As architects and thinkers we often pride ourselves on designing the most “perfect” solution. Each space is logically located and sized appropriately (often to meet the per-occupant standards). Materials are selected to convey a certain aura or emotion. Sometimes design revolves around efficiency (of space, of energy use, of flow, etc.). The slogan “Form Follows Function,” coined by Louis Sullivan and preached by other early modern designers, still resides with us today.
But can we reverse our thinking and design something that is non-functional?
Echoing the premise of the golden ratio, for an object or space to be functional, proportion is key. Whether it is between human and door, or a crowd and a stadium, or machinery and factory, there are basic minimum requirements for each space to function properly. So what happens when designers offset this proportion and pose the Goldilock dilemma, where there is no “perfect” size to the objects? Would it be considered non-functional?
The same concept applies to materiality. Some objects, like in Meret Oppenheim’s playful piece, Object, 1936, toy with function and material. Is it still usable if only its form remains true to the “original”? Or must it have 95% of the characteristics born in the original?
It depends on how we define “function.” Is “function” always attached to a label? –meaning is “sit” a function of “chair” because we have predefined a “chair” for “sitting”? Or is “function” simply a verb? A free-standing action detached from any given object. If, for the sake of the argument, assume function to be independent from the object, then we can also assume we can mix and match object and function. With each pairing, there is a degree of workability, for not every couple is a perfect fit.
This degree of fitness is related to the capacity for adaptation. As human beings, it is within our nature to be adaptive to our environments, in both the form of a space or of an object. For any given “thing,” our minds work to figure some use for it, whether or not it is appropriate. A part of the creative exercise is to break away from any presumptions and think of the other potential what-ifs. What are ten other ways to use a paperclip than to bind papers?
Any object is functional to some degree, but nothing is without any function –non-functional.