Page 1

In this Digital Age, Form may still follow Function, but is Ornament still a Crime? In this Digital Age, Form may still follow Function, but is Ornament still a Crime? In this Digital Age, Form may still follow Function, but is Ornament still a Crime? In this Digital Age, Form may still follow Function, but is Ornament still a Crime?

In this Digital Age, Form may still follow Function, but is Ornament still a Crime?

by Aqeel Akbar

University of Plymouth School of Art and Media BSc Digital Art and Technology

“In this Digital Age, Form may still follow Function, but is Ornament still a Crime?”

by Aqeel Akbar April 2010


John Pakulski, who has forever been my muse, my guide, my light.



1. Abstract. 2. Introduction.

5 6

3. Louis Sullivan and Adolf Loos, the beginning of Modern Architecture.


4. Changing face of Architecture.


5. In this digital age.


6. Conclusion.


7. References.


Abstract In this digital age, digital media is increasingly becoming a common sight in architecture as mentioned by Stephen Perella in an email excerpt and in an interview with Toyo Ito. As it involves architecture, the question arises - form may follow function, but is ornament still a crime? Does an object’s ability to perform a function eliminate it’s ability to be an ornament? What role does a narrative play in ensuring the function is performed. This is what this dissertation sets out to find out. Louis Sullivan and Adolf Loos are two influential architects who set the laws for modern architecture, form follows function and ornament is a crime in their published papers respectively. They talk about the designs should only consider the function of the building and not include culture or any other external factors. Louis Sullivan, responsible for the Wainwright Building, talks about how architecture is defined by people, for the people, to the people but yet asks why is it difficult to design a building based solely on the function of it. Adolf Loos uses the ornamentation of the papuan man vs the ornamentation of the western world man as the basis to his argument, which today no longer applies. The laws are adopted by modernists and designers alike, however, fast forward to today, the architecture of today has evolved to include ornaments, for example the Sony Building in New York City, signaling not only a change in times but also challenging laws set. Next Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Tim Otto Roth, Erwin Redl, and Jenny Holzer are just some of the artists I look at who incorporate architecture within their installations. I look in closer detail how I demonstrate how their designs require the uninformed viewer to have a narrative to avoid their installations being rendered as an ornament with no function, for example in Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s, Displaced Emperors in Austria, requires people to use a wireless sensor to explore Chapultepec Castle, which is projected onto Hadsburg Castle. He brings together two locations with a denominator, i.e. the Maximilian Empire, however if the uninformed viewer weren’t informed of what the artist was demonstrating this link, the uninformed viewer would only see a cinematic performance with no understanding of the plot. Overall, I believe that ornament should not be a crime but what should be a crime is if the artist fails to inform the uninformed viewer of the function of the ornament.

Introduction Modern Architecture and as a result modernism, was established by two main laws back in the early 1900s. The first set by Louis Sullivan, a prominent architect who was responsible for buildings like the Wainwright Building in Chicago, Illnois and Prudential Building in Buffalo, New York. He set the standard that, “form ever follows function”, or more simply, form follows function, in his published paper entitled, “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered” in 1896. The other rule was set by Adolf Loos, an architect who is considered one of the leading architectural writers in the twentieth century according to Joseph Rykwert of Studio Magazine. Adolf Loos published in 1908, “Ornament und Verbrechen”, and in this paper he discusses the use of ornament and how it is irrelevant to the modern man in a civilised and moral society, and stating it is a crime to use an ornament. Both Sullivan and Loos statements are about how cultural influences should have no bearing on the design of the building, but rather the function of the building. Together these statements were adopted by modernists, such as Mies Van Rohe in most approaches to design they made. However, fast forward to today where the use of digital media in architectural space is an increasingly commonly used practice. Toyo Ito is one such architect who supports this, he talks about how we are no longer considering architecture as a primitive body, but in actual fact we are now combining this body with another, which holds electronic information connected to the rest of the world and forming a whole new body. Stephen Perella, a journalist architect, talks in his email to Brian Massumi, a political philosopher, about how digital media has forced architecture to address culture, but yet still form follows function. Artists, such as Erwin Redl are utilising digital media or art and architecture to demonstrate the space within it. Some like Rafael Lozano-Hemmer have developed, with the use of digital media, a new type of architecture known as relational architecture, i.e. the assigning of narrative and virtual memory to actual architecture. Commercially, building energy management systems are being incorporated into operating systems such as Arch-OS in the University of Plymouth, UK, are being set up to monitor the output of buildings and visualisations such as the digital waterfall created by Dr. Chris Speed, are being created to raise awareness of the consumptions. Tim Otto Roth connects realtime scientific simulations from Dresden in Germany to Rotterdam and creates a large light facade on the KPN Tower, showing pixel sex in an amoeba like movement. In science fiction movies, like the Minority Report released in 2002, we have video projections near the entrances of buildings personalised to individuals who approach it. Even in Star Trek, we have status of the ships current environment situation displaced through different light status, i.e. red alert for offensive scenarios.

So the question is, since architecture is no longer just about the simple elements and function, and the use of digital media can be an aesthetic visualisation or tool ergo an ornament, and we are seeing the merging of these of two forms to form a unique and dynamic body. Should ornament still be called a crime even though now it can be a form that follows function? Does an object’s, or in this case digital media in architecture, ability to perform a function eliminate its ability to be an ornament, and to what extent is the knowledge and ability to access or understand the function by the end user or audience play a role in the status as an ornament. What role does narrative play in ensuring the function is performed? This is what my dissertation will set out to answer. I will demonstrate how the use of digital media is being used in architecture and show that this is an aesthetic feature i.e. an ornament, and it does have a functional purpose, and conforms to Louis Sullivan’s rule, however I will demonstrate that since ornament is now widely being used, it should no longer be considered as a crime. This dissertation will be divided into four parts, first looking at the adopted laws for modern architecture set by Adolf Loos and Louis Sullivan. The second will present that digital art/media is becoming an common practice in architecture, drawing in comments from Stephen Perella, an architect journalist, and Toyo Ito, a well known Japanese architect prominent in conceptual architecture. Briefly, I will also look at how architecture has changed the early 1900s and today, demonstrating how ornament has found it’s way back in the process of design in a number of buildings. Following this, I will move onto looking at how artists are using architecture to develop their installations and show how form still follows function. Finally, I will conclude the dissertation drawing on the examples that have mentioned throughout this dissertation, to highlight how the laws set by Loos and Sullivan have been addressed, and discuss whether or not they have been sustained in this digital age.


Louis Sullivan & Adolf Loos, The Beginnings of Modern Architecture. An ornament according to a cambridge english dictionary is an object that is used to make something more attractive without any real purpose. It is usually a reflection of culture and times of when it was made. It has great historical significance and can be evidenced through architectural history. For example, Chateau de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley in France, the ornament signifies the French Renaissance. The Italian Renaissance can be seen through buildings such as Pazzi Chapel in Florence, Italy. Many more examples can be noted, however, the point is, ornament represents the time in which it was created. It dates a building, making it easier for us to recognise the era it was built in. The other key thing to remember, at the time of production it wasn’t considered an ornament, meaning it did have a functional aspect. For instance, it can give the status of a building, give a protective barrier i.e. ward o evil spirits, as

Fig.1. Wainwright Building. Chicago, by Louis

well as a number of functions applicable to the time it was installed. Today, however, they may not have a function or bearing to us other than a object that makes it look pretty, especially to the uninformed viewer. In the 1900s, however, we were going through a change in era, where we were in the Industrialisation period. An era where machine was rapidly coming to light and architects were now looking at how to make buildings to reflect this era, but yet conflicted with ornaments. Louis Sullivan and Adolf Loos chose to embrace modernism and shake off ornaments. This section will take a look at the papers published by Louis Sullivan and Adolf Loos and discuss their theories in detail, highlighting how they can interlinked and at the same time are very different. Louis Sullivan himself is considered to be one of America’s first modern architects, where he created unique original designs without any historical influence and his work is widely linked with Art Nouveau. As he was designing and building the Wainwright Building in Chicago, a tall steel skyscraper, he penned a paper entitled, “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered” published in by Lippincott Magazine in March 1896. It was here where he came up with rule : ‘It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things human and all things super-human, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the Soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.’ (Sullivan 1896) In this paper, Louis Sullivan writes that he doesn’t challenge social conditions, but rather looks at what the building’s brief is in the plainest way and addresses a way to solve the problem. The problem being in this case a building that will house offices that are needed for business. In a little more detail, he talks about how there is a need for a basement to house the amenities such as boilers and power, a ground floor that would be of open space to house shops, banks and be accessible to all, a second floor that reflects the liberality of the structure and has the ability to house further open space structures and then above this multiple stories of offices where the main hub and functionality of the building will take place. The building itself is designed on the outside with clean cut edges as a reflection of what is going on inside, a new modern era of offices that are clean, structured and organised. Throughout the paper, Louis Sullivan makes it clear what the building’s function is but he goes on to ask as to why it is so difficult for us to accept creating a building based solely on its function, and that if function doesn’t change, i.e. the function of the building in the brief, then why should the form change. His prose is very adamant and in a way quite angry about the way a building should be designed. It’s interesting 9

how he concludes the paper by saying an architecture will only live because of the people, for the people and by the people. This statement alone is very powerful to me, to me it means we alone have the power to control the life and the function of the architecture. For example, the parthenon’s function is now only a tourist site, and not a temple as it was in the Greek Ages. In 1908, Adolf Loos published a paper called, Ornament und Verbrechen, which means Ornament and Crime in English. According to Joseph Rykwert of Studio International, Adolf Loos is considered to be the major writer of the twentieth century architects and was described as an architect who had a keen interest in the function of a building and a great interest in ornaments. He mentions a papuan in his paper, and talks about the differences between the papuan and the western world, and how one is considered a criminal (i.e. the western man) if he lives the life of a papuan in the western, modern and civilised world, whereas the papuan is considered civilised in his own world and is allowed to do tattooing, a form of ornamentation. It is this statement, he says that ornamentation is acceptable in an uncivilised society, however since we live in a modern age whereby Man is considered civilised and moral - ornamentation, i.e. tattooing would be considered as criminal or degenerate, therefore the use of ornamentation is a crime. In architecture, he says that the use of ornamentation is not only time consuming, a waste of resources but also once an ornament is applied, it becomes dated. It’s interesting to know the time when he wrote this was, when the art nouveau movement was coming about and as a consequent it has become one of the fundamentals to Bauhaus Design Studio and is also a basis for many other design disciplines. The two laws set by Louis Sullivan and Adolf Loos are considered to be the basis for modern architecture, and leads the basis for simple modern designs, inspiring many architects such as Mies Van der Rohe. However, while these two have very different aspects of looking at architectural design, they can interlink. For instance, people may question if a functional aspect of a building is a crime, i.e. an ornament. Meaning, sometimes an ornament has to be introduced as it shows the identity of of a building, shows direction, therefore it does have a functional aspect. As a result you find yourself in a situation whereby you obey Louis Sullivan’s rule, “Form follows function”, and then find yourself contravening Adolf Loos’s rule, “Ornament is a crime”. This makes me think, if we are questioning if an ornament is functional or not, they should it be deemed a crime, surely if something is useful then it shouldn’t be a crime. This is why these two contexts go hand in hand and complement each other, if used exclusively, they would contradict each other and modern architecture or design would never have been established.


Whilst the two are interlinked, it is important to remember that the two still are very dierent from each other in terms of concepts. The rule ornament is a crime, is about aesthetics, i.e. the column designs in Greek Architecture are considered ornaments today but not back in the Greek era, and in modernism, the style was very much about the machine age. Meaning, back in history the intricate designs created on architecture were man made, time consuming and took a lot of man power. To build these ornaments, you required a lot of money and therefore it’s seen as an economic status, a sign of wealth and power. Whereas in the Machine age, man has been replaced by machines who are being used to fill in the gap in simple straight forward tasks on a large scale. Since machines are about mass production, smaller costs, and reduction of time, the detail is no longer necessary and all it does is prolong the manufacturing time therefore the ornament becomes phased out. Whereas the rule form follows function, is about the functionality of the object in question, not the aesthetics. It can be about the aesthetics, but it’s questioning the functionality of it, not the actual design or necessity of an intricate design/ ornament.


Changing Face of Architecture. Before I discuss the examples of digital art/media being incorporated into architecture, I want to demonstrate that architecture is not just about the simple elements and architects are utilising digital media in their designs. In addition, briefly I want to show how architecture is changing and including ornaments in their designs. Today, the talk of using digital media in architecture has become a common topic in the architect circles. One of the most avant-garde and distinguished architects of today, Toyo Ito, addresses this issue of digital media being incorporated in architecture in one of his interviews published online. Toyo Ito talks about how architecture, which once upon was, but is no longer just about considering the natural elements such as air and water. He says, it is now also about an urban space being, ‘connected to the rest of the world’ (cited by Stephen Perella, 1997) through an electronic connection. This new form of architecture has coined the term Hypersurface Architecture. Stephen Perella discusses this creation in an email to Brian Massumi in 1997. He writes that Hypersurface architecture is an ‘emerging architectural/cultural condition‘ ( Perella, 1998: 7) product of the way architecture and culture have reacted, something that Louis Sullivan and Adolf Loos have maintained that they should always be kept separate. Stephen furthers writes that while modernism avoided ornament in the past, today Hypersurface Architecture brings in ornament, exactly what Adolf Loos considers a crime. However, I think it is important to realise that there has been a shift over the last century in the style of architecture and the attitude to ornaments despite the modernism era and without digital media’s influence. Since the 1900s, buildings have slowly started incorporating ornaments irrespective of what Adolf Loos’ Law. In light of this, I wouldn’t dismiss Adolf Loos on this basis, I would however dismiss him on the basis of his use of a papuan and western man explanation. This is because at the time he wrote if the western man was tattoo himself he would therefore be considered criminal and degenerate. In contrast, today man can wear tattoos without any judgement from society and is not considered to be criminal, degenerate or immoral. So while his argument for ornament may have been true in Loos’ time, but today it isn’t. In addition, Louis Sullivan talks about how designs should reflect the current economic climate i.e. the machine age, and the function of the building. At the time of Louis Sullivan’s publication, the machine was not capable of carrying out complex tasks, therefore the architecture reflect a clean cut non-intricate designs, similar to that of Sullivan’s Wainwright Building. Today we live in the age of supercomputers, therefore machines are now able to carry out complex tasks and

more detail, so therefore our designs/buildings are about the detailing on the clean cut designs. If we look over the last century, we can see the transitions happening, starting from the Wainwright Building, which we have already discussed in the dissertation, then move onto the AT&T Building, which is now known as the Sony Building in New York City. According to Karl Galinsky, who wrote in his article Classical and Modern Interactions (1992), that this was a modern building built on a classical base and has a large chippendale style like ornament on the head. This building alone challenges modern architecture of form follows function and ornament is a crime and to some critics this is considered a prime example of post modernism. As we move on, Patrick Blanc has brings together nature and architecture in an extreme sense. He creates a vertical garden for the Musee des Arts Premiers Quay Branley in Paris in 2004. Here you can see he has turned in a sense the non existent front garden into an ornament and attached it to the exterior to the building. He has completed dierent examples of this style, for example in Madrid (see above). In a way, he is bringing back what modernisation has slowly depleted in the past.

Fig.2. El-Jardin Vertical. Madrid, by Patrick Blanc 13

In a similar manner, Thomas Heatherwick attempts to bring driftwood to East Beach Cafe, built in 2007 in Littlehampton, West Sussex, UK (see left). Here the building is made up of layers, layers inspired by driftwood. It’s interesting to see how there is no longer any clean cut lines on this structure, and one might argue that this is a cafe and not an office building, and therefore function is different and shouldn’t reflect the clean cut lines but rather the ripples of the sea and the layers of driftwood deposited. If you think about it, the function of the cafe is to provide a service of refreshments and beverages and not driftwood. However, I think as it is on a beach and a cafe, one of the common sights that the beach gets is driftwood, and the function of the building is serve food on a beach that would have lots of driftwood. Linking in the buildings surrounding environment and culture is apt in this sense.

Fig.3. East Beach Cafe, Littlehampton, by Thomas Heatheriwck

As I have demonstrated briefly, more and more architects are incorporating ornaments in their designs. We are seeing some critics saying that we have entered a post modernism era, for example the Sony Building in New York City, USA, the key thing is, form still follows function irrespective of the ornament and even if an ornament is present, it shouldn’t be considered a crime. To understand why ornament shouldn’t be considered a crime, let’s take a look at the law system in a generalised way. A crime is normally something that is considered not the norm, immoral, and that a minority carries out. However, if the majority commit the crime and is 14

considered the norm, the law system finds itself at odds and then is forced to change itself to no longer accept that as a crime. For example, there is a law in the United Kingdom, that it is illegal to go to a fancy dress party dressed as a soldier or a sailor as part of the 1906 Act of Parliament. However, today it would not be considered a crime to wear a soldiers or a sailors outfit at a fancy dress. Similarly, today if lots of architects are adopting ornament in their final piece, it should not be considered a crime.


In this Digital Age. In this chapter, I am going to look at how artists starting off with Rafael Lozano- Hemmer first and then other see how other artists are incorporating architecture and digital media in their installations. Since they are using architecture and it does play a key role in their overall design, I think it is important to address the same foundation laws to modern architecture, ( those of Louis Sullivan’s And Adolf Loos’ laws) to these installations. I will look in detail how digital media overall uses the architecture in it’s final design and then discuss how form follows function, in line with Louis Sullivan’s Law, and then finally i’ll address whether the end user or audience plays a role in the status of the installation being an ornament. An example of where Louis Sullivan’s rule, form follows function, can be applied is Rafael LozanoHemmer’s “Displaced Emperors”, a digital art piece that was presented in Linz, Austria in 1997. Here he shows a historical link between Austria and Mexico and attempts to bring them together in one location for the public. Back in 1864, the Austrian Maximilian of Hadsburg had an empire that covered parts of Mexico and they had a residence in Mexico City known as Chapultepec Castle. Using this knowledge, what Lozano-Hemmer has achieved is an interactive projection projected onto Hadsburg Castle in Linz, Austria, whereby people can use a wireless sensor and be able to peek or uncover the Chapultepec Castle in Austria. It’s a challenging piece as it brings knowledge separated by vast amounts of distance, to one location and it also shows the tension between virtual and physical architecture. This is also a key example of relational architecture, a type of architecture where the actual architecture is combined with a narrative and virtual memory. In reference to the law by Sullivan, what Rafael has achieved is a functional artistic piece of the architecture, rather than merely using any building as a backdrop for the installation. He has utilised the fact that Castle Hadsburg was part of the Maximilian residences back in the 1800s and allowed people to use this as a basis to compare it to the Castle Chapultepec. I find myself conflicted in trying to work out whether it is an ornament. On the one hand, this visual aesthetic without any narrative, the end user would not recognise the Chapultepec Castle being projected onto the Hadsburg Castle, therefore it is completely devoid of any meaning or purpose. Also if you didn’t have the wireless sensor then all you would be having is a cinematic performance. So if there was no narrative explaining what the installation is all about then this is in effect an ornament to the informed user.

Fig.4. Displaced Emperors, Austria by Rafael Lozano Hemmer (1997)

The same be said for his installation, “Pulse Park” in 2008 in Madison Square Park, New York. He achieves this by setting up two sculptures on either end of the park and people can place their hands on these sculptures. As they do, readings of their diastolic and systolic beats are then taken. The readings from the sculptures are then visualised through two hundred spotlights that form a pulsating matrix and the matrix switches off and on according to the feeds from the sculptures. Here he establishes and visually shows the symbiotic relationship between the park and the people who use the park through a light installation. This is very much in line with Louis Sullivan’s comment about how a piece of architecture only lives because of the people, for the people and for the people. However, if I didn’t speak or read english, to me all I would see are


two sculptures that people touched and flashing lights, therefore this would be merely an ornament to me, i.e. an object that just looking pretty with no real purpose.

Fig.5. Pulse Park, NYC, by Rafael Lozano - Hemmer (2008)

Two Origins, is another piece by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, installed at the Place du Capitole, Toulouse, France. In this piece, Lozano-Hemmer uses old scriptures taken from The Book of Two Origins which belong to a group known as the Dualists Cathars, a sect based in Toulouse that believed in dualistic universe, i.e. there was a God, who ruled the spirits, was in conflict with satan, who ruled over matter. In this piece he projects an overlap of two scriptures from the book via two projectors onto the Place du Capitole, and when the public obstruct one of the projections, in their shadows the other scripture becomes visible and legible. In this piece he tries to get people to uncover a truth and a belief that had been wiped out, and bring together two dissimilar degrees of experiences out into the open hence he uses the Dualist Cathars as the subject as they were wiped out during the crusade in France to give rise to the Inquisition and France.. He uses the Place du Capitole as a backdrop to his art piece as the venue use to be a place where the governing magistrates resided. Whilst people may observe the texts and realise it is from the Book of Origins, they may not understand the link between Place Du Capitole, as it is a city hall and houses the opera and orchestra symphony. They also may not understand what 18

the artist is trying achieve through the means of text being projected onto the building, equally they may not even recognise the Book of Two Origins, or even know who the Dualists Cathars are. So with a narrative, he’s demonstrated that this is an ornament and has a function to the uninformed viewer.

Fig.6. Two Origins, Toulouse by Rafael Lozano - Hemmer

1000 Platitudes installed in 2003 on the city skyline of Linz, Austria by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is an example of where an ornament could be considered a crime on first impressions, however looking closely suggests otherwise. Here he doesn’t really use the architecture in context but merely as a backdrop for his projections. What he sets out to do is come up with a thousand words by use of video clips and photo montages that have been used to describe the city to prospective investors, and project them onto the city’s skyline. He achieves this by use of a powerful projector placed on a truck with a generator and moving around the city to light up different parts. In doing so, he visually demonstrates what the actual city is about in a literal sense. In this installation, he’s using the buildings not for the context in which the building is being used for but rather as a canvas so he can put these words onto the city skyline. Shopping centres, civic buildings, warehouses and business centres were transformed just for the displays. While these are key to the whole development of the project and contribute to the 1000 platitudes, the projections of letters didn’t correspond to the buildings themselves. The key thing to remember is that architecture covers space as well, and what this installation has done 19

has given the space a function to welcome potential foreign investors. Since his target is to show the words being described the city to potential foreign investors, without any narrative the only people who know what the words are being used are the people who are in direct contact with these potential investors. To anybody who isn’t, these are merely a demonstration of letters and words being projected onto buildings, and not really serve any purpose.

Fig.7. 1000 Platitudes, Austria, by Rafael Lozano - Hemmer (2003)

Another prominent artist who combines architecture and digital media in their art work is Tim Otto Roth. As part of his of Pixelsex series, he used the KPN Tower, houses the dutch telecom company headquarters, KPN Telecom, in Rotterdam in 2005 - 2006 to visualise the population movement of an amoeba like pixels. Here with the help of seventy six monochrome light panels placed on the tower, he connected them via a network to the High Performance Computing Centre in Dresden, where a real time simulation of the pixels ran. The pixels work by mating and dying based on the myxo bacteria’s population movements via mathematical simulation. Tim Otto Roth says it is presented on the building to involve the spectator, key to this project, because they will realise that Pixelsex is a similar process inside in their body. Louis Sullivan in his paper, also talks about the function of the architecture only living through the people. Whilst the people are key to this installation, to anybody else who doesn’t know what the artist is trying to achieve, what they would see is intermitting light panels turning off and on, and would not understand the reference to the installation. While Pixelsex, may serve no real purpose to the function of the building, it does however add a new element to it by complementing the the company by the use of realtime data, connecting two cities together. It also brings maths and life sciences together and provide a visually artistic piece for the public. This ornament would bear no function if artists statement of what’s he trying to achieve here was not available, and without it, the ornament very abstract and noticeable on the city’s skyline. Another possible abstract ornament made by Time Otto Roth, is Imachination.


Fig.8. PixelSex , Rotterdam, by Tim Otto Roth (2005-6)

“Imachination” is an installation, which looks materiality and image placement, involves an amalgamation of maths and art over a period of a hundred days, (March 2006). It was installed on the Centre for Arts and Media, ZKM Karlsruhe and the Centre for Computer Science Schloß Dagstuhl, Germany. The word, Imachination, comes from the incorporation of scheme (machination) and an interactive computer element (i). Here Otto Roth creates an extremely slow movie, i.e. one frame per day, and this gets superimposed via an LED matrix placed upon the building. As it is a very abstract image that comes through, and one has to look at it carefully to see that the images are patterns of vertical scales, Imachination attempts to highlight the link between machine and the human imagination, ergo is a reflection of the current machine era. I believe he is trying to reflect the cybernetics age, i.e. the control of systems between machines and living things. Again without any narrative from the artist, it would be considered as an ornament to the installation. I have explored to see if Tim Otto Roth’s piece serves any real function to the buildings mentioned with a lot difficulty. While it may seem obvious, computer 21

science building and arts and media centre, I wonder whether this was by coincidence or not. Nevertheless, since this is an art installation, it does have a function and it’s an ornament to the building.

Fig.9. Imachination, Germany, by Tim Otto Roth (2006)

Jenny Holzer is an american artist, who is very famous for her Truism series installed around New York City. In September to October 2005, she used a series of poetries and excerpts of documents placed onto building via a xenon projection. In her installation she includes the space and surrounding architecture, the cityscape, the public and time in her overall piece. In all her pieces she attempts to challenge current affairs, media and methods by bringing them to the public and integrating them into the city. In doing so, she assigns an ornament to the architecture with a function to bring to the public, i.e. a message. However, whilst the uninformed viewer would understand the phrases’ irony, as they are challenges to the current state of affairs, they may not necessarily understand why the particular architectural was selected. For all the uninformed viewer know, the space was utilised because it had a good canvas to project on. So here is the ornament element of this installation. However, to the informed user, they would take in the environment and the projection into context and it no longer becomes an ornament.


Fig.10. Truism Series, Jenny Holzer (2005)

Fig. 11. Tampa Public Mood Ring, USA, Will Pappenheimer and Chipp Jansen (2009)


The Tampa Public Mood Ring, produced by Will PappenHeimer and Chipp Jansen was installed in 2009 in Tampa, Florida, USA as a run up to their hosting of the Superbowl. The Superbowl is a hugely popular national sporting event in the United States of America and to celebrate the city’s hosting of the Superbowl last year, they created a generative networked performance in the form of a mood ring structure. An interactive structure whereby people can walk through and be immersed in light, which would react according to feeds of the Football season. Members of the public were given the opportunity and encourage to go to a website and post comments and rate their mood towards to the Superbowl, for example they could be excited about a particular team playing. As a result the lighting of the Public Mood Ring would change accordingly to reflect that mood, it offers a projection of the aura generated by public supporting the Superbowl, being shown to people who walk into the steel structure where they are immersed in the collected aura. Relating back to Louis Sullivan’s law, the openness of the structure integrates sport, feeling and telepresence and allows people to walk through and thereby be immersed into the lighting auras of the Superbowl’s virtual moods, shows that form follows function. Again, without any narrative or knowledge of the website, the uninformed user would walk through and not really understand the purpose of the structure, ergo an ornament. Erwin Redl, an austrian artist, installed Nocturnal Flow in Paul. G. Allen Center, Washington. Here he installed from floor to ceiling a ten thousand LED matrix installed on an eighty five foot wall in the atrium of the building. Here what Erwin Redl tries to achieve is the significance of the height and links the floors together. The LEDs within the matrix is maintained by the surrounding light within the atrium and a light sensor at the top of building. The light sensor is affected by the external building conditions i.e. weather. By day, the daylight passes through the matrix and it is lit evenly. By night the matrix comes to life and moves to the top of the building, and the activity of the LEDs are also controlled by the light sensor. What he attempts here is to actually turn virtual space into physical space. This can also been seen in his Matrix Series (2000 - ). Initially one first impressions, the uninformed viewer would would not recognise the function of the this installation and merely it as an aesthetic. However, if the viewer looks at it for awhile at a distance they are able to realise the effect of the LED matrix between the floors without the need for any narrative. They can see the effect of the light matrix linking in the floors and become an experience user. In contrast, if you were close up to the matrix and couldn’t see the matrix from a distance and between the floors, you would consider it as an ornament, unless there was a narrative explaining it.


Fig. 12. Matrix Series, Washington, USA, Erwin Redl (2009) 25

Arch-OS is the name given to a ubiquitous operating system installed in one of the buildings in the University of Plymouth, UK. It’s comprised of a building energy management system, electronic networks i.e. computer and communications, interactions socially and peoples movement, environmental and noise conditions. It collects all the raw data and captures recordings and video footage and makes it available for visual artists to process and work with. It was developed to show the life of the building. It is inline with what Louis Sullivan writes in his paper, how architecture is defined by the people, for the people and to the people, for instance this operating system, shows how the people are actually defining the building. To the uninformed viewer, they wouldn’t have access to this operating system, unless they knew it was there, so therefore it is ornament without them really realising it is there. Meaning, if somebody who walked into the building and wasn’t aware of Arch-OS, they would walk through the building none the wiser, nor would they have any reason to access it. The visual outputs such as the Digital Waterfall, where the speed of the waterfall is controlled by the water consumption in the building; Flock an three dimensional audio installation of a flock of birds generated by tracking the number and directions of people within a particular building; all these visuals and audios allow people to see how they are impacting the building and consequently their carbon foot print if a narrative was attached to it. If there wasn’t a narrative, again these outputs are merely ornaments. This is a very subtle installation targeting visual artists, researchers and people who have contact of some form with this type of installation. The raw data again can be only collected if you have knowledge of the system via the internet, you can see it. In fact, upon walking though this building there is no sign or mention of Arch-OS in the atrium of the building, the most public space of them all. So really this installation is only functional to a target audience, otherwise it’s an ornament to people outside this target.


Conclusion. Adolf Loos’ law states ornament is a crime and Louis Sullivan’s law states that form must follow function. Today, form may follow function, ornament however, is now becoming an increasingly common sight in architecture as demonstrated by the Sony Building in New York City, USA and the East Beach Cafe in Littlehampton, UK. Ultimately ornament should not be called a crime, in fact I believe failure to convey the function of an object to an uninformed viewer, thereby rendering it as an ornament without a function, is a crime. This is because in examples like the Pulse Park, which was installed in Madison Square Park, New York City, all features have a functional aspect and it is only known to the uninformed viewer if a narrative has been conveyed to them, they are no longer deemed as an object that looks attractive with no purpose. The same applies for Tim Otto Roth’s Pixelsex, if people don’t realise that this is an installation showing the lifecycle of pixels, they would be none the wiser and would merely see this as installation of intermitting lights. Adolf Loos makes his argument about ornament is a crime based on the man adopting the papuan’s ornaments in a western world and society back in the 1900s. However today, we embrace culture and our standards of morality have risen above to that of what is considered to that of the 1900s. Adolf Loos’ argument that ornament is a crime, no longer holds any basis. In addition to this, the law’s were made in the beginning of the machine age, where machines were not capable of carrying out complex tasks, but more simple and easy tasks quickly. Hence the designs reflect a simple, clean cut and non-detailed nature such as the Wainwright building. Today, we live in era of super computers, capable of carrying out the most complex calculations and machines being able to do complex intricate tasks, therefore our designs can now adopt a more intricate nature. It is now possible to create objects on par of an ornament still with function. Looking at law in a generalised way, as mentioned before a crime is normally something that is considered an act of offence to the state that is prosecuting and is usually carried out my a minority of the population. If majority of people commit a particular crime, then the law system has to change to accommodate this and therefore no longer accept that as a crime. the more common the practice of using ornaments becomes in our designs, the more likely the law will change to adopt and allow ornaments. So if we’re seeing an increase in the number of ornaments, it should no longer be considered a crime.

If we were to maintain Adolf Loos’ law, then we would need to keep the viewers uninformed. This is because if the uninformed viewer gets a narrative to go with the installations of digital media in architecture, then they would no longer be considered an uninformed viewer, but an informed viewer. Therefore they would know what the function of the ornament is, and realise how it is key to the overall picture and no longer consider the ornament as an ornament but rather a functional object. For example in Jenny Holzer’s installations, when the informed viewer sees how the projection links in the surrounding environment and architecture, they will see all parts as a functional piece. Whereas to the uninformed viewer who doesn’t take everything into context, would consider it as ornament as they wouldn’t understand how everything links into together. Similarly, if the people walked through the Tampa Mood Ring without any knowledge of what it presented, people would be immersed in changing lights with no idea why they were changing, i.e. keeping them uninformed, would make the ornament be deemed as a crime. This also brings me onto what Louis Sullivan says in his paper, and something I have repeated several times throughout this dissertation. The architecture will live because of the people, for the people, to the people. So if people are being involved into the installation like in Displaced Emperors, where people can bring to light the Chapultepec Castle by means of a wireless sensor on the Hadsburg Castle, then they are personally involved in the installation and may no longer deem it as a crime, but rather a useful tool to show the history associated with the architecture. Similarly Two Origins, allows people to be involved in the installation and they can uncover the scriptures from the book of Two Origins. This installation uncovers an event that happened many years ago and people discover the truth behind it. Again, the viewer can decide whether or not this is a crime or not, i.e. the ornament. Arch-OS is an operating system designed for a specific target audience and I believe it should be up to the specific target audience’s choice to deem whether or not the ornament is a crime. If form follows function, then in the new digital age, maybe the digital ornament needs to be redefined. In each example given, the work can only exist as an ornament where the viewer, user or audience is uninformed - the moment narrative is applied and we gain understanding of what the work tries to achieve , its role as an ornamental piece is changed, the work undertaken combines with the existing form to deliver a new function. Where rapidly evolving technology allows us to create a whole new world of possibilities, ornament may still be a crime. As the alien looks on, unaware of what is being delivered, they may see nothing more than a 21st century gimmick, a display of lights and sounds, of bars and


cells illuminating, of words projected on a city skyline, they see nothing more than a high tech ornamental presentation with no purpose or meaning. Throughout this dissertation, I have demonstrated how digital media in architecture has a function and can be constituted as a ornament to the architecture in question, however the artists make sure the uninformed viewer has a narrative and therefore convert the uninformed viewer to an informed viewer, thus giving the ornament a function. Ornament and crime remain interlinked, but the crime is delivering a piece devoid of narration, with no explanation or definition, for producing a piece unsympathetic to the architecture it inhabits for no other reason than “we can�.


References. Bibliography Perella, S. (1998). Hypersurface Theory: Architecture>. In: Toy, M Hypersurface Architecture. London: John Wiley & Sons Ltd. p7-15. Shankon, E.A (2009). Art and Electronic Media. London: Phaidon Press Limited. p73-77, 217. Paul. C (2003). Digital Art. London: Thames & Hudson. p71-82. Colletti, M and Cruz, M. (2008). Convoluted Flesh: A synthetic approach to analogue and digital architecture. In: Castle, H Protoarchitecture. London: John Wiley & Sons Ltd. p36-44. Webography E T Dankwa . (2009). Sony Building. Available: Last accessed 22nd April 2010. (2001). Arch-OS. Available: Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Limbomedia. (2000). Casting-Out. Available: index.html. Last accessed 22nd April 2010. David Milam. (2002). Understand Virtual Reality in Architecture: The Mergin of Theory and Praxis. Available: Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Florian Resatsch and Daniel Michelis. (2007). Integrated Ubiquitous Computing - Designiung Urban Space with Digital Media. Available: Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Jenny Holzer. (Unknown). Projections. Available: Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Unknown. (Unknown). Excerpts from Adolf Loos: Ornament is a Crime. Available: http:// Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Jen Carlson. (2008). Madison Square Park Checks Your Pulse. Available: 2008/10/08/madison_square_park_checks_your_pul.php. Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Joanne Molina. (2008). EXHIBITIONS SAN DIEGO. ERWIN REDL: MATRIX II. THE MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, SAN DIEGO.. Available: 2008/02/exhibitions-s-4.html. Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Erwin Redl. (2009). Portfolio. Available: Last accessed 22nd April 2010.

Unknown. (Unknown). Erwin Redl. Available: ErwinRedl/ยง. Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Joseph Rykwert. (1973). Adolf Loos: The New Vision.Available: Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Alexis Lloyd. (2006). 1,000 Platitudes. Available: Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Unknown. (2007-2010). Two Origins, Relational Architecture 7. Available: http:// Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Rafael Lozano Hemmer. (2003). 1000 Platitudes.Available: english/projects/1000platitudes.htm. Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Rafael Lozano Hemmer. (2010). Information. Available: home.html. Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Susan Rollig. (2008). Ornament ohne Vebrechen.Available: 2008/10/11/ornament-ohne-verbrechen/#more-2150. Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Frances Richard. (2003). Erwin Redl: Riva Gallery - Reviews: New York. Available: http:// Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Ceci Moss. (2008). Matrix II: LED Installation. Available: reblog.php/4085. Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Unknown. (2006). Quai Branly Museum. Available: quai_branly_mus.html. Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Unknown. (2007). James Carpenter. Available: Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Toyo Ito. (c.2001). Image of Architecture in Electronic Age.Available: http:// Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Patrick Blanc. (Unknown). Walls. Available: Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Unknown. (Unknown). Unknown. Available: Last accessed 22nd April 2010. Creative Time. (2003). Matrix X by Erwin Redl. Available: archive/2003/MartixX/matrixX/artchicago.html. Last accessed 23 April 2010. Simon Glynn. (2001). AT & T (Sony) Building by Philip Johnson, 1984. Available: http:// Last accessed 24 April 2010.


Imagography. Fig. 1 Unknown. unknown. Wainwright Building [Photography] Available: Last accessed 24 April 2010. Fig. 2 Akbar A. 2009. El - Jardin Vertical [Photograph], (Aqeel Akbar’s private collection) Fig. 3 Andy Stagg & Gavin Jackon. 2007. [Photograph] Available: http:// picturegallery_v_w_d_fullimages_v_w_d_12057-20-1_f.jpg,499,1,,0,+%2520+%2520Click %2520window%2520to%2520close%2520+%2520+%2520,picturegallery, 0,0,,0,499,333,,FFFFFF,.._v_w_d_vwd_scripts_v_w_d_,-%2520-%2520click%2520screen%2520to %2520close%2520-%2520- Last accessed 24 April 2010 Fig. 4 AntiModular Research. 1997. [Photograph] Available: english/images.htm#displaced Last accessed 24 April 2010 Fig. 5 Madison Square Park Conservancy. 2008. [Photograph] Available: 2008/10/08/madison_square_park_checks_your_pul.php Last accessed 24 April 2010 Fig. 6 AntiModular Research. 2002. [Photograph] Available: english/images.htm#twoorigins Last accessed 24 April 2010 Fig. 7 AntiModule Research. 2007. [Photograph] Available: english/images.htm#1000platitudes Last accessed 24 April 2010 Fig. 8 Tim Otto Roth. [Photography] Available: towervonunten.jpg Last accessed 24 April 2010. Fig. 9 Tim Otto Roth. [Photography] Available: alexandria/bilder/ bibalexconcept050827.jpg Last accessed 24 April 2010. Fig. 10 Attilio Marazano. [Photography] Available: JennyHolzerForTheCity.jpg Last accessed 24 April 2010. Fig. 11 Marina Zurkow. 2009. [Photography] Available: uploads/2009/01/willp1010054.jpg Last accessed 24 April 2010. Fig. 12 Lara Swimmer. [Photography] Available: ErwinRedl/nf1.jpg Last accessed 24 April 2010.


In this Digital Age, Form may still follow Function, but is Ornament still a Crime?  

A look at how the laws for modern architecture apply to todays digital media in architecture.

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you