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Water Towers, France and Germany
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© Bernd and Hilla Becher

Bernd and Hilla Becher
German, 1968 - 1972
Gelatin silver prints

84.XM.125.61-69

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We were interested in architecture. But what you call "architecture" is probably designed architecture, and we were both interested in that difference. The principle "form follows function" is rather not in architecture but in industrial buildings.
--Hilla Becher

In the early twentieth century, engineering teams rather than individual architects took a strictly "form-follows-function" approach to the industrial buildings they designed throughout Western Europe. These nine examples of water towers in France and Germany exemplify that philosophy. The cylindrical shape of a water tower, for example, reflects its primary function as a storage vessel. Because water towers are concentric and symmetrical, they present one of the simpler types of industrial building that can be described in a single view. As Hilla Becher has explained, "Some objects don't need different views."

In this grid of nine images of water towers, the artists encourage viewers to participate in a playful game of examining forms and their details. This comparative analysis of types is a fundamental aspect of their work, from basic form as a reflection of function, to details and material as a reflection of regional styles or late modifications. The Bechers came to refer to arrangments like this as "typologies." The typology occurs in two forms in their work: organized in more traditional linear sequences, usually in books; or--as exemplified here--arranged in grids to encourage comparisons based on horizontal, vertical, and diagonal adjacencies.

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