However in reality it is far more complex than this, for without a client an architect’s work does not exist and it is for this express reason alone that an architect’s work must follow the client’s wants and needs. An architect’s want for control of aesthetics should follow on from the focus of the client’s needs on the project’s desired outcome.

“Every physical element has been distilled to its irreducible essence. The interior is unprecedentedly transparent to the surrounding site, and also unprecedentedly uncluttered in itself. All of the paraphernalia of traditional living –rooms, walls, doors, interior trim, loose furniture, pictures on walls, even personal possessions – have been virtually abolished in a puritanical vision of simplified, transcendental existence. Mies had finally achieved a goal towards which he had been feeling his way for three decades.” - Maritz Vandenburg

The prime example of a project where a client’s wants blended with the architect’s desires is the Farnsworth House in Springfield, Illinois. Built and designed between 1945-1951. It was a collaboration of ideals between Ludwig Mies Van De Rohe and Edith Farnsworth. The Farnsworth House is a house born of escapism for the client; Escape from her working life to allow her to relax yet still function as a building to be social in when needed.

Yet the design itself was positioned upon the architect’s desire to have protection from the sun and raised from the ground to prevent flooding. With compromise from both parties the glass box was born and with the architect’s desire to use the flooded river as a way of portraying the client’s need for isolation with the building accessible only by boat when the river floods. The location amongst the bush setting gave nature control of the structure thus finalising the client’s wants whilst allowing the architect a sense of control on the project.

Farnsworth House - Mies Van der Rohe

“The resultant box was enclosed by a plate-glass skin, the apotheosis of Mies’s phrase (Bienahe nichts), ‘Almost nothing’” – Kenneth Frampton

While the Farnsworth House is able to define the relationship between a client and architect ad how they can and should work together, it also shows what happens when both parties are fixated on the creative outcome and less so on the constructed requirements. There are many flaws in the completed structure that could have easily been avoided should the romance of the architecture been looked past and additional focus shown towards the constructed building. The lack of screening from summer sun and a lack of window openings made life difficult in the warmer months and poor thermal capabilities caused issue through cooler months.

“Designed and built for a single woman, the successful Chicago doctor Edith Farnsworth, the house was created over several years in intensive consultation with its client.” – Claire Zimmerman

Regardless of these flaws, the Farnsworth House is one of modernism’s greatest achievements. A simple glass box, that manages to exude every aspect of not only the modernist movement, but of the possibilities available to us when client and architect work in symmetry on a project. A slim, sleek, and almost unrefined structure that evokes everything Van De Rohe was striving for when he stated ‘Less is more”.

Put simply, it is a glass box that puts everything within it on display and is echoed in almost every modernist structure that has since followed and the impact it has had on the world of architecture is almost immeasurable. The Farnsworth House is a lesson in design and of what to and not to do. It teaches us how to resolve design flaws and still allow the architect to create astounding architectural responses using the client’s needs.

Taking the design process of the Farnsworth House into consideration we can see how an the desired outcome of all architecture projects should be focussed on the clients wants and needs interpreted by the architect to gain the greatest outcome available for each project. Never should an architect’s own desires take precedence over a client’s needs on a project. The moment this instance occurs, the project is no longer for the client’s benefit and quickly becomes a vehicle for the architect’s own ego

In conclusion, when looking at the emphasis on a design’s aesthetics and function, it is clear that the process of architecture be based on a client’s needs and wants. We should look closely at the role of architect and client and how they interplay for the benefit of a project in the journey that is design; it is the role of an architect to guide a client through the process without forcing direction through education and inspiration. An architect should also respect the client’s brief and design wishes and without these principles, the work created is nothing more than an overpriced piece of artwork that is constructed for the ultimate glory of the architect and his somewhat self indulgent ego.

In our current climate, the desire for fame has pushed architecture into the realm of star architects or ‘Starchitects’ where a client’s wants are all but ignored for the glory of the architect and the push to create varied forms of architecture for nothing more than iconic statuses and ill-informed individuality. These are wants and needs of the architect and in the world of architecture, form irrelevant requirements and the Farnsworth House shows that great architecture can be created when an architect puts his ideals in line with the client brief.

It is for these reasons that the focus of architecture be about the client, the site, the budget and other constraints before an architect can begin to consider his or her own design ideologies and if those ideals should form part of the project then it is for the architect to educate the client before forcing their ideals on a client.