This phrase “Form Follows Function” was first used by Louis Sullivan in one of his articles known as “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered”. Here he used the term form ever follows function which was later shortened to form follows function. Sullivan was inspired by the Art Nouveau architectural style, but his design style focused on the functionality of the building compared to the aesthetics of the building.
This pattern is being followed by various modernist architects like Le Corbusier, Frank Llyod Wright, Mies Van Der Rohe, Walter Gropius, etc. During this period of the 19th century, ornamentation within buildings was widely seen. Even Sullivan in most of his projects has given importance to aesthetics with detailed carving and ornamentation. Due to this, there has always been a debate between aesthetics and functionality.
The phrase “Form Follows Function” is a self-explanatory term. This means that the functionality of the building should be a deriving factor. Major design decisions should be made based on the function, and form should be derived organically as the process goes on. The form should never be considered important. Taking the example of a clock, the digital clocks are the most functional designs, but if one goes for an analogue clock various options with different ornamentation styles are seen.
Guggenheim Museum, one of Lloyd’s last projects, was designed based on the principle of Form Follows Function. While designing the project, the core was provided in the center, where the visitors were supposed to travel up with the help of an elevator. And walk downwards along the spiral ramp, with the display. There have been enormous debates on the functionality of this project. In order to end this debate, Frank Llyod Wright wrote a letter stating that the museum was designed to create harmony between art and the building.
The theory “Form Follows Function” is interpreted in two ways. One way of interpreting it is how beauty results from the purity of the function. Here the simplicity of the project achieved through the design is considered beauty. Another way of interpreting this theory is understanding the importance and impact of aesthetics of the design.
Bauhaus school of design by Walter Gropius followed this ideology of “form follows function”. They have given importance to the process of achieving simpler forms, clean lines, rationality, and functionality of the design. Mies Van Der Rohe, the founder of the school who later shifted to Chicago, also believes in this phrase.
Barcelona Pavilion by Mies Van Der Rohe is an example of this theory. Along with the theory of form follows function, Mies also believed in the theory of less is more and used the phrase skin and bones to explain his projects. Barcelona Pavilion, a simplistic design with materials like steel, glass, and different varieties of marble. With a simple fluid plan and freestanding walls, symmetrical views have made this design functional. The placement of the columns and the roof are connected in such a way that it creates an illusion of resting on the walls. The layout is composed in such a way that symmetry is felt along with coherence.
Le Corbusier, one of the pioneers of modernism, designed a villa for Mr. Savoye. This villa was a weekend home located in the city of Poissy France. This house was constructed with concrete beams and columns. The structure was designed in such a way that the villa looked elevated and an experience of the free ground was achieved.
The plan is designed in symmetry with the circulation at the center. Large openings are kept across the villa, in order to have light ventilation. This was mainly possible due to the non-load bearing walls. The huge wide windows which almost covered the entire facade of the building exposed the interiors to extreme weather conditions. The radius in the curvature of the curtain wall is designed according to the turning radius of the car. This explains the functionality along with the aesthetics and form of the building.
This theory of form follows function is the most used theory. This theory is applicable to all designing fields from buildings to appliances to devices to logos. If taken as an example of iPod Shuffle by Apple, is it one of the beautiful music appliances, but is it functional?
Functional in terms of design, the metal device has enough storage but doesn’t have any buttons, or jacks to insert earphones. The aesthetics of this device have been kept forward, compared to its use. Nowadays clients have started giving importance to aesthetics. As architects, we should decide if the functionality of a design is a primary requirement or aesthetics, or as Sullivan said: the beauty of the building is a primary requirement.