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What is Form Follows Function?

 , June 12, 2016
Form follows function is a principle of architecture that states that the shape of structures is dictated by their function. The principle is considered the driving principle of modern architecture and is often applied in other areas of design such as product design. It is logical but is often challenged in several ways:

Less Is A Bore

Form follows function is commonly used to suggest that all ornamentation is useless to design. This is criticized as lifeless, boring and excessively plain. Louis Sullivan, the influential modern architect who coined the phrase form follows function, was known for his use of lush Art Nouveau decorations. He used the rule to define the major shapes of his designs and not as a philosophy against all artistic decoration.

Form Follows Nature

There are alternatives to form follows function such as organic designs that mimic natural forms or integrate with natural settings.

Vernacular Architecture

Local culture isn't considered by form follows function and tends to result in a building in Paris looking like a building in Tokyo or Toronto. Much modern architecture is culturally monotonous in its pursuit of function.

There's More Than One Way To Do It

Rectangles tend to maximize space and are thus highly functional. Form follows function, and modern architecture in general, has become associated with repetitive and unimaginative use of rectangular forms. As such, form follows function is associated with uninspired designs that use a principle as an excuse for mediocrity.

Non-Functional Requirements

Form follows function may not give proper consideration to non-functional requirements such as human factors, sustainability and aesthetics.
Overview: Form Follows Function
TypeModern Architecture
DefinitionA principle of architecture that states that the shape of structures is dictated by their function.
ValuePractical designs that fulfill their function.
Common MistakesForm follows function may be more effective as a rule of thumb as opposed to a dogmatic principle that excludes all ornamentation, culture, organic shapes and non-functional requirements.
Related ConceptsCold Logic
Organic Architecture
Modern Architecture
Postmodern Architecture
Architecture Parlante
Human Factors


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