Architectural Functions and Forms

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Many scholars have defined the term ‘architecture’ variously. Their definition is dependent on their academic and professional orientations. However, many are of the view that architecture can be defined as the art of designing and creating structures. There are also those who are of the view that architecture can be described as an art based on principles governing beauty and utilities (Hakan 2000).

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It is noted that the structures being created should be able to satisfy their user’s needs as well as have the ability to serve their intended purpose. This is especially so given the fact that the designer has an envisaged function in mind when designing a structure. These functions range from aesthetics to practical applications such as dwelling or housing of offices.

Inability by a structure to fulfill its intended function may be termed as a failure on the side of the architect involved in the designing of the structure. Through the general appearance of the structures in question, one should automatically be able to tell its likely or intended use. The creations of an architect are used to reflect their personality and other attributes.

This is especially so given the fact that like other artists, the architect uses their designs to express their world perspective. Many are of the view that the functionality of a building should however be given a higher priority as compared to the outward appearance of the building. Recent trends in the world of architecture have however revealed that compromises are being made to cater more to the form of structures as opposed to their functions.

The phrase “form follows function” is common in the world of architecture (Petersons 2000). The phrase is viewed by many as a representation of the principles of architecture. The author of this paper seeks to emphasize the viability of this phrase regarding the purpose of the structure as the primary consideration in the building process. The significance of form in architecture should however not be ignored. The form of the structure is equally as important.

It is these forms and appearances of the structures that enable it to fulfill its purpose to the target consumers. Overemphasis on the form of the structures has however been seen to contradict the results with the architect failing to address the essence of building the structure which is to fulfill the needs of the user as well as have the capacity to support activities that define its existence.

In the recent past, architects have been blamed for building very expensive structures that are barely usable. The structures are attractive to the eye of the audience but their applicability is almost non-existent. This is not acceptable.

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Function as a Primary Consideration in Architecture


Many analysts agree that the function of a structure is a major consideration in architecture. The function of the structure can be referred to as the initial intention that the architect had in mind when designing and building the structure. The architecture of a building should be able to vividly tell the intended purpose of the structure under focus (Michl 2002).

It is this intended function of the building that will guide the architect when making the choice as far as the aspects of the structure are concerned. These are choices such as their size and shape. To achieve this, prior planning is vital before the commencement of the construction process to ascertain that the available resources, as well as the architectural plan, support the success of the structure. Having fulfilled these functions, the structure can be termed as a success.

Function and Architecture

Basic Needs as a Function

An architectural structure should for one be capable of fulfilling the basic needs of its users. The structures should have the capability of providing for the comfort of their users (Brenner 2001). Apart from the main structure of the building, supplementary structures internal or external to the main structure should have the capability of meeting basic human needs such as shelter or those intended by the designer. The architect responsible should be able to account for such needs regardless of the form the architecture will take.

The environment created in the structure should be conducive for human existence or rather should ensure that all the conditions vital for human survival as well as comfort are catered for. These are conditions such as aeration, light among others. Should the architecture fail to meet these basic needs of the users, the structure would be considered substandard and hence would not be fit for use.

Economic Function and Architecture

The economic function of the structure also comes in as an important consideration in the selection of the architectural design to be applied. In the case of economic functions of the design, activities likely to be carried out in the structure define its architecture. The architect charged with the design of the structure should be able to factor in considerations such as the type of businesses and other activities likely to be carried out in the structure under focus (Gombrich 2007).

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It automatically follows that large businesses will require large space allocation as well as the inclusion of other structures such as elevators to try and control human traffic in the premises. The nature of the business or premises being housed in the structure should also be considered.

Premises dealing with high risk commodities and services should be able to assure their users of their security. Architectural designs should therefore aim at cushioning the user from external vulnerabilities. These are vulnerabilities such as fire, malicious attacks among others. Failure to incorporate these needs in the design will render the structure as well as its owners vulnerable to a variety of risks among them loss of property.

Cultic Function and Architecture

An architect should also have the capability to fulfil the cultic function of the structure under question. Various structures are associated with various cultic functions such as that of a temple, church or even a shrine. It is the aim of fulfilling these cultic functions that gives such structures their distinctive forms. It is easy for one to distinguish these structures owing to their external and internal form. It is the architect’s responsibility to ensure that the structure has the capability to support activities related to them (Lloyd 2001, p. 24).

It is therefore not surprising to see structures with the same cultic use taking a similar shape, size as well as almost identical appearances. A structure with varying cultic functions is also structurally different and can be easily distinguished from its appearance. This is for example in the case between churches and mosques. Failure to match the form of the structure with its cultic significance may also mean that the building ends up losing its intended meaning and function. The building may also lack the capacity to fulfil its intended function since it may fail to support activities it was meant to cater for in the initial design.

Symbolic Function and Architecture

The architectural design of a building should also have the capability to fulfil its symbolic function. ‘Form follows function’ implying that the structural appearance of the building in question should be able to reflect factors such as class as well as status associated with the users of the building.

The symbolism of a building must therefore be factored in for the art employed to be justified (Petroski 2004: p. 41). Structures such as palaces and statehouses can be easily distinguished from other structures because of their respective forms reflecting a certain degree of class and status. Though form does not take the ultimate credit for the appearance of the structure, it is symbolic and assists one in understanding the intended use of a building.

Role and Significance of Form in Architecture

Form can be described as the outward appearance of a structure (Herdeg 2003, p. 30). Form can also be regarded as the visual presence of the structure. The form of a particular structure should be defined by its functions. Through close observation, an individual should be able to determine the possible function of a particular structure.

The form of the architectural design should include aspects supporting its intended use. Features contained should aid users in their activities inside or within the environs of the structures. Failure to incorporate these structural aspects will also lead to the failure of a structure to satisfy its user’s needs. Such a structure will be regarded as unsuitable as far as the intended use is concerned.

The form of the building is vital in the satisfaction of the needs of the user. Taking the form as the structure of the building, it is noted that the architecture used is able to address aspects such as basic needs of the users. The form also ensures protection as well as the security of the structures and those occupying them. For example the materials used in constructing the structure will play a major role in the outward appearance of the structure as well as the safety of the users.

Diversification in forms should also not be a reason for the structure to compromise the provision of basic human needs. Regardless of the design used, features such as safety and shelter should be guaranteed. The environment around the structure is also an issue of concern with the security and suitability of various architectures varying in different locations.

It is possible to associate a structure with the activity it is likely to host. The social aspects of a particular structure can be identified with regard to the size as well as the shape of the structure (Watkin 2010, p. 46). Features such as the size of the structure will dictate the possible capacity of the users that can be accommodated at a go. Different social events are characterized by different number of individuals.

Shape is also paramount in the determination of the social aspects characterized by a particular form. Structures are normally shaped in a way that facilitates easy communication within the forums being held. Presence of other distinguishing features also helps in the differentiation of various uses of the structures with different structures such as a mere hall and a church being easily distinguished.

Form is also an important aspect in the determination of the elegance of the structure. The appearance of the structure can easily be traced back to the architect’s expertise. Credit as a result of the form of architecture is therefore used in the building of an architect’s profile. Success achieved as a result of use of a particular form is used as a base line from which other architects can draw their works.

An architect who prides themselves with a magnificent piece of architecture also have the advantage of winning future contracts as a result of fame emanating from the success of previous works (Mumford 2004, p. 51). Beautiful sceneries from these structures also help in attracting people to these locations. For example, architectural marvels such as the Leaning Tower, the Eiffel Tower in Europe and Burji in Dubai attracts people to these cities.

Form is viewed as the major determinant of the success of a building. It is the appearance of the building as well as its structures that will determine its success in achieving its intended use. Aspects of form such as size and shape play a major role in defining the kind of activities that can be carried out in a certain structure (Sullivan 2007: p. 26).

Capacity of the structure usually associated with its size is also vital in the determination of possible activities that can be carried out in the building. Through the arrangements of components in the structure, an observer can be able to deduce countless meanings and conclusions pertaining to the structure. Other factors such as sitting arrangements tend to vary with the structure in question. The arrangement of a football field will tend to carry from that of other games such as basket ball or other formal settings like is the case in conference halls.

The form also plays an integral part in safeguarding the interests of the users in the designing of architectures. An architect should have the capabilities to identify all risks that may be associated with his architectural design of choice (Michl 2002). The structures established should be considered safe for human survival.

Arrangement of utilities should also be in a manner that best suits the requirements of each user. Facilities in the structure meant for sharing should be centrally located for easier access by every user of the structure. Form can thus be said to be the physical aspects of a structure that influences its uses and functions. Form is therefore said to be borne from the functions the structure is charged with.

Degree To Which Interest in Form Moves Towards Formalism

Rapid growth as well as expansion of the construction industry has seen the disregard of common architectural principles and practices (Herdeg 2003: p. 30). Among the most abused of these principles is that of “Form follows function.” There has been a turn of event with individual architects turning their focus more on the architectural forms thus disregarding the functions of the structures being constructed. This practice has lead to the realization of poor architectural designs as well as the building of structures that are not up to the set standards. Most of these structures are magnificent in appearance but are often expensive and do not suite their functions.

Formalism is one of the effects that have emanated as a result of failure to follow laid down principles in the field of architecture (Hakan 2000). Formalism can be described as a negative attribute and is always associated with missing components in a particular work.

Many architects have in the recently resulted to ignore core matters pertaining to issues such as the functions of the structures to concentrate more on the development of forms that have proven to be more beneficial to them in terms of returns as well as fame gained as a result of the magnificence of the structures. The situation is however alarming since low quality work is done thus lowering the architectural standards. A lot of resources are also wasted since the constructed structures cannot fulfil their functions.

Recent trends have also seen architects gaining recognition as a result of the architectures they produce as opposed to the ability of their designs to achieve the intended use (Brenner 2001). This practice has ultimately severed the principles applied in architecture with many buildings being considered as substandard.

The choice of design for a particular building has aimed more at satisfying the architect’s ego. The end users of the building are however left out in the considerations and the form created poses a permanent limitation of the building unless plans to rectify the architectural design of the building are put in place. Resources used in the putting up of these structures are therefore considered wasted or rather the structure does not get to fulfil its intended use.

Poor architectural designs that have not been developed to meet the purpose of the structure also fail to reflect on the symbolism of the building (Gombrich 2007). Rush decisions in the designing of structures fails to factor in important aspects such as the status associated with the structures in question. Such mistakes by the architect are costly both to the owner as well as the users of the structure since the will have to device mechanisms to cope with the short comings of the buildings as well as possible renovations to correct extreme deviations from the originally intended design.


Form is the actual appearance of a structure. The form is developed in a way to support the function of the structure in question. However, recent architectural works have failed to factor in this requirement and have given more emphasis on the forms of the structures (Petroski 2004: p. 41). Such structures fail to meet their intended use since and are often considered substandard.

The owners of these buildings thus end up incurring huge costs yet the architectural design employed has not factored in the original use of the building. These buildings are usually characterized by magnificent structures that form beautiful sceneries. Such architects tend to forget that function is the primary consideration in architecture (Sullivan 2007).

Function being the primary essence in architecture, it automatically follows that the form of the structure in question should take the size, shape as well as have an appearance that supports its intended use (Mumford 2004: p. 51). It has been argued that the success of the architectural work is measured not by the outside appearance of the structure but rather by its capability to support the needs of its users. It is therefore the responsibility of each and every architect to see to it that the general principles of architecture are adhered to prevent a conflict of interest.


Brenner, A 2001, ‘Concerning sculptures and architecture,’ Journal of a Public Servant Look at Design, vol. 4 no. 2, pp. 99-107.

Gombrich, E 2007, ‘The logic of vanity fair: alternatives to historicism in the study of fashions, style and taste,’ Ideals and Idols, vol. 4 no 3, pp. 27-28.

Hakan, A 2000, ‘(Epistemological) formalism and architectural design,’ Architectural Review, vol. 10 no. 2, pp. 1-8.

Herdeg, K 2003, The decorated diagram: Harvard architecture and the failure of the Bauhaus legacy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Lloyd, P 2001, Taste today: the role of appreciation in consumerism and design, Oxford University Press, London.

Michl, J 2002, ‘Form follows what? The modernist notion of function as a carte blanche,’ Journal of Architecture, vol. 4 no. 10, pp. 20-31.

Mumford, L 2004, The case against ‘modern architecture’, Prentice Hall, New York.

Petersons, T 2000, ‘Does form follow function?’ Taylor & Francis ISSN, vol. 41 no. 3, pp. 505-519.

Petroski, H 2004, Design paradigms: case histories of error and judgment in engineering, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Sullivan, L 2007, The tall office building artistically considered, Kindergarten Chats, New York.

Watkin, D 2010, Morality and architecture: the development of a theme in architectural history and theory from the gothic revival to the modern movement, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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