Saturday, November 5, 2011

Form ever follows function

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression, 
That form ever follows function. This is the law.

The term Modernism generally applies more to architectural, and industrial design, but for this discussion, we will apply it to boats. So let's behold the hammer below. Despite its somewhat battered appearance, to my eye it is a graceful, and beautifully designed object, completely devoid of any ornamentation, and whose design has been refined over the ages. This versatile tools pounds nails, the curved shape allow nails to be pulled and planks levered up. It's mass gives the head substantial impact force. It is used by almost all tradesmen for varying needs, and can also be used as an effective weapon. This is a well designed, elegant machine whose every facet serves some purpose, and it also provides some heft to the phrase, "When reason fails, force prevails".   

So lets take a look at a couple of boats that have a Modernism outlook. The word I would apply to the vessel below is purposeful. Certainly no effort has been made to adorn this little boat, but I like it. It's a solid and stable work platform that has sturdy wood planking for a deck, cleats and lifting eyes to pick it up and place it on the barge, and with the little Mercury outboard it really scoots about. It is the tender to a dredging barge. 

This less than gaudy vessel's role in life is to set pilings, and if required to beat them into place. The deck is large and open, and spuds hold it in place while it is working. All equipment is exposed and available for maintenance. Everything on the boat is organized, and after watching it punch a hole into the limestone underlying this basin it is well designed to do the task. Its Honda outboard also allows it to move briskly along to its next job. From its well maintained appearance, this is a loved vessel.

Now let's reverse the phrase to "function ever follows form", and this would be at the extreme. Part of me is horrified, and the other part makes me want one. I would dress like Hugh Hefner, wear a smoking jacket, and puff on a pipe while being surrounded by attractive augmented females, and lots of sycophants. No, I don't really think so, and it will be a while before my retina's lose that image. I can just imagine this vessel in a bad storm with Tiki huts filled with terrified hedonists being swept off the deck, and leaving them clinging to empty rum bottles as flotation devices. If it sank in shallower waters they could all cling to the sides of the volcano, and draw lots to see who will be sacrificed. The movie scripts always seem to favor a well augmented female.

I'm not really trying to beat up the design rendering of the volcano boat, for there is a boat out there for everyones taste, but to be honest, this is not high on my list of desirable boats. But someone will buy it, and will be proud to be its master. I bet he is shopping for smoking jackets as we speak.

Louis Sullivan is considered to be the father of the modern skyscraper. His Modernism had no room for Finials and Gargoyles as building adornments. Tall buildings were to be square with flat planes, and built at the lowest cost per square foot. To some degree boats fall into the middle of all of this, from one extreme to another. Modern go fast boats, and cruisers have often have too much form, and not enough function, coupled with being built at the lowest possible cost per square foot, to my detriment, and the owner's wallet when things break. I think it is possible to have your cake and eat it too, if designers put more effort into the vessels we buy. I built the little model boat above off of lines I found in Howard Chapelle's Boatbuilder book. Howard didn't build boats he just designed them, and the end result was form followed function, but the form was always truly elegant when he was finished. We need a bit more of this in modern boat design. 

A small foot note to this dialog is that Louis Sullivan employed a young architect named Frank Lloyd Wright as his assistant, who adopted some of Mr. Sullivan's ideas. He added a little more form, and sacrificed a little function in his designs. It's always a balancing act, I just lean a little more toward the function side.

I think I like the dark blue velour smoking jacket, it will go well with my velvet Elvis painting hanging over the round bed.

The rendering of the Tropical Island Paradise vessel, and their other designs can be seen at Island Yacht Designs. They are all very audacious concepts.

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