Friday, 21 November 2008

ARCHITECTURAL MINI-TUTORIAL: It's all in the plan, and the function and the form

Like the stunning garden shed featured here a few weeks ago, this humble farm building shown here shows that good architecture isn't just confined to cathedrals.  And like Bruce Goff's Gutman House I featured yesterday, we can see that the excitement of Haring's 1924 Gut-Garkau Farm is really all in the plan - just like it should be in all really good architecture,

Why's that? Because unlike the modernist architecture of, say, Mies van der Rohe, whose buildings could pretty much house anything, the plans of Hugo Haring always express the function for which they're intended -- in this case to house and service a bull and his cows in a cold climate. Hugo Haring, you see, wasn't a modernist.  He designed organic architecture.  As Frank Lloyd Wright describes it,
In an organic architecture the ground itself detemines all features: the climate modifies them: available means limit them: function shapes them.
What this means for the plan you can see above is that the form of each element can be traced to a functional need.  For instance: 
"The pointed-arch section of the barn reflects the choice of a lamella roof. It follows the line of structural thrust with interlocking small timbers and leaves the internal volume unencumbered by ties." [Peter Blundell-Jones]
That's a good thing for a barn: the result of that form reflecting those particular functions is that the forms becomes expressive of the function: or as Wright would say, form and function become one.

This is the integration we look for in good architecture.  Blundell-Jones explains how the function of the barn generated the building:
"A simple rectangle in plan, the barn was planned so that unloading carts could pass through between the asymmetrically placed doors. The cowshed lies beneath the hayloft so that the cattle can be fed directly via a trapdoor.The intermediate floor slopes inward, both to facilitate spreading the hay and to guide rising breath of cattle to vents at the sides, reducing spread of infection. The framed structure allows a continuous window band at clerestorey level to maximise skylight, ventilation being achieved separately by flaps above. The pear-shaped plan gathers the cows around a food-floor which tapers with the quantity of food distributed, and the circulation space around the edge allows smooth flow. The guiding idea, though, was clearly to reflect the relationship between the 42 cows and the single bull, father of the herd and its genetic identity."
And simply and elegantly done.


  1. I fancied I knew the subject moderately well as a laymen, but I'm really learning some interesting things from your architectural posts. Thank you.

    It isn't hard to see why - and how much - you love the subject, and why anyone would.

    You can see a similar kind of devotion to form-function in the Dyson vacuum cleaner. I highly recommend a visit to the website for one of the most elegant demonstrations of why it's one of the best engineered products in history. If you've ever used one you quickly see how much like a Rand character is Dyson himself.

  2. Nice to see you got a plug on Samizdata PC :)

  3. Certainly can't argue with many of the principles you put forward here. The other day I was having a yarn with the director over a beer, about solving a particular design problem but couched in the terms of 'procedural' design vs. 'gestalt' design - whether the solution to a particular problem comes best from a system-type approach, or individually determined based on pragmatic and aesthetic needs.

    I reckon there is a happy medium - modular buildings are 'tidy' and have a certain order, but at the point where the module takes over and starts dictating the planning, you have to take a step back and consider the building as a whole entity. The building you feature here is an example of the form 'growing' out of the programme, which I have always liked. There is a certain danger in that also, just as in slavishly following a predetermined system - that the perfect outgrowth and expression of a purpose may not be good architecture.

    Therein lies the skill of the architect, I think - to mediate between the programmatic and aesthetic needs of the building. I have to say that aesthetically this farm building doesn't really float my boat, but it is a good working example of the 'generation' of form through interrogation of purpose. This is precisely what I reacted AGAINST with the Goff building a few days ago - although you never posted site pictures, one imagines that the building itself is totally independent of the site, malignly hovering as it appears to do over the landscape in the fashion of some sort of UFO. And I still maintain that the planning was made to fit a predetermined system, which is evident in the failures which I picked out in the previous post.

    The building in this post has a lot more visual interest I reckon, but doesn't feel like it 'hangs together' - it feels almost like an organism that was allowed to grow unfettered out of the constraints of programme and site, and it feels like it needed the guiding hand of an architect to come in and coax it away from the confused final form that eventuated. I freely concede that there will be others who see beauty in the building, it just doesn't at all appeal to my aesthetic.


    (PS: Out of curiosity, the plan looks suspiciously like something out of Neuferts or the New Metric Handbook - is it?)


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