Last edited 09 Dec 2020

Form follows function

Form follows function’ is a principle that proposes a building’s purpose should be the starting point for its design rather than its aesthetics. As an axiom, it is associated with modernist architects in the early-20th century, and can be termed 'functionalism'.

The phrase (which was actually 'form ever follows function'), was first coined by the American architect Louis Sullivan who helped develop the first steel skyscrapers in late-19th century Chicago. This period was a transformative one for architecture, as the new technologies and construction methods that developed during the Industrial Age meant that old and established styles could be adapted or replaced.

The principle suggested that, rather than buildings being designed in accordance with past precedents or stylistic trends, the purpose of the building would determine its form. The axiom became a touchstone for modernist architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright (who was an apprentice of Sullivan), who held that ‘form and function are one’, and rendered decorative elements as ‘ornamental’ and ‘superfluous’.

Many high-profile contemporary architects, such as Renzo Piano and Zaha Hadid, and designers of post-modern, high-tech buildings, have been criticised for their overt focus on form as opposed to practicality and functionality.

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