Last edited 24 May 2021



In relation to the built environment, the term ‘function’ refers to the purpose of a building or structure. It can also relate to the proper operation, process or performance of something and how it works, such as plant, tools, lift, building services.

In architecture, functionalism (or ‘form follows function’) is the principle that rather than buildings being designed in accordance with past precedents or stylistic trends (aesthetics), the underlying purpose of the building should determine its form.

Buildings have a wide range of different functions, for example, a house is to be lived in, an office serves as a place of work for business activities, a shopping centre is for consumers to access retail outlets, a school is for pupils and teachers to undertake education, and so on.

Buildings may have a range of different functions (for example, a factory may include offices, a restaurant, assembly lines and so on) and some functions may conflict with one another, for example, access vs security, views vs privacy and so on.

Products, materials, components and systems, can be assessed in terms of their functionality, that is, the suitability and capability with which they serve a particular purpose or practicality for which they were intended.

See also: Primary function.

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