In the context of my proposal, the term “functional tradition” related to design that originated at the workbench rather than the drawing board. Our early domestic and industrial buildings, machines, structures and furniture owe their fitness and form to engineers, carpenters and masons. The accumulated abilities of generations of artisans produced work of considerable merit. Skill was the fundamental ingredient that gave an instinctive capacity for creating an object of function and beauty. This natural instinct for good design was widespread until the demise of craft apprenticeships during the second half of the twentieth century.
The legacy of the functional tradition is now largely in the hands of the conservationist. Thus, the “design of instinct” has left the workbench and entered the realms of academia. However, if we are to understand and revive this natural ability for good design it is essential that we keep at least one foot on the shop floor: the knowledge and the way forward lies with the craftsman.
My objective was to rekindle in art students and others an understanding of this functional tradition and to develop ways of re-establishing the practice. Alas, my suggestion fell on stony ground. In fact, amongst certain “professionals” it incited anger and ridicule. What, they asked, do the lower orders know about design?
Today’s photographs of balcony supports in
, say it all. The blacksmith that made the wrought iron brackets in the first photograph was very likely illiterate. The architect that designed the angle iron contraption in the second photograph very likely has a degree with honours! Roseau