Modern design turns organic as designers play with form and function

Modern design turns organic as designers play with form and function
Architects Tom Bessai and Maria Denegri, who both teach architecture at the University of Toronto and co-run their own private practice, are also exploring the synergistic possibilities of organic design. They use parametric design software and consult mathematicians and computer scientists to develop algorithms to generate unusual, though buildable formsHuron (009).jpg for a Globe Life story about amorphous designs // Alan Hamilton

Form follows function – the central tenant of modern architecture – is an idea most often employed to justify cheap, ruthlessly efficient factories and office buildings. But for everyday living, it’s too rigid. A kitchen should be suitable for cooking, sure, but can’t the space also reflect the more complex, less rational things that happen within: family gatherings, romance, heartbreak? Does a clinical, all-white, ruthlessly organized space really suit?

Instead, maybe a messier update on modernism is needed – one that better relates to the human condition. Certain practicalities can stay – rectangular rooms are great for arranging furniture, flat walls are ideal for hanging art – but there should also be a place for delight and wonder, as well as the strange, irrational and unpredictable.

It’s not a new idea. The very architect who coined the form-and-function mantra in the late 19th-century, Louis Sullivan, used joyfully useless, totally frilly decoration on his early skyscraper experiments (his most famous buildings in Chicago look like a flower garden exploded on them). And since then, many designers – Frank Lloyd Wright, Frei Otto, Frank Gehry – have espoused different types of organicism. (Lloyd Wright, in fact, declared “organic architecture to be the modern ideal … if we are to see the whole of life, and to now serve the whole of life”).

Now, new technologies (3-D modelling software, 3-D printers, computer-guided routers) are making the aesthetic easier for architects and interior designers to integrate into our everyday lives – applying an amorphous quality to our homes and cities. And they are proving that when form and functionality collide, the result isn’t necessarily a stark, uninspired box.