Terry Teachout observes how other reviewers deal with Zankel Hall. He notes that
[m]ost critics have discussed the appearance of the hall without attempting to evaluate its functionality. Were the seats comfortable? Are the aisles wide enough? How hard is it to get in and out of the place? Will the interior design wear well --- and does it seem to have any effect on the perceived acoustics?
As, (via essential Arts & Letters Daily), I had just finished reading an article from Vocabula Review The Singular They: The Pronoun That Came in from the Cold I was reminded of the importance of words in, of course, expressing one's thoughts but also in giving shape to them.
So I was struck by Teachout's distinction between appearance and functionality. It's a common distinction but when it comes to buildings --- even architecture --- I think it creates problems.
The dichotomy between appearance and functionality is a misleading one.
All assessments of buildings --- even ones characterized as functional --- are based on sensations --- whether of the skin, the nose, the ear or the buttocks. Appearance describes only sensations perceived by the eyes. Sound-proofing and noise-isolation (to follow-through on the Zankel hall example) deals with another but (obviously for a concert hall) no less critical sense. The manner in which the seating and the aisles are arranged is also a matter which can only be judged by how the users feel as and after they use it..
All judgements as to the fitness of a building are ultimately based on feelings. A leaky roof, for example, is truly insidious not only or even mostly because it is can give rise to rot ("not functional") but because it makes us cold, wet and miserable and denies the very psychological purpose of a building to give succor and shelter.
The traditional approach to judging a building gives appearance overwhelming precedence and denies the other senses. That's an extremely narrow approach. Teachout recognizes that that is a mistake and seeks to elevate functionality. That's well and good. But he allows the underlying fallacy --- Appearance v. Functionality --- to go unchallenged.
That's my minor quibble about his use of terms.
In another post --- no one can shake this FLW flea --- Teachout also asks:
I almost hate to bring up Frank Lloyd Wright again, but reading this story made me think of Fallingwater, the Wright house whose conservators have had to work fearfully hard to keep from collapsing. Commenting on this in an earlier post, I asked, "Is a great painting less great because it makes use of innovative but chemically unstable pigments that change over time?"
Maybe not. But a building is not a painting. A piece of architecture is designed to do something ---provoke certain feelings --- and if it fails to to produce certain of those feelings, then it can be judged as less worthy.