Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction & The Morality of Detail

So bad its good: the perversity of windows cut into window frames suggests a different order of architectural composition, as well as a weird tension between the old and new.

Why should bad building be quite so fascinating? This selection, from a collection on darkroastedblend document some of the most bizarre freaks of construction-gone-wrong - something like an architectural You've Been Framed. Sure, they are funny, but there is more to them than that. There is also something touching, poetic and ingenuity in overcoming some unknown problem of economics, miscommunication, or lack of foresight through optimism in the face of plain stupidity. And lets face it, we've all found ourselves facing equally challenging moments from time to time in any project. But equally, there is something distinctly disturbing and worrying.

It's their wrongness that makes them so fascinating. They are mutations of architectural fundamentals - ropey foundations, weird windows, strangely placed doors, freakish stairs, Gordian Knots of plumbing, building gone badly wrong. They begin to suggest a whole language of congenital architectural defects: blind windows, amputated staircases, atheromatic corridors, conjoined structures - deformities and perversions of the normal architectural body.

Construction itself - the way you put stuff together, the layers of cladding, insulation, membranes, structure etc - are not simply convenient, practical and inevitable means of making a building, they are expressions of deep seated cultural beliefs. Organisation of structure, drainage, ventilation and so on are more than simply arrangements of components, they encode a belief system into the fabric of architecture.

Note how the chair acts as a step up to the door. The door-radiator-chair composition might suggest new architectural arrangements formed from diverse components.

'God is in the detail' actually means something more like 'morality is in the detail'. The detail determines the specifics of how and where the enclosure and function of architecture is articulated and formed - and it expresses morality by defining socially acceptable standards of building. The detail brings decorum and articulates the interface between inside (the realm of civilised culture) and outside (the realm of wild, unsocialised nature).


We see, for example, a soil pipe running through the middle of a room, articulated as though it were a significant architectural moment. And in a sense the pipe that's used to exit sewage from buildings is super significant and as worthy of celebration as the means by which the building deals with gravity.


In another case, a balcony on a new apartment block appears without any means of access, attached to a blank wall - like false eyelashes attached to a blind window. In another, an old building seems propped up on some old oil drums - inducing a sense of panic at its seemingly imminent collapse - articulating the latent disaster that lurks within every building.

Form follows dysfunction - Construction ghosts curtailed possibilities in the form of stairs leading nowhere.

Bad construction challenges - albeit unconsciously - the civilising power of architecture. It's disgusting and fascinating - a monstrous version of architecture: freakish, disfigured and wired up wrong like a patched together zombie and un-naturally animated. Such extreme badness surprisingly reveals how architecture manifests morality. Through its most outlandish errors, it suggests that there might be other ways of organising construction - and that might mean architecture which enables explorations of alternative cultural ideas through the nuts and bolts of putting a building together.

A mistake becomes an ingenious conflation of private building with public street furniture - a new hybrid building form that emerges by accident.

Posted by sam at July 15, 2008 3:51 PM

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