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  • B. Harper Howard

Excess Of Form: When Is It Too Much?

I have been working out an idea surrounding the excess of form in architecture and how so many of our buildings are audience-driven rather than inhabitant-driven and how this leads to structures that appear to be form-dominant. During a presentation of Frederick Kiesler’s Endless House, I found myself asking why the form of it does not speak to an idea of excess. While it features curved floors that turn into walls which turn into ceilings as well as floors which change material and textures, nothing about the space and the described experience felt excessive. The never-straight walls of the Endless House are similar to the never-straight walls of Frank Gehry’s Experience Music Project in Seattle. Yet despite the similarity, Gehry’s EMP spoke to the excess of form while Kiesler’s Endless House did not. I compared their similarities but could not work out why one seemed to be an excess of form while the other did not. It wasn’t until I attended a ‘Bordering On’ Symposium on Saturday that I gained a new perspective and a new way of looking at the disagreement of spaces. At the synposium, during the discussion about how we can break down the borders we create in our minds, panelist Haley Blakeman suggested we take a look at what we, as people, have in common and begin designing for that in an effort to see people as one unified whole rather than divided into different parts of a whole. However, Dr. Nishat Awan stated that perhaps, what we need to do is instead of understanding two things based on their commonalities, is instead look at what makes them different and begin to understand why we create our own theoretical borders; if we cannot understand the differences which cause our own borders, we cannot begin to understand how to resolve the problem. I applied this approach to Kiesler’s Endless House and Frank Ghery’s Experience Music Project and asked myself what about them is different.

The difference I found between the two projects and what differentiates one’s excess of form from the other’s not excess of form is balance and the role each space’s form play in the building’s structure. Similar to Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s idea of the Duck and Decorated Shed[1], the outside of the building should influence the inside of the building; this creates a balance. The outside of the building and its form should influence the inside of the building and its structure and speak to its inherent purpose. When that balance is nonexistent and the inside of the building is not influenced by the outside, everything on the outside becomes superfluous. The outside of Frank Gehry’s EMP does not influence the inside of it and the form does not continue to influence the interior space or the structural forms of the building. Once inside of the building, it is impossible to tell what part of the building you’re in when looking at it from outside. From the inside you can’t inherently say whether you’re in the pink section you saw from the outside while approaching the building. In contrast, Frederick Kiesler’s Endless House was developed in a way so that the structural elements of the building and the form occur simultaneously. The form cannot be removed from the building without completely destroying it. Because the same cannot be said for the EMP, I believe that the excess of form occurs when the form does not influence the interior or the structural elements to a building. When it is not necessary and becomes superfluous, it is excess.

[1] Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas (MIT Press, 1982).

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