Form, Function, Forests and Fossils: Sustainability Revisited

By Skene, Keith | Contemporary Review, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Form, Function, Forests and Fossils: Sustainability Revisited


Skene, Keith, Contemporary Review


ON a hill high above Oban, a small port on the west coast of Scotland, there stands a structure that resembles a Roman amphitheatre. However, never in its history has a lion, a gladiator or, indeed, a Christian battled for their lives within its walls. In fact it has no function, and never has had. It is called McCaig's Folly, after John McCaig, the provincial banker who commissioned it. and it was built a mere one hundred years ago, fourteen hundred years after the fall of Rome. It could be said that it stands to remind us that form without function is folly.

Form follows function, or at least that is what Louis Sullivan (1856-1924), the American architect, and so-called father of the skyscraper, stated. This maxim has created a lively debate, reaching across many fields of human thought, from architecture to design and from town-planning to web development.

In architecture, it was the Venetian Franciscan and architectural theorist, Carlo Lodoli (1690-1761), who first discussed the relationship between form and function, stressing that nothing should be in the design that was not functional. This appears to be an extremely early version of what would become Utilitarianism, or Modernism. He was also credited with starting the organic architecture movement. Horatio Greenough (1805-1852), the American sculptor, developed these ideas, having studied the work of Lodoli, and of Georges Cuvier, who believed that anatomical form followed function. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a key figure in the transcendentalist movement in America, said that "Nature which created the mason now creates the house'. This idea would feed into the concept of natural architecture. Countering this approach, critics target the problem of a function existing without a form. Thus the form follows function dictum is seen as teleological.

While function tends to have had the upper hand in most areas, this is by no means the case in biology. Here, form dominates function in key topics such as taxonomy, phylogeny, evolution, diversity and conservation. This has had significant impacts upon how we understand our planet and in how we respond to the challenges that currently face the human race.

In this article, we will examine why form has become the dominant basis for so much of biology and the implications of this upon how we understand our planet. We will review what alternatives the functionalist school can offer, examining how it compares and contrasts to the formist school in significant ways. Finally, the repercussions of both approaches will be explored, in terms of how we address sustainability.

So how did form come to dominate biology? It is an interesting journey, and begins in ancient caves, where humans first drew images of the animals around them, some 30 000 years ago. From the earliest cave paintings of Chauvet in the Ardeche region of France, and the Altamira Cave in Cantabria, Spain, it is clear that humans had the capacity to accurately record morphology. Subsequently, the field of taxonomy developed, based on structure, both in terms of shape and colour.

Karl Linneaus revolutionized the way in which this was done. In fact he courted controversy at the time, using quite explicit sexual descriptions, such as 'nine men in the same bride's chamber, with one woman'! The German botanist, Johann Siegesbeck, referred to Linnaeus' work as 'lothesome harlotry', though Linnaeus, believing in revenge as a dish best served well and truly chilled, retorted with taxonomic vengeance, naming a small and insignificant little ruderal plant (Siegesbeckia) after his accuser.

This morphological basis for taxonomy meant that species were equivalent to forms. Indeed, when a species has not been formally identified, it is often referred to as a morphotype. Thus, diversity became a measure of forms or morphotypes. The number of different forms that a habitat possessed became a measure of its importance and significance. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Form, Function, Forests and Fossils: Sustainability Revisited
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.