Do utilitarian silos have any esthetic value?

4In ‘Vers une architecture’ Le Corbusier praises the aesthetics of silo buildings, tall machines composed of geometric shapes, designed and built by engineers for strictly utilitarian criteria. He refers to examples such as the silo Bunge y Born (Buenos Aires), shown in the book ‘Jahrbuch des Deutschen Werkbundes’, and claims:

“The engineer, inspired by the imperative of economy and guided by calculation, sets us in accordance with the laws of the universe. He achieves harmony.”

Malmo Cement Silo, captured from its base with a wide angle camera.

The 2D pictures and structural cross-sections of 3D Malmö cement silo (Sweden) in the catalogue ‘PuL Ingenieure 65A001 – 15A073’, issued at the 50th anniversary of  Stuttgart engineering design office Peter und Lochner Beratende Ingenieure, show the same simplicity and elegance Le Corbusier applauded. The photographs taken by the client IBAU  Hamburg, have captured the silo from its base with a very high camera angle. The images are cropped in such a way so that the sky, foreground and adjacent buildings disappear. The silo stands – like a piece of art in a museum – by itself; it does not relate to the surrounding site. The aesthetic character of the silo is shown to us by focusing solely on shape and external volume. The photographer has captured the silo lit at night so it appears even more dramatic and imposing.

Interior view of silo with open top section, light and shade articulate 3D form, Malmö, Sweden

In addition, light and texture, gives the Malmo silo additional “visual” weight. The light (or absence of it) plays an important part in articulating the nature of the three dimensional form and shade gives the appearance of solidity in the photograph of the interior.

The silo’s shape, shown in the cross-section as a radial assembly of forms, is quickly and easily visually read because it is made up of a familiar cylindrical and conic forms. The perception of these pure surfaces of revolution without the distraction of additional features and ornamentation, conveys visual strength – a desirable characteristic for a silo.

The Malmo’s shape, shown in cross-section as an assembly of cones and cylinders.

The Malmo cement silo photographs and cross-sections in the PUL Ingenieure Catalogue convey the beauty and drama to be designed and found in utilitarian structures, even when designed purely for functional and economic criteria.

All images credit: PUL Ingenieure Catalogue

Authors: Imgard Lochner-Aldinger, Sigrid Adriaenssens

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