Spectacular Simplicity:

Technology + Engineering

The Functions of Architecture

1

Farshid Moussavi

Professor in Practice of Architecture

For Farshid Moussavi, practice, teaching, and theory all come together at the GSD. Since 2006, she has published a groundbreaking series of books and pamphlets under the title of “The Function of …”, using real-world examples drawn from many times and places to examine the role that basic concepts like form, style and ornament ought to play in solving the problems of modern architecture.

Common Grounds, an installation by Farshid Moussavi at the 13th Architecture Biennale in Venice The Function of Ornament by Farshid Moussavi Farshid Moussavi
Common Grounds, an installation by Farshid Moussavi at the 13th Architecture Biennale in Venice

The idea for these works began in Moussavi’s practice. The idea for the first book in the series, “The Function of Ornament,” was sparked by her work on retail spaces, where an architect faces the challenge of building large buildings whose exteriors can define urban landscapes, but whose interiors are subject to constant change and redesign based on the needs of the retailers who occupy them. But the work for the book began in the classroom. As she describes the process, “A year later I started teaching at Harvard and took the ornament research into my seminars there. Through looking at the history of ornament, it became apparent that it has never had a stable definition … and we should be free to redefine it to make it productive for contemporary architecture.”

Moussavi’s courses generate the raw material for these works by examining hundreds of examples, which she then works to refine with a team of graduate students and Function Lab, the research arm of her private firm. The result is a series of books that has garnered international praise, for both a rigorous taxonomy, and a reasoned critique of how architects use ornament, form and style in shaping our built environment, all published by the GSD. The blending of theoretical rigor, practical experience, and pedagogical dialogue is essential to advancing the theory and practice of architecture.

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