PRINT April 1979


On Reading Architecture

READING AND WRITING ABOUT architecture, shaping the consciousness of the reader and observer, has a logic independent of the spaces it describes. In the best architectural writing such description and analysis adds depth of meaning to a building’s already complex physical presence. Modern architecture sought to be rid of such layers of meaning, assuming that form might be generated almost automatically from function—“form following function,” as Sullivan put it. Indeed Le Corbusier’s “Five Points of Modern Architecture”—the “free” plan, the “free” facade, the building raised on pilotis, strip windows and the roof garden—were primarily justified on functional grounds. They also, coincidentally, defined the machine or engineering esthetic of the 1920s. This transparency between form and function eliminated those mediatory devices, the “styles,” of the 19th-century culture, which had formed

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