The Art of Architecture: Finding the balance between form and function.

Author:Newman, Amy
 
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Architects often find themselves facing something of a chicken and egg dilemma. When it comes to design, what takes precedence--form or function?

"It's a great question, and it's probably a loaded question," says David McVeigh, president of RIM Architects. "You can ask ten different architects and get ten different answers."

Many of the factors that influence those answers land outside the architect's control. The client's vision for the building, its location and intended use, the project budget, and whether the design must conform to specific guidelines are all details the architect must consider when determining how much emphasis to place on aesthetics and how much on function.

Finding the proper balance is a "kind of wonderful puzzle,' says Erik Dukes, an architect in Stantec's Fairbanks office. When pieced together correctly, he says, it creates a building that benefits both the client and the community.

Form vs. Function?

Whether a building's design leans more toward aesthetics or function is dependent on the client's needs.

"A client will come and ask you for a certain project; it could be very utilitarian or they're going for a certain look," says Ross Timm, a senior architect in Stantec's Anchorage office. "We're always striving to produce an aesthetically pleasing building, but ultimately it's the client's needs that will dictate."

And budget is a significant consideration when finding the right path toward meeting client needs.

"Budget usually drives a lot, and I think the biggest challenge for architects is being able to design within a budget," McVeigh says. "A lot of owners have champagne taste, but they have a beer budget."

The type of client is a primary influencer as to whether the balance tips toward aesthetics or function. Stantec predominantly works with government agencies, Alaska Native organizations, institutional groups, and school districts. These types of organizations, he says, generally require a more utilitarian aesthetic that adheres to specific design guidelines--village washeterias, aircraft hangars, or schools, for example.

But even when function drives design, aesthetics still plays a part, even if it's a more subtle part of the overall design.

"Every opportunity is a design opportunity, and it doesn't have to be a flashy, shiny building," McVeigh says. "It can be very modest and humble, but a lot of design still goes into it."

Mark Ivy, owner and principal architect with Ivy & Co. Architects in Anchorage...

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