The design of buildings has always been contentious, whether the disagreement stems from aesthetic complaints, or disregard for the functionality of the building. For example, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which can be argued as one of the design and engineering wonders of the world, was once labeled “a mast of iron gymnasium apparatus, incomplete, confused and deformed” by the famous French poet, Francois Coppée.
In Galway, Ireland there are several examples of excellent building design, but often these are not compatible with the way the buildings will be used. An example of this is the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology’s Learning Center, constructed in 2003. The library, which is located in the learning center, is architecturally notable, but it lacks functionality. I studied there for four years while completing my undergraduate degree, and it was very difficult to find a desk to study.
Most simply, a library is “a place set apart to contain books, periodicals, and other material for reading, viewing, listening, study, or reference, as a room, set of rooms, or building where books may be read or borrowed.” The architect should have referenced this definition, and designed the library to accommodate the high number of students using this space, however they didn’t and now the dreaded problem of overcrowding is taking place.
Those who cannot find a study space in the library are unlikely to think about the architectural theories and planning methods behind the construction of the library. Students are trying to study for classes and exams and complete their library work as quickly as possible. The building’s user-friendly environment is much more important to them than the overall design of the building, which in contrast was very thought-out.
The facade of the building was designed to look like the sails of the ships in Galway bay which it faces, celebrating Galway’s maritime history. While the building is considered a landmark in Galway, it was ridiculed by many residents during construction. This was mainly due to its appearance, which, in my opinion, is small and a bit too eccentric. I feel the sharp edges make it hard on the eye.
Another example of an controversially designed building is the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) Inpatient Unit located on the grounds of Merlin Park Hospital. The building is an architectural masterpiece, but unfortunately, the architect did not take the purpose of the building into consideration. For those struggling with mental health, feelings of being isolated or trapped can be major hurdles to overcome.
The design of the CAMHS building does not help with these feelings, metaphorically projecting the message that once you go in you can’t come out. What makes this even worse is that the CAMHS is designated for children and young adults. Instead of providing a warm reception to some of these most vulnerable people, it contributes to the feelings of isolation and imprisonment that they may already be struggling with.
I am generally a proponent for modern design, and some may say that it is too easy to criticize a building once completed. However, I feel that designers and architects need to be aware of what the buildings will function as and who will use it once completed.
For buildings to be truly user-friendly, I feel that designers should go through my simple rule: “People-Space-Buildings.” This rule indicates that in the design of any buildings, people should be the number one priority, followed by the space that is available, and that this should lead towards a people-oriented, user-friendly building. Should the designers have used a similar rule, these problems would not exist.
One has to ask: how much do architects take into account the future purpose and practicality of the buildings they design? How could these buildings have been more user-designed? Do any buildings in your city face similar function vs. form delimmas?
Credits: Images by Alan Bannon. Data linked to sources.