We wrote a final paper wich occur a selected topic by ourselves. My topic wa about “form” and “function”. Here it is;
FORM AND FUNCTION DEBATE
Finding an accurate form for a structure has been a challenging matter in architecture. And also there has been a question in this task what its function of the structure and how it is served. These all question has been existing from starting the architecture history and of course it will lasting. Mankind started architecture for its needs and they always look for the best ways which can serve their need and answer their requirements. When it is the case, the relationship between form and function has been an ongoing topic in architecture circle. Especially, in the architecture period of Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance nearly all buildings had ornamentation or figurative decoration. Building’s façades or form was used as a way of expression. For example, in the Gothic period architects design buildings with ribbed vaulting for the giving expression of being close to god. With time function of this ornamentation started to questioning. Then the idea of functionalism started to spread in the 18th century. The principle of functionalism is designing a building according to the purpose of building with the other words function of the building. According to the perspective of functionalism, buildings should design as a unity of pure, unornamented form which is the combination of rhythmically unified various patterns. In the progress of time, the relationship of form and function turn into a contradiction which occupies an important place in architectural history with the contributions of lots of important architects. No matter there are lots of declarations about the contradiction that discuss by some important architects such as Louis Sullivan, Adolf Loos, Robert Venturi, Frank Lloyd Wright for clarifying their relation, this contradiction between functionalism, form and aesthetic are remaining as a continuous debate that dependent variable of individual perspective. This paper is not written for criticizing this statement or sharing my own ideas about it. The goal of this paper is analysing the debate between form and function and also analysing contributions and evaluation of it as well. The reason for this debate took an important place in architecture progression I also aimed briefly analyse the developing ideas that influence this statement.
Before starting analysing form, function, and their retaliations which show variety by the time, the architectural meaning of form and function should understand. In 2013, John Shannon Hendrix explains form and function as
“By “form” is meant the visual appearance of a building (line, outline, shape, composition); by “function” the structural and functional requirements of a building (construction, shelter, program, organization, use, occupancy, materials, social purpose). The form, of course, can be said to have a metaphysical “function” to represent or express an idea, but that sense of the word is not used here. Both terms have modern connotations, related to the dictum “form follows function,” but both have also played a role in architecture throughout history.”[ Hendrix, John. Contradiction between Form and Function in Architecture. (Routledge, NY, 2013), p.1.]
in his book “The Contradiction Between Form and Function in Architecture”. This important debate actually started in 1869, with Louis Sullivan’s claim “form ever follows function” in his article “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered”. He changed a course of architecture history and creates new aspect to modern architecture by saying
“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human, and all things super-human, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law”.[ Louis H. Sullivan, “The Tall Building Artistically Considered,” in Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings (New York: George Wittenborn & Co., 1947), p. 208.]
According to Sullivan’s thought architecture should be sensible and logical because the result of a building has a sense of responsibility of living. In other words, the design should have a spirit. Also in his essay, he suggested that form is expressing inner life of the building. So that form should represent that life. He stated his idea about form by saying;”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 from each other.”[ Louis H. Sullivan, “The Tall Building Artistically Considered,” in Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings (New York: George Wittenborn & Co., 1947), p.207.]Sullivan also discusses that “form follows function” is a related topic of nature. He explains this idea “Unfailingly in nature these shapes express the inner life, the native quality, of the animal, tree, bird, fish, that they present to us; they are so characteristic, so recognizable, that we say simply, it is “natural” it should be so”.[ Louis H. Sullivan, “The Tall Building Artistically Considered,” in Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings (New York: George Wittenborn & Co., 1947), p.344.]
Therefore, Sullivan argues that buildings cannot show its characteristic as an organic thing so that it should be designed the way that expresses its characteristic as it happens in nature with the other words the way form follows function.
After a few decade, Frank Lloyd Wright explains the relation of nature and building by stating;
”Primarily, Nature furnished the materials for architectural motifs out of which the architectural forms as we know them today have been developed, and, although our practice for centuries has been for the most part to turn from her, seeking inspiration in books and adhering slavishly to dead formulae, her wealth of suggestion is inexhaustible; her riches greater than any man’s desire. ”[ Wright, Frank Lloyd. In the Cause of Architecture. New York: F.W. Dodge, 1928, p.1.]
As clarified by the quotations of Sullivan and Wright, the relation of nature and form is a rich source of design. This approach related with nature and form of Sullivan becomes one of the debatable issues which has actually occurred by misinterprets of Louis Sullivan’s approach. Contrary to the claims by some people who disagree with Sullivan’s statement, he did not suggest a form for a specific type of building. He suggested having a form like in nature. For instance, there are seven million people in the world but as categorization, they are all human. As a duty, architects should understand the environment and the needs then create a building according to this special character. The sum and the substance of it, Wright and Sullivan suggested using as a source of design not a source of copy. By following this path architects extrapolate countless form for every building even if have a similar function.
Briefly stated, the basic purpose of Sullivan’s suggestions were for having a functional design (functional building type to the modern high-rise office building) which can sense by its form. He clearly stated that form of buildings should no longer express privileges or religious messages, it should express what they are by writing;
” And thus, the design of the tall office building takes its place with all other architectural types made when architecture, as has happened once in many years, was a living art. Witness the Greek temple, the Gothic cathedral, the mediaeval fortress.”[ Louis H. Sullivan, “The Tall Building Artistically Considered,” in Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings (New York: George Wittenborn & Co., 1947), p.345.]
In following years, in the light of Functionalism architects started to abandon the predecessor ornamentation approach and the idea of creating a design for serving its function starts to gain an importance place in architecture. In 1908, Adolf Loos declares that “ornament is crime”. In his essay, Loos stated that”Every period had its style: why was it that our period was the only one to be denied a style? By “style” was meant ornament.”[ Adolf Loos, “Ornament and Crime,” in Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays (California: Ariadne Press, 1997), p.20.] As stated in the quotation of Loos a style with the other words ornamentation showed itself in every period of architecture. Without having a function, ornamentation was found at buildings. This expensive expression had served only the individual aesthetic taste. As a figurative expression, ornamentation rejected by the manifesto of Adolf Loos. In this manifesto, Loos express unnecessity of ornamentation by writing;
“Well, the epidemic of ornament is recognised by the state and is subsidized with government money. I, however, consider that to be regressive. I will not subscribe to the argument that ornament increases the pleasure of the life of a cultivated person or the argument which covers itself with the words: “But if the ornament is beautiful! …” To me, and to all the cultivated people, ornament does not increase the pleasures of life. If I want to eat a piece of gingerbread I will choose one that is completely plain and not a piece which represents a baby in arms of a horse rider, a piece which is covered over and over with decoration. The man of the fifteenth century would not understand me. But modern people will.”[ Adolf Loos, “Ornament and Crime,” in Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays (California: Ariadne Press, 1997), p.21]
His aim was demonstrating a lack of necessity of ornamentation or decoration. Having pure forms or creating a form for only following its function reduce to Loos the saying “ornament is crime”. According to Loos’s aspect, without serving any function, creating a form or decoration or ornament was only waste of time and money. He wrote this essay for reveal these redundant accessories for whom may not aware.
Sullivan may start the debate of “Form Follows Function” but Loos carries it a step forward. Indeed, as a common ground Sullivan and Loss pointed out that architect should use the natural organic forms instead of various stylish expressions. Furthermore, they also clarify that these stylish decorations only visually serve expressions on the buildings. According to their perspective, designing unused things for creating living art in the building should be a history any longer. The distinction of Loos’ ideas and Sullivan’s ideas occurred by Loos’s sharp approach to usage of ornamentation. Some of the architects claim that there should be some aesthetic concern in a design. So that they found Loos’s approach as an extreme remark. In “The Function of Ornament” book Farshid Moussavi opposes this extreme remark by giving example the counter view of Gottfried Semper;
“For Semper, the functional and structural requirements of a building were subordinate to the semiotic and artistic goals of ornament. For Loos, on the other hand, ornamentation was a crime. In his view, the ornament was used in traditional societies as a means of differentiation; modern society needed not to emphasize individuality, but on the contrary, to suppress it. Hence for Loos, ornamentation had lost its social function and had become unnecessary.”[ Moussavi, Farshid, and Michael Kubo. The Function of Ornament. (Barcelona: Actar, 2006), p. 7.]
With this example, Farshid Moussavi also aimed the underlined the need of ornament. She is perceived ornament as a communication way of culture by located on the buildings. As a matter of fact, she wrote;
“Ornament is the figure that emerges from the material substrate, the expression of embedded forces through processes of construction, assembly, and growth. It is through ornament that material transmits affects. Ornament is therefore necessary and inseparable from the object. It is not a mask determined a priori to create specific meanings(as in Postmodernism), even though it does contribute to contingent or involuntary signification (a characteristic of all forms). It has no intention to decorate, and there is in it no hidden meaning. At the best of times, ornament becomes an “empty sign” capable of generating an unlimited number of resonances.”[ Moussavi, Farshid, and Michael Kubo. The Function of Ornament. (Barcelona: Actar, 2006), p. 8.
This approach of Farshid Moussavi’s has an encounter approach with Sullivan. The reason of Sullivan’s unornamented form approach, another counter reactions in this debate occurred against Louis Sullivan. As an accusation of some dissident architects, they discuss that even if Sullivan who is famous for with the quote of “ Form Follows Function” could not apply his own principle in his own design, related to his usage of the terra cotta ornamentation in Wainwright Building, Guaranty Building. He is criticised because of using this material while defending functional form. As a reaction to this attitude, Marcel Breuer said, “Sullivan did not eat his functionalism quite as hot as he cooked it”[ Hendrix, John. Contradiction between Form and Function in Architecture. (Routledge, NY, 2013), p.10.]. For clarify, Hendrix explains this incomprehensible situation by writing “Sullivan said that form should follow function in the creative process of the architect, and that “the essence of things is taking shape in the matter of things”in nature, but he did not say that the form of the building should follow the function of the building, its functional or structural requirements.”[ Hendrix, John. Contradiction between Form and Function in Architecture. (Routledge, NY, 2013), p.10.]As the matter of fact that Sullivan manifest ornament in 1892 “Ornament in Architecture”. Moreover, this article is considered hat influence Adolf Loos. As ı mention before, Although the manifest of Sullivan’s not sharp as Loos’s, he also expresses his thought very clearly by pressing these words;
”I should say that it would be greatly for our aesthetic good if we should refrain entirely from the use of ornament for a period of years, in order that our thought might concentrate acutely upon the production of buildings well formed and comely in the nude.”[ Louis H. Sullivan, “Ornament in Architecture,” in Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings (New York: George Wittenborn & Co., 1947), p. 187.]
To admitted, his way of using terra cotta in his design is not serve as an example. In point of fact, it should understand the difficulty of transferring thoughts, a general ideas or philosophy in structure while designing. Unfortunately, lots of pioneer architects- commonly architecture philosophers- lost their path while transferring their ideas to reality. But the reason of the unsuccessful example of practice, this principle of should not consider as a wrong.This statement is a general perception for the idealization of architecture. Its application is another matter.
In brief, the idea of creating the functional design is having a functional form that serves as its usage and representation of inside life in the design process, not finding a form of building that follows its function without concerning functional, structural requirements and only respecting the inner life and order. The reason of these two principles “form follows function” and “ornament is Crime” have not any strict difference between them some architects find a solution with merging these two principles as “Form follows function” allows for ornamentation as long as it serves a function. As a result, some architects follows this joined principle in their design and some of them only take a part that fit with their architectural perception, so it should point out that this remark influences lots of important architects and of course of architectural events. Furthermore, lots of architects such as Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Oscar Niemeyer and much mores also interpreted this debate and voicing their own ideas about it. Sullivan’s real aim was finding the right form of a building as it works for nature. He argues this issue with his main declaration, he thought that form should embrace its identity as much as works in nature
In fact, however, Sullivan declares “ Form ever follows function”, actually, Wright turned this slogan into today’s known form by saying “Already it has been said – Lieber Meister declared it – and biology knows and shows us that form follows function.”[ Wright, Frank Lloyd 1953: The Future of Architecture.( New York), p. 296.]And also in “Language of Organic Architecture”, Frank Lloyd Wright defends the idea of “Form follows function” not only for seeing his former teacher and employer Louis Sullivan as “Lieber Meister” but also for corresponding his own architectural theories and attitude. In the same essay, he also pointed out that this debatable remark becomes an “ a much-abused slogan and the password for sterility”.[ Wright, Frank Lloyd 1953: The Future of Architecture.( New York), p. 332.]Therefore, he explains the main principle behind this slogan in ”Frank Lloyd Wright” documentary, by saying““ Form Follows Function” – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.”[ Frank Lloyd Wright. Dir. Ken Burns. 1997.]Despite all, misunderstands and critics, Sullivan’s real aim was finding the right form of a building as it works for nature. He argues this issue with his main declaration, he thought that form should embrace its identity an as much as works in nature. Wright also wrote “Forms follows Function” is mere dogma until you realize the higher truth that form and function are one.”[ Wright, Frank Lloyd 1954: The Natural House. (New York), p. 20.].Beside the respect and tendency of exception to Sullivan’s ideas, another reason of Wright takes a stand for Sullivan’s opinion and tries to utilise is this idea provides a basis for his own architectural style. As in his mentor’s suggestions, Wright also embraces nature in his design. Frank Lloyd Wright cherishes to nature and natural order in the light of that fact he creates his architectural style which called “organic architecture”. Wright, in a similar vein with Sullivan, desires using organic characteristics and natural principles in the design process of mankind(in this case architects)for intelligently creating forms.
The approach of Sullivan not only creates lots of debate and critics but also opens lots of doors whom may understand the real logic of it. This debate’s discussion never be “form follows function”, form or function. As a close person to Sullivan, Wright explains this real aim with“Not until we raise the dictum, now a dogma, to the realm of thought, and say: Form and function are one, have we stated the case for architecture.”[ Wright, Frank Lloyd 1953: The Future of Architecture.( New York), p. 296,] As in the saying, this famous remark should be perceived as a case for architecture not a stylish or ideological approach of one man. It is a matter of architecture.
To illustrate to Wright and Sullivan, another important architect made and another declaration about this debate by saying;“ We no longer argue over the primacy of form or function(which follows which?), we cannot ignore their interdependence”.[ Venturi, Robert 1977: Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. (New York), p.18 ]Some of whom may not understand the real intellectual of “form follows function”, this statement is considered this as an another manifestation of Robert Venturi as a case of his statement “Less is Bore” against Mies van der Rohe’s statement “Less is more”. On the other hand, this Robert Venturi’s statement more like another explanation for drawing attention to the purpose of this declaration. The real aim of Sullivan never was sharply defining form follows function or function follows form. As a Venturi says there should not no more discuss which follows which this is not the topic. The real topic is understood them as an undivided part of a uniting composition.
To sum up, the main reason of that ı approach to this” form follows function” debate by analysing Louis Sullivan, Adolf Loos, Frank Lloyd Wright and Robert Venturi is pointing out development process by their contribution. This idea is not only famous for its strong statement but also for the thing that becomes by development trough the time with these names and much more. All these pioneers contribute this topic by criticising or carrying a step forward by their interpretation. This ideology may be started as a statement of one architect but it is influenced many mores.Related with this is an ongoing debate with lots of interpretation, as a goal of this paper ı would like to enlighten some known misunderstood of this remark by analysing not only counter perception but also encounter perception. No matter this debate never conclude, its beneficence to the development of the other perception of architecture such as organic architecture and functionalism should appreciate. In addition to all these debates, this slogan of Sullivan should perceive as a more than a function or form issue, it is a general approach for defining the architectural aspect.
- Louis H. Sullivan, “The Tall Building Artistically Considered,” in Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings (New York: George Wittenborn & Co., 1947)
- Hendrix, John. Contradiction between Form and Function in Architecture. (Routledge, NY, 2013)
- Adolf Loos, “Ornament and Crime,” in Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays (California: Ariadne Press, 1997)
- Moussavi, Farshid, and Michael Kubo. The Function of Ornament. (Barcelona: Actar, 2006)
- Louis H. Sullivan, “Ornament in Architecture,” in Kindergarten Chats and Other
- Writings (New York: George Wittenborn & Co., 1947)
- Wright, Frank Lloyd 1953: The Future of Architecture.( New York)
- Frank Lloyd Wright. Dir. Ken Burns. 1997.
- Wright, Frank Lloyd 1954: The Natural House. (New York)
- Venturi, Robert, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour. Learning from Las Vegas:
- The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1977.
- Gousios, Georgios, and Diomidis Spinellis. Beautiful Architecture:. Beijing: O’Reilly, 2009.
- Wright, Frank Lloyd. In the Cause of Architecture. New York: F.W. Dodge, 1928.