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  • Writer's pictureAna Castañeda

Form Or Function, Which Is The Best Way To Handle An Architecture Project?

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

Must Form Follow Function in Architecture?

The saying “form follows function” was first coined by Louis Sullivan in 1896, who based his ideas on the Roman ideals of architecture being something solid, useful, and beautiful. The modern idea was developed during the end of the 19th century and the beginnings of the 20th and has remained a monolith for the profession to this very day. However, is it still the correct way to think about architecture and design?

Architecture is a reflection of the program and the space it creates. These elements give the shape of the project. The functions of spaces are the priorities of the design process and represent the primary elements that drive forth design and shape itself. Everything involving the project, from the materials, textures, shapes, colors is all influenced as a result by the program or function of the space. Certainly, this is the most objective way to view the relationship between function, shape, and object, right?

Is Architecture the Object Itself?

Ever since post-modernism, architects have begun to Split off the idea on several levels, giving way to the thought of architecture being the object itself. This is the most classical way to focus on the subject and we cannot deny its roots in the classical train of thought. This is clearly seen in many postmodern designs where buildings are designed to be understood as singular objects and in a very direct manner if you ask me. With that said, it is more reasonable to say that two (or perhaps three) ways of thinking about modern architecture exist regarding form and function.

The Problem with Style Over Substance in Architecture

The architects that see architecture as an object consider the discipline more as an art form, which must lend itself more to their belief that architecture is the object itself. In this case, the function becomes secondary to the creation and expression of shape. However, the shape is a definitive definition of design and is essential to all other elements. On one side, we must give merit to this way of handling architecture, but on the other, we must come to terms with the natural conflicts between the practical and the purely esthetical, which has generated an endless amount of debates between the two factions.

A Third Way to Think About Architecture

The third way I mentioned earlier is in fact a group of architects that are trying to unify both ideologies into one. Many modern architects fit in that category and they are those that understand the importance of programmed space, but who also seek to create expressive and meaningful shapes under their constraints. However, one element will always take precedence over another given the context, they can never be truly equal, but, despite this, the perspective of this middle way faction is not in the wrong. Architecture must have a balance of both elements, no matter which one receives the priority in the project.

Is There a Right Way to Think About Architecture?

So, are there any correct answers amongst these different viewpoints? It is hard to say, but the balance of elements, regardless of it being impossible to reach 100% is, in my opinion, the most optimal way to affront this debate. Having flexibility and the capability of adaptation is key not only in the realization of good and meaningful projects but also in their practical use and ease of renewal, without giving excessive priority to either style or substance. Finding balance then is the key to the future of architecture.

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