FUNCTIONALISM HAS BEEN A SAFE HAVEN FOR THOSE WHO LACK CONFIDENCE
This week RMJM defends its Princes Dock scheme in Liverpool as a reaction against 'the paper-thin fishapismfl which is fast becoming the norm of the new generation of architects'. It goes without saying that 'shapism' is a derogatory term. A few years ago, when the AJ published a building study of a contemporary office block by Robert Adam which lurks behind a NeoClassical facade, our readers were quick to accuse us of 'facadism'; a term uttered with a similar degree of contempt. Both failings are deemed to equate with a lack of integrity; the lazy pursuit of dubious rewards.
Yet both can be seen as a reproach to another form of laziness: the tendency to cling to the functionalist mantra that form follows function; that a proper consideration of the particulars of context and brief can reveal the 'appropriate' response; that the spatial and structural organisation should be reected in an 'honest' facade. This once-pioneering doctrine has provided a safe haven for those who lack confidence in their own judgment, or seek to avoid reproach. As long as cause and effect can be adequately explained, issues such as beauty, taste and style are neither here nor there.
Far from representing a lack of ambition, the new-found preoccupation with ornament and pattern, exemplified by Caruso St John's transformation of the Museum of Childhood (pages 21-35), reasserts the architect's right - and responsibility - to make overt aesthetic decisions.
It rejects the notion that architectural intelligence can be reduced to a body of formal and technical knowledge. The architectural profession is constantly told that it needs to enhance its grasp of procurement, construction and project management, if it is to maintain its status in a post-Egan world. But its position is only under threat if society ceases to value the key components of design - visual intelligence, good judgement and creative critique.