Petern Eisenman, “Post-Functionalism,” 1976.
This is the first essay by Peter Eisenman himself in the “11 Weeks” project, though he is familiar to us from past (and future) texts. The present essay offers a clear history of the form-follows-function dictum while explaining its anachronism in the 20th century. The “modern sensibility”—to say nothing of the post-modern sensibility—is based on a different formula for the relationship between man and object, and idealism regarding form as beholden to function misunderstands the state of architecture in a post-functional world. In short, architecture can no longer be sufficiently reduced to the form-function dialectic; architecture itself is now a driving force to be considered.
“The critical establishment within architecture has told us that we have entered the era of ‘post-modernism.’ The tone with which this news is delivered is invariably one of relief, similar to that which accompanies the advice that one is no longer an adolescent.” Thus Eisenman begins his essay on the nature of that post-modern world—with a laugh and some plain-talk—which has been misconstrued by two different exhibits: the “Ecole des Beaux-Arts” show at MoMA (1975-76) and the “Architettura Razionale” show at the Milan Triennale (1973). (The more I read the more I think these two are critical markers in post-modern awareness and should be remembered.) The problem is that these two shows are predicated on a definition of architecture that is no longer adequate for the modern world.
The MoMA show defines Modernism as formalism and believes architecture must return to the past, to type and appropriateness via function and program. Conversely, the Triennale interprets Modernism as functionalism and proffers a survival scheme for architecture based on disciplinary autonomy (read: formalism). Though these two are mutually exclusive they invariably define architecture between the poles of form (type) and function (program), a fundamentally 19th century, humanist and idealist dialectic.
In the 19th century, form and function (type-program) were held in balance through an “idealist view of man’s relationship to his object world.” With industrialism came complex program, idealized form became a less realistic concern, and the balance between form and function was weakened—architecture was still form and function, but form now followed function. While this formula was preserved into the post-war/post-modern era (through English Revisionist Functionalism, Neo-Functionalism, Reyner Banham, Charles Price, and Archigram), its humanist idealism overlooked the critical shift of the 19th and 20th centuries.
This was the shift from humanism—the reigning ideology for centuries in which objects were defined as reflecting man—to modernism—in which man is displaced from the center of the world and objects posses their own kind of knowledge and language, of which abstraction and atemporality are symptoms. Modernism was “work on the language itself” in which the primary concern of the object was “its own objecthood.” (Hence the idea of cognitive and self-reflexive architecture that keeps recurring.) The shift to modernism occurred in different fields at different times, and in architecture it sidelined the form-function dialectic as only one (incomplete) approach to architecture, a relationship within the evolution of form itself.
In that evolution, form-function continued to manifest (in the 1970s) as two separate tendencies. The first finds the ideal platonic solids as “ethical and aesthetic” origins for formal creation in a “reductivist attitude” —“certainly a relic of humanist theory.” The second sees form as a “series of fragments.” Together they “constitute the essence of this new, modern dialectic. They begin to define the nature of the object in and of itself and its capacity to be represented.” Post-Functionalism is a beginning place, a framework of new theoretical structure, in which the architectural object “is just a representation of architectural logic itself.” Post-Functionalism “fuses the practice of architecture with the critique of architecture and replaces the functional object with a theoretical one.” (Hays)
Post-Functionalism, and “Post-Functionalism” the essay, is about two things: the anachronistic definition, in post-modern architectural thought, of architectural composition between form and function; the new kind of architectural object that exists in a modern world, after the absolutism of the form-function dialectic. This new object is theoretical, contains and represents its own historical and self-critical process, is composed of its own language. Post-Functionalism is a period, is ‘where’ architecture was in the 1970s, not ‘what’ it was. Keep in mind Post-Functionalism functions as a fundamental climate justifying Eisenman’s critical-architecture, encountered in Gandelsonas’s essay.
Also note that these architects are continuing to establish self-awareness as “Post-Modernists” and the fight to define Post-Modernism as a movement was just beginning. I think it was only in the MoMA excerpts that we first see a reference to post-modernism as a movement, and here Eisenman proclaims its advent as a new (though long coming) revelation. In the next post we see just where the lines of that fight begin to fall, fulfilling Denise Scott-Brown's prediction of "individual protagonists realigning[ing] themselves to meet the new alliance."