Form follows function

Posted on: 8th August, 2018

Category: Architecture 101

Contributor: Gareth Ryan

Gareth Ryan (MCIAT) is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists. Contact him at 023 8821807 or 087 7444568.

Form follows function is a principle of architecture coined in 20th century modernist architecture and industrial design, which means that the shape of a building should primarily relate to its intended function or use and the term can be attributed to the architect Louis Sullivan. This article seeks to present two examples of applying this theoretical approach to design with one in a kitchen design and the other applied to the extension of traditional houses.

In the kitchen design which can be seen in this month’s image one can see an unusual shape of an island. Curved kitchen units and worktops are becoming more popular and common and are not the realm of expensive design solutions but rather fully thought out design solutions. They provide the ability to create a more natural flowing kitchen, as a significant amount of human body movement is not in straight lines but in more of a natural feeling movement of curved lines. The curved shape of the kitchen island in the picture is one of its features which allows the movement around it but the reason the centre piece is narrower is based on the principle mentioned above. The intention from the outset of the design work was to have the cooker in the centre of the island in the centre of the room. The shape of the space is an exact rectangle with a big window at the one end so there was no other option in the design but to have two flanking straight runs of units and a central island. The cooker in the island would have been either to one side of the island if it was rectangular to be reachable or if centred then difficult to reach easily. The constraints of dealing with a rectangular space, with its inherent symmetry, and trying to achieve ease of movement and ease of reach to the cooker resulted in this shape and form being the solution. One could then say that the resulting design of this kitchen island and unit adheres to this principle of form follows function in that the function of being able to move around the island and reach the cooker easily resulted in this eight-shaped form design.

The second example of this theoretical approach to design is in the design of an extension to a Labourers Act style house of the late 19th and early 20th century houses, which are common in West Cork with their three bays wide and one-and-a-half storeys height, with two rooms downstairs and two upstairs and traditional farm houses, which both can have lower than current standards ceiling heights on the ground floor and sloped ceiling on the first floor. The challenge posted by extending these houses is that if one is to add a current standard ceiling height house then inevitabily one can end up designing a higher ridge height than that which exists or using a different pitched roof. This is not just a recent problem as if one buys or wishes to do work on these types of building then they will notice that usually some flat roof extensions or awkward pitched roof junctions are found to exist. A combination of design features can be used to resolve the height issue such as lowering the floor level of the extension and/or using an area of flat roofs. Contemporary design favours maintaining existing features and enhancing the overall design by repeating them and therefore using the same roof pitches that exist and some areas of flat roofing is preferable. One may notice though that by using a flat roof in certain areas of a design of an extension to these styles of houses that significantly benefit can be brought to the design. For example, if one has a shower, or even bath for comfort purposes, in a bathroom, then this particularly cannot be easily put where there is a sloped ceiling. It may be considered that these extension designs again follows the principle of form follows function as with a rectangular or square flat roofed form and the functionally to be able to use the entire room space at full standard height, then there again the shape of the building is dictated by the use within it.

This article departed from writing about the features of architecture into theoretical aspects of design but I have found that knowing this side of architectural design benefits the solution achieved rather than expecting ever house or extension to follow the same exact guidelines. The use of varying material and colour in architecture may feature in next month’s column, which follows on from this piece as it considers the variation in design achieved by material as opposed to the form of a building.


The resulting design of the kitchen island and unit above adheres to this principle of form follows function in that the function of being able to move around the island and reach the cooker easily resulted in this eight-shaped form design.

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1st November, 2018  ·  

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