Shape Follows Decorated Diagram: Modes of Aligning Formal and Programmatic Expression

By Maria Fedorchenko.

Published by The International Journal of the Constructed Environment

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper analyzes a peculiar re-fit of visual appearance and functional organization in recent work by the leading Dutch practices OMA, MVRDV, and Neutelings Riedijk Architects in order to formulate their polyvalent design models. Juxtaposition of internal and external expressions of symptomatic projects signals that appearance neither strictly follows programmatic structure, nor overwrites it with autonomous formal production. Despite a potentially schizophrenic split, projects reveal a design consistency. To elucidate this paradoxical escape, three main propositions advance an alternative analytical framework. First, external expression is aligned with a conceptual shift from ‘form’ to immediate, arbitrary and adaptable ‘shape’. Second, programmed shapes are set within the general diagrammatic project, while repositioning the theoretical construct of the “abstract machine” as a practical tool. Diagrammatic control helps explain mediation between spatial and social criteria as well as pre-formal and pre-functional options. Most importantly, the investigation is structured by comparative analyses of contemporary shape diagrams and their proposed precedents – “decorated”, “concretized” and “totemized” diagrams as defined by Klaus Herdeg in his account of the faulty functionalism of Philip Johnson, John Johansen, and I. M. Pei, among others. These three modes of ‘loose fit’ (a programmatic structure concealed or simulated via decorative surface; a built diagram re-shaped as concrete material for decoration; and a programmatic assembly reworked into a totemic shape by adjusting scale, hierarchy and profile) convert the seemingly destabilizing rift into a productive alignment of formal and programmatic expression. Such loose modes of alignment ensure expedient and resilient functional schemes while leaving room for tactile textures, exuberant patterns and evocative forms. Flexible diagrammatic models allow designers to separate exterior and interior definition, switch between affect and efficiency, and reconcile formal and programmatic structures. Through implicit recovery and synthesis of previously underestimated models, the Dutch experiments mitigate the persistent divide between formalism and functionalism.

Keywords: Diagram, Decoration, Program, Functionalism, Shape, Image, Transparency, Loose Fit, Method, Technique

The International Journal of the Constructed Environment, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp.117-138. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.377MB).

Maria Fedorchenko

Course Master, School of Architecture, Architectural Association, London, UK

Maria Fedorchenko is a designer and researcher. She holds a B.Arch. and a Diploma in Urban Design from Moscow Institute of Architecture, an M.Arch. from Princeton University, and a M.A. in Architecture from UCLA. She has been involved in architectural practice in Russia, Greece and the United States, and currently heads an urban design consultancy. Maria’s work has appeared in Salon Interior, House & Interior, Art of Russia and Architectural Theory Review. Maria has taught design and theory at the Architectural Association, UC Berkeley, and UCLA, among others. Her recent research focuses on the methodology of diagrammatic diagnostics for urban analysis as well as the tools that correlate formal and programmatic design systems.