Substance Before Style

Substance Before Style


When it comes to style, our digital devices provide plenty of crowd-sourced direction. Feeds swarm with photos of the latest restaurants and resorts, clothes and concerts, travel and trends. It used to take months for an image-based craze to sweep across the nation – from cultural hotspots to the heartland – yet now, one is merely two or three clicks away.

In some ways, this Internet insight can be helpful. But as the world grows more connected and more visually responsive, there’s a risk that style becomes the main commodity – rather than the aesthetics being a true reflection of tastes and beliefs. Just like the myriad of filter-induced photographs of gourmet dinners – full of empty calories for the viewer – style without substance lacks authenticity and soul.


Architects may understand this more than anyone. As their maxim goes, form follows function. Coined by the 20th century American architect Louis Sullivan, the idea is simple: in order to draft plans for a building, a designer must first consider the building’s purpose. Only then can you consider the secondary choices – colors, materials and aesthetics. Ideally, a building’s design would reflect its purpose. Additionally, if the building isn’t constructed well – solid, safe, sturdy – who would even want to be in it, regardless of how beautiful it may be.

substance_3There is a similar adage within the business community, established by historian and Harvard Business School professor Alfred Chandler. As his theory goes: structure follows strategy. After decades of research, Alfred argued that the most successful businesses had designed a structure that matched their business strategy, not the other way around. No need to discuss packaging or shipping or hierarchies if you don’t know why you’re in business in the first place.

The same is true for us as individuals. Now more than ever, it is important to fight for lives of substance. Style is an incredible part of being imaginative human beings, but it isn’t the focus; rather the natural byproduct of a curious mind, a creative perspective and a centered soul. When we know our place, our unique roles to play, our contribution to the cultural conversation – we can sift through the noise of popular opinion and be like a confident architect, building on a solid foundation. After all, when style is an expression of who we are, it is far more powerful than when it stands alone.

These images are of the 1926 Sears building on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta. In its time, the largest brick structure in the South was a symbol of the city’s rising prominence. Today, the historic landmark, reflecting both well-built substance and exterior style, is being restored by Jamestown as Ponce City Market, an urban centerpiece in the community that will include restaurants, retail, residences, offices and connection to the city’s Beltline trail.

Photos by Judson Jones

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