Eyes that do not see
Perspectives on functionalist architectural theory
»Our epoch is fixing its own style day be day. It is there under our eyes,« declared Le Corbusier in 1924, adding: »Eyes that do not see.« He claimed to have the eyes that could discern the new style emerging in utilitarian things – telephones, fountain pens, typewriters, safety razors, steamships and airplanes – and a mind to conceive a theoretical basis for the new aesthetics. The style Le Corbusier was propagating, functionalism, soon spread to all continents, prompting Walter Curt Behrendt to announce the victory of the new style only three years later. Still, functionalist architecture never actually won the broad and spontaneous acceptance often enjoyed by technological innovations. Across the world, many people use the latest mobile phones but, given the choice, prefer to live in traditional houses. Is it possible that Le Corbusier and his fellow functionalists were wrong in some crucial aspects of their theories, such as their conception of modernity and its implications for architecture?
In the present book, Kari Jormakka analyses the writings of the functionalists in order to understand how an architectural style might be connected to a historical period. Instead of interpreting the texts by modern architects as reflections of contemporaneous philosophical or scientific ideas, he suggests that functionalist theory represents an anachronistic form of essentialist thought which the architects adopted for sociological reasons but which also blinded them to many issues of the day.