” …. Form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change form does not change.”  Louis Sullivan.


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Louis Sullivan – The father of the skyscraper, in 1896, coined the maxim, ”Form ever follows function” in an article titled The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered. Which then became the battle cry of contemporary architecture. The phrase refers to functionalism that is based on roman principles of Vitruvius of architecture being designed solely on the purpose and function of the building. 

While designing, many principles are considered, of which one of the most important ones is the form and function. The form is the shape of the shell of a building that distinguishes it while function refers to the tectonics of a building. The function is more inclined towards the purpose and program of the building and form is expressed through the fancy exteriors, mainly for decorative purposes. With time, the world is evolving every second, and so is human behavior (use of space) and our way of functioning. The form of a prevailing building remains, while the function and use changes with the renovation and adaptive reuse. This topic has been debated over the years, so what is the meaning of form and function in contemporary architecture?

“all things in nature have a shape, that is to say, a form, an outward semblance, that tells us what they are, that distinguishes them from ourselves and each other” – Louis Sullivan 

The façade gives the building its impression, and therefore form plays an important role in attracting the eye towards the building. The form can also deliver the message of the building concept and the characteristics without people even going inside. Another perspective in this is given by Benard Tschumi, “form follows fiction” indicating that before the function comes to the stories, culture and there’s fiction. In the present-day scenario, with many unused ancient buildings, it is considered advanced as “adaptive reuse” to renovate and give a new purpose to the existing site, while not entirely removing its cultural context. 

“The Old Breton Barn” explains the perfect example of adaptive reuse. The old French barn from the 17th century was renovated by Modal Architects in 2014 to turn the space into an artist studio. The main idea behind adaptive architecture is to give the building a new function without changing its original form and this was done for this project. The architects conserved the old exteriors by only making changes to windows and doors by adding steel frames and glass windows. However, interiors were entirely renovated to give it a more modern look with white walls and simplified furniture. More than a simple artist studio, this small building is now a place of meetings and a passageway. It’s also a place of curiosity for the inhabitants of the surroundings in search of inspiration for their own houses. Doesn’t it prove that the key to a project’s success often lies in the local and cultural contexts?

Interior of Old Breton barn 

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Function, on the other hand, is a completely different term that refers to the use or the circulation that will take place in the space. The function of any building is to provide shelter and stability. A space invented to utilize it to its maximum potential by assembling raw materials without any nonessential decorative purpose is what the principle of function in design architecture defines. The objective of any building is to know what activity is required as a guideline in basic designing. It is to avoid any sort of waste space, for instance, there are times when narrow spaces or low-heightened spaces are created only to achieve desirable shapes or exteriors to give a building its form. It is essential to create a productive space, i.e space that holds a purpose irrelevant to the fancy exteriors.


In Hasshoden Charnel House in Ryusenji Temple, located in Saitama, Japan. It shows modesty in design. All elements in the building, interior or exterior, are built only for its specific purpose in a minimalistic look, following the lexicon, “form follows function” Only the garden is seldom used, which could also in turn be used as a funeral hall or parking lot. The renovation altered the appearance of the building, making the temple stand out. Temple is in the implication of the dead, by addition of the funeral hall the visitors upsurge and eventually giving life to the temple. The original cultural nature wasn’t changed, but only a few parts and some preservation to the required areas.


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As we come to the end of this discussion, we can hereby notice the importance of form and function. We see that prioritizing either can be only done based on the kind of user and the required amenities in the building. Architecture has always been meant as a blend of engineering and design. In designing a building, it is highly important to balance decoration with purpose, which brings us the principle of minimalism into place- aesthetic yet focusing widely on the purposeful aspects. Indeed, the relationship between form and function can get confusing, but there’s never a strict rule to abide by. All buildings have different purposes and different ways of communicating with everyone with their characteristics, so they rely on each other to design a productive building. 


Khushi is an aspiring architect, studying at the University of Bath. Quite precise with her work she firmly believes minimalism.She derives inspiration by travelling which gives the opportunity to fully immerse herself in the diverse cultures, the world has got to offer.