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02.03 As form beats function

The Gherkin won the sterling prize in 2004. This leaves me wondering how architects judge architecture and where this takes the practice.

The Gherkin is a building which boasts an intelligent system of wind current control and a carefully tapered structure to increase office space in relation to available floor space.

However this is also a building that shortly after construction was 70% empty and constructed for and funded by a company which insures insurance firms. The second fact is not in itself a bad thing; insurance is an intrinsic part of modern life; but it raises the question:

‘Is this the type of building in function; that should be considered so prestigious and highly praised in society and by architects?’

Built in a time of boom and before the most recent global financial crisis; for me the question regarding the role of architecture in the city is raised very succinctly by our ‘love’ of this building.

Ultimately we are judging form as having a higher importance that that of a buildings’ function; the Gherkin strikes an iconic form from many views but particularly from the axis of the Roman road it seems to sit at the apex of when travelling South through Hackney. It’s also a phallic shaped building creating a knee jerk reaction of ‘like’ of (or dislike) from the population at large.

But my criticism isn’t aimed at the general populous but at the architectural norm; as once again we decree awards based on form and have no time for functionality. I come back to the fact that this building is an office block. Within the structure itself there are no innovative systems, be it that of circulation, use, access, experiments in typology or any activity that relates to how people actually use the structure. A 360 degree view at its apex (which is not in fact a 360 view as it’s obstructed by the core structure of the building) seems to be the only experiential feature of note and bears little relation to the experience of working in the space.

Judging on the perceived beauty of a building is fine. But it raises questions of an industry that judges its output on 2 dimensional plane; a photograph will do it justice. If architects see architecture in such superficial terms how do we create better buildings as opposed to better looking ones?

I won’t write about the MaXXI centre; the 2010 winner or this prestigious prize… it’s clear to see the slide in the direction of form.

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