"Be not simply good, be good for something." Henry David Thoreau
Some would use the word “function” instead of use, but this is not the reciprocity we are describing. Function is associated with a more singular, typically programatic, aspects of the problem and often it becomes something to solve for. Machines function, while environments are more complex in their use, as in "the radio functions, but I use it as a doorstop." We make this distinction because much of what is designed works so poorly, even if it functions well. This idea of form and use rather than function will take some time to discuss properly, so for now, we offer a story.
The image above is from Xian, China, 1980, a couple years after the Cultural Revolution but before China's great economic transformation. We had been out on a morning walk looking for some fried dough and we saw this fellow approach the concrete 'table' in the sidewalk with a box and a stool. He proceeded to empty the contents of the box, which were paper bound books, on to the table and arranged them in various groups. In a few minutes he was joined by this young man, who deposited money in a cup and selected a book to read. He read the book (it was a thin volume) and then deposited another coin and selected a different book to read. Curious, we were told it was a library, in fact, a for-profit library. The proprietor had taken advantage the territory defined by the 'table' and claimed it for his use. The table's position at the edge of sidewalk set up the claimed spaces by 'displacing' the access of the sidewalk. And the height was just right for displaying.
We wanted to know about the 'table', why it was there and what it was. After some considerable asking, we were told, sheepishly, that it was a ventilation cap for a large fallout shelter located under the street. The shelter had been built for the neighborhood in anticipation of a nuclear exchange between the Soviet Union and the United States. I guess it served its function.