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Reading 15 "Search for Form" by Eliel Saarinen



Form possesses a functional quality as well as a spiritual function. "Form, then, is not mute. Far from so, for form conveys its inner meaning with finer vibration and deeper expression than can the spoken tongue," writes Saarinen on page 17. Art of man and nature have both gone through a similar evolution of the creation of form: the subsconsious, conscious, and self-conscious stages. Primitive man created original, genuine form out of necessity during the subconscious stage of creation. During the conscious stage, man created original form not out of necessity, but out of curiosity. It is the present state of creation, the self-conscious stage, that sees litlte to no geniuine form created. Man has become civilized and thus dependent upon aesthetic speculation, dogmatic doctrines, and a desire to imitate rather than create.


The origin of all form is nature. "It is inconceivable that a truly complete understanding of form can be had unless one goes to those primeval sources where the concept of form was born," writes Saarinen on page 18. Saarinen discusses how, at the beginning of man's existence, he was close to nature. Thus, his forms were genuine manifestations of nature. "Having lost his spiritual communication with nature, man became gradually blind to nature's laws." (page 19) Man reacts to the creative actions of nature. Art of nature, argues Saarinen, is synonymous with art of man, taking its beauty in the same colors, textures, movement, flavor, and sound. Thus, the forms of man are reactions to the forms of nature. He speaks of architecture, on page 47, as being naturally-originating forms that are for man's protection and accommodation.


1. "Art is like the plant," writes Saarinen in the preamble. "The characteristics of its (the plant's) form lie concealed in the potential power of the seed. The soil gives it strength to grow. And outer influences decide its shape in the environment." What does this metaphor tell us about how architects and designers in general are to create forms?

2. On page 11, Saarinen begs the question, "is art soulless; or does it have a soul?" He further points out that the answer is obvious, but points out the fact that today "there exists an abundance of forms that are desitute of meaning and yet are regarded as forms of art." Do you agree with his harsh assessment of the modern design scene? Is today's artistic creation "soulless?"