Form as a medium

‘Architecture is not about form’  Peter Zumthor (1)

‘Architecture is the result of the forming’ – Roy Lichtenstein (1)

Talking directly about form is generally frowned upon in architectural circles (particularly in academics). I think we loose a lot of time in design process, just because we don’t prefer to discuss about form ‘directly’. We do a lot of intellectual manoeuvres to talk about form ‘indirectly’ – space, type, typology, etc. Even though the point is valid, i feel we could find more room to talk about form in a more upfront ‘direct’ way. We could capture in the discussions both its limitations and advantages. I understand the present debate on architecture becoming a ‘visual’ medium, and how form is manipulated to only please the eye and not the other senses. Yes, that is first layer to acknowledge. Once we overcome this layer, we can talk about ‘form’ through more channels . I found this book ‘Siteless : 1001 Building Forms’ by Francois Blanciak very apt to engage in the discussion of form is a democratic way. This subtitle ‘1001 forms’ might sound rude and cheeky to the ideal-academic-ear.

I feel not discussing directly about ‘form’ in architecture is like not mentioning about ‘rice’ when talking about cooking biriyani. When i just casually flipped through the book, initially it seemed to be a very generic collection of computer generated forms. When i was able to ‘suspend judgment’ for sometime and looked a bit deeper, the book became so revealing. All the drawings in the book are hand-drawn, which intrigued me a lot. The book has 1001 forms – each a little bigger than a stamp accompanied by a phrase. The book is “essentially meant to be more of a tool to trigger the imagination of the reader, a way to store one’s creative impulses, rather than a means to display an array of morphological ideas to be copied, as some architects might have misinterpreted” and Blanciak critically understands limitation of the ‘form’-al approach saying “there was also this desire to somehow exhaust the potentialities of architectural form, in order to transcend this very issue, not only for architecture, but also for me, in order to be able to focus on other points of interest within this field.” (2)

The book sharply starts with this text below. ( A note for ‘readers’ who are put off by too much ‘text’, this book has a lot of ‘drawings’ (not colourful though!) and only has only 3 pages of text! ). A sort of a theory book with almost no text.

“The body of work that follows aims to fill the expanding gap between a profession that glorifies morphological originality through media exposure and a more secluded field of architectural research which, unlike its scientific counterparts, paradoxically neglects experimentation and the manipulation of form through its sole focus on writing. Proposing a creative alternative to critical academic literature, this study develops a prospective series of forms that focuses on the nucleus of architecture, the building as a unit (whether touched by others or left aside), and on the clarity of expression of its generative idea. As a result, in the coming chapters, text has radically been replaced by form. In order to multiply the range of potentialities in architecture, this study accepts the physical aspect of buildings as its primary component (the periodic denial of which proving vain) and proceeds by trial and error. ” (3)

Below are some of the images from the book :

Talking in an interview to WAI Thinktank about the book, Francois Blanciak, articulates brilliantly about ‘form’WAI :

Do you see pure form as a medium or a goal?

“Well, in this particular instance, it’s a medium. If we understand pure form as a set of forms that originates in Euclidian geometry, such as spheres, pyramids and cubes, the inherent capacity of these forms to contain, rather than to divide, makes them particularly appropriate as receptacles for site-specific programs. If we understand the design of an architectural project as a process of adaptation of form to external dynamic forces, these can be catalyzed by the use of pure form as an outer shell for the project. On another hand, pure form is merely of interest for its capacity to be eroded, to be affected by those forces. In a dialectic process of definition, this fixed outer shell helps determine the program, and reversely, the program reveals and distinguishes morphology. So the reversion to pure forms comes from an intention to operate a sort of tabula rasa on architectural expression. It’s almost the negation of form itself.” (4)

One of the another consequential questions from the interview gives us a lot to ponder on :”Can an open acknowledgement in which form is no longer a taboo change the discipline up to the point in which even architectural education is changed?” (5)

There is an academic lightness to the book like the drawings ‘magic pilotis’ or ‘graphic-scale building’ which takes a lighter tone on its own content, which makes ‘reading’ (or looking) of the book more absorbing.

Notes :
(1) Quoted via : Architectural Review Editorial – Accessed on Oct 30, 2020

(3) and all the images are from the book.

(2), (4), (5) –, Accessed on Nov 28,2019