Function or Form?

I had a recent conversation with an roadway engineer about the Oakland project to revitalize the walkway and the Harrison/20th/Lakeside intersection in Uptown Oakland known as Lakeside Green Street. He was explaining to me that the work they were doing to build storm water treatment was a waste of time and money and we should be spending the money on preserving land to keep it undeveloped. I challenged his claim, respectfully, and asked questions to better understand his opinion (maybe he thought it was fact).  We also discussed how the Bay Bridge was a waste of money because we could have built a bridge that was a third of the cost without it’s beautification of have a tower and cables. What the difference of opinion came down to was a discussion about function over form.

“Function is much more important than form” he argued and therefore, “form comes after function”. I nodded my head, not in agreement, but now that I understood his point of view. Later I thought about our conversation because I didn’t have a good answer for him at the time because I see function and form as equals by themselves. It’s the context that drives the weight to function over form.

I pondered how form can serve as a very important function for human beings. Humans behavior is driven by emotions (don’t believe me? look at our last 2018 election). When they see beauty as part of a functioning infrastructure, it inspires them. Whether it inspires them to also build beautiful infrastructure, paint an inspiring piece, run a little bit faster at the end of their run, or to work a bit later to win that deal, the beautiful infrastructure serves the community.

To that end, form is a function. A function of inspiration.

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