Sample Architecture Essay Paper on Form and Function in Architecture

            In architecture, form and functions are important elements that define an architectural work. Form is described as the structural features of work of art while function refers to the application or the use of the building. Thus, several theories have been developed to explain the relationship between the two premises. One of the main contributors in this industry is Louis Sullivan. He is known for his assumption that form ever follows function. This has been contested by a number of engineers and experts in this field while others adopt it. This assumption denotes that when a person is looking at a building, he/she should be able to determine the function of such house. This is because the forms determines how the purpose of the building. For example, a commercial building will be built in a shape that portrays and clearly demonstrates its use. There are many shapes used by developers to come up with a structure that serves the intended purpose. However, modern architecture is characterized with creative designs that tend to suggest that form does not relate to function. This essay expounds on the relationship between form and functions and events hitherto. Specifically, the focus is channeled towards the shape and architectural design.

            In the Ten Books of Architecture, from the 1stcentury A.D. author Marcus Vitruvius Pollio laid out the three fundamental elements of good architecture which includes: Firmita (soundness), Utilitas (utility) and Venustras (form). In discussing each of these elements, we find that architecture cannot be complete without form. The first element is soundness that refers to the purpose of the use of the structure. Thus, a structure will be branded as wound if it meets all the qualities of a proper architecture. Utility is about the use and application of the building. In simple terms the utility of a building is known through its form. This is because a building will be used for various activities depending on the structure or the shape of the work of art. Utility is something that cannot be evaluated through the use of sight or from an observation point of view. This is due to the fact that a lot of things have to be considered to be able to ascertain the value of any work of art (Bill, et al. 56). Lastly, we have form that is central to the development and structuring of any art. The form which is basically the shape of a building gives an indication of what is happening of going on inside. In most cases, hotels and structures that offers hospitality services will tend to follow a certain pattern and design. Thus, any building bearing such design will be deemed to hosts activities connected to hotel services.

            The original saying of form follows function comes from the father of modernism Louis Sullivan who is an American architect (1870-1920’s). His architecture was defined by beautiful modular ornamentation on simplistic building forms, making a perfect balance in art and modernism. Jack Nasar denotes that “If form follows function, then you should be able to look at a building and have a good idea about what goes on inside. If you can make sense of a place, it should make life in the city more pleasurable and comfortable, and help people figure out where they are (Gary 45)” Traditionally, the architectural success of any product comes as a result of trail and errors as individuals develop different structures (Arnheim 65)


            To be in a position to draw the relationship between the two premises, there is need to focus on each one of them so as to bring out the point of convergence. It is also important to focus on the history of architectural development so as to establish the connection between form and function.  Narrowing down to form, we find that different shapes and outlook carries with them diverse meaning. For example, a skyscraper build at the centre of a city is a symbol of business prosperity in the region. Thus, the functions or activities within the building are commercially oriented and have monetary value. Even without doing more research about the building, a person can tell that activities going on in such a building are connected to business transactions. Specifically, trade activities may be going on in such an environment.

            The notion of structural consideration was subjected to the functionality of the structure. This went hand in hand with aesthetic considerations for buildings and other structures that architects developed. The modern concept in architecture was started by Louis Sullivan. After the world war two, Paul Rudolph, Eero Saarinen and other generational architect developed the idea of aesthetic. There architecture is considered to be postmodernism and expands on the aesthetic with brutalism. These structures have expressive facades with unfinished concrete. However, the integration of the two architectural generations led to increased opposition from groups such as the metaphoric school of architecture. This is because the architecture failed to take care of human experience in building industry. During this period, contemporary technology was intertwined with cheap materials. This would see the cost of construction comes down with the new inventions and ideas in the market. This meant that the complexity of any building would depend on the structure and design a building would have. Therefore, it is a clear indication of the forms follows functions.

            The relationship between form and function is such that the latter determines the structure of the former. Architecture is concerned with designing and planning form, ambiance and space. This involves the manipulation and redesigning of materials to meet the desired outcome. Therefore, architect must plan ahead of the actual development through cost estimation, structure and drawing and scheduling. Information and technology has also become part of the architectural work because designs can be developed through the help of computer programs. This makes the work easy for the developers and architect because they will use computers to perform some of the tedious jobs at the initial stages of planning. The function of the building guides engineers in structuring the form of the structure. This insinuates that the form of an entity depends on functions. If a building is meant or set to host functions such as business or manufacturing activities, then, the form will be created in such a manner that it reinforces the activities of such an art. In case of museum, the structure will take creativity as the primary source of inspiration. The important and the usefulness of the form is one of the contested debates in the world because the contemporary discourse moves away from the form to convenience. Buildings are formed in such a manner that they consider the social attraction and impression or aesthetic that goes beyond human experience. The validity of the form is therefore compared to the modern gothic architecture. The gothic form is made up of iron which is widely applied in structures. Iron can be forged into different shapes that represent the artist’s ideologies. This means that the contemporary is characterized by diversity in terms of form.

            The Guggenheim Museum is a good example of Wright’s application of this principle. Its spiral shape is designed to allow visitors to view the works of art. Being a museum, the building houses a collection of arts ranging from impressionist to contemporary art. This building was designed and founded by the Guggenheim foundation through leadership of Hilla von Rebay. Previously, the building was subjected to rental houses or apartments. The structure of the building is such that it contains of spiral gallery from the ground floor to the top. The painting in the building is non-objective. The surface of the building is made of concrete. This was a cheap method of building houses in regards to the development that have taken place in this section of the industry. In the past, stones were used in the building of various structures in the world. They become an expensive form of building in the sense that many stones would be used in a small structure as compared to concrete use.

            Each of these premises affects each other directly and indirectly. The function affects the form in the following ways.  First, plans have to be made before developing the form. At this point, the function of the building is known and formidable steps are developed in regards to the actualization of the plan. Thus, the plan developed is all about the functionality and the intended purpose of the building. From this point, engineers therefore come up with different designs for the building and will therefore change according to customer request. In regards to government or corporate institutions, the desired use will help come up with a plan that will help the company decide which form best suites the needs of the firm. The materials and resources to be used in this project are planned at this point. This is to help make a clear outlook and picture of the final products or the resources that will be consumed throughout the project (Blake 67).

            There are many ways of determining the cost of project. The first one looks at the economic value of the structure against the benefits it brings to the owner. The second method is about the cost-benefits analysis of the whole project to ascertain the real value of such endeavors. Lastly, the payback period method is also helpful in making assumptions and evaluating the validity of the structure.  All the above methods are applied in making sure that the project does not end up consuming capital that is not realized by the investor. Additionally, it ensures that the investors make formidable decision in regards to the materials use and other features that the building will incorporate (Sullivan 90).

            Secondly, engineers decide which material to uses and draw the outlook of the building. The virtual image aids in setting ground for the interior designs as well as the foundation of art. All activities connected to the structure of the building takes place after the planning stage. The materials to be used are determined by various factors that includes availability, durability and cost. Some materials are rare to find and this leads to the choice of alternative materials. In such a situation, the form will be changed accordingly so as it suites the needs and specific wants. Some materials may also be cheap while they serve the same purpose as expensive ones. At this instance, the developer or architect will make decisions based on the suitability of the materials. In many instances, architects will go for the cheap materials so long as they do not compromise on the quality of the building or the structure in question.

            On the issues of durability, buildings are made to last and for makeshift structures low quality materials are utilized. However, permanent structures call for the utilization of durable materials that do not only meet the set standards but also ensures that the structure stands strong. In the events natural phenomenon takes place, the building will stand still. This information must be available to the developer at the initial stages as well as in the planning phase (Rawsthorn 67). The above insinuation clearly shows that form follows functions. The form comes after the function has been clearly stated and documented so that the direction at which the development will take is known in advance.

            The form on the other end affects the function as follow. Diverse forms ready in the market leads to making of choices through psychological influence. For instance, churches are build using similar or with same features. One notable feature is the cross and any person passing alongside a church will ideally believe activities of worship takes place in such an environment. Thus, architects have to design churches with similar or original structures that were developed by old architects. Creativity is only encouraged for the interior design and not for the exterior outlook or the design. The reason behind this is that interior designs can be changed according to the sitting arrangements or any other specific feature or need of the church. The exterior of the same building must look the same as other churches. In such an instance, buildings take the same outlook despite being located in different regions (LisaPfaff 89).

            An example of such structures involves the tallest building in the world that is the Burj Khalifa building. It stands at eight hundred and twenty nine meters above the ground and considered the world tallest. If form and structures were to be considered in this building, then, their application would be void. This is because the structure is out-of-the-box idea that was never developed in the past. Thus, innovation and creativity has been greatly utilized and helps makes a structure like no other in the world. The interior is also amazing in the sense that it is customized to meet the desires of the owner.

            In my opinion, I think that form follows functions. My reasoning is based on the following ideologies. The first reason is that buildings have to be structured to meet the purpose. If the purpose of a structure is known then the design may be developed with easiness. On the contrary, not only structures go through the planning phase due to the intended function. Some may be built with designs borrowed from previous or original structures. This is done to reduce the time and money spent during planning hence ensures that the entity saves money to utilize for other activities. Thus, the purpose of any project must come first before the real item is designed and built by the people in charge. This is an important stage in the structuring of the entire project in the sense that it raises queries and questions that are applied in changing or improving the design (Forty 69). Therefore, projects that do not follows the procedure are meant to fail or results to weak structures that may collapse at sometimes in future. Moreover, materials and other items to be utilized are determined at this stage and the form is also drawn. It will be easier to follow the plan hence leads to success in the building or the real activities of architectural work.

            The second reason denotes the development of ideas and structuring of various components within the form. An idea will always come first before the real activities can take place. This is because of the fact that an idea is an abstract reasoning that must be developed through research and further evaluation of the real form. The end result is improved form that is a synergy of diverse ideas that different people or parties have in consideration to the intended development (Grillo 49). Thus, lobbying of ideas precedes development because a lot of issues have to be dealt with before the final results or structure is settled at. Furthermore, an idea keeps on changing due to the dynamic nature and the use of buildings. Technology has also led to the adoption of diverse system that helps develop the entire structure of the building. Thus, during the development a form may be changed from one state to the other before the final structure is laid on the table and all parties agrees on pursuing it. Due to vivacity of ideas, the form should come after the function which is the basic things for consideration in setting any kind of structure.

            How to balance the form and function is another things that have raised some queries amongst participants. The balancing is realized during the last stages of planning. Reason being that many forms may not represents what was intended by the initiator or the owner of such structure. Therefore, balancing of the two things come as a result of lobbying and synergies of ideas.  At the point where ideas converge with form the plan will be ready for use by engineers. This means that the entity or the developer has passed or evaluated all the factors that affect the project directly and indirectly. This is how form will balance with the functions.

            In conclusion, the topic of form and function is highly debated due to the nature of the ideas and theories developed to government the building and planning of various structures. As in other areas, diversity is observed in this sector in the sense that individuals assign abstract ideas to the plans they have. This is a clear indication that the growth and development in this sections depends on functionality. The use and wide application of iron in the building of various institutions has also redefined the form and brought about taste and preferences in this industry. There are many forms available for builders in this industry.  The inclusion of aesthetic in the building of structures has also brought about new meaning to the functionality. Therefore, many designs seen in the world today raises questions and validity of form.

Works Cited

Arnheim, Rudolf. The Dynamics of Architectural Form: Based on the 1975 Mary Duke Biddle Lectures at the Cooper Union. U of California P, 1977.

Bill, Max, et al. Form, Function, Beauty =: Gestalt. Architectural Assn., 2010.

Blake, Peter. Form Follows Fiasco: Why Modern Architecture Hasn’t Worked. Little, Brown, 1977.

Forty, Adrian. Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture. Thames & Hudson, 2004.

Gary, Dickson. Function is Dead – Long Live Function. Humana, 2010.

Grillo, Paul J. Form, Function, and Design. Dover Publications, 1975.

LisaPfaff, Heschong. Necessity,” in Thermal Delight in Architecture. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1979.

Rawsthorn, Alice. The Demise of ‘Form Follows Function. American Bar Assn., Section of State and Local Government Law, 2009.

Sullivan, Louis H. The tall office building, artistically considered First Published in 1896. W.W. Norton, 1986.