Function in Interior Design

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You may have heard the famous phrase: “form follows function”, taken from the 1896 article “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered” by Louis Sullivan. In this article Sullivan argues that the exterior design (form) of buildings should be guided by the interior functions. He passionately states:

“Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work- horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies in a twinkling. It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, 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.”

The principle “form follows function” can be observed in the Wainwright Building in St. Louis, Missouri designed by Sullivan in 1891. The iconic building features a three-part architectural composition (base-shaft-attic) that reflects the indoor requirements. The principle influenced design theory and applications leading to modern architecture and consequently the Bauhaus movement. Extrapolated to design, in general, the principle suggests that the shape, form, and structure of a design is dictated by the function it is intended for.

In interior spaces the principle can be applied as the form, meaning the design, should satisfy the intended function of the space.  Function in its essence means the practical purpose, the activity intended for a place or object. In other words, selecting design options that support the function of the space; the form (design) should solve the “problem” that we are designing for.  Therefore, function could be measured by practicability. According to John Pile, “superior functional performance is the first test of design quality”.

Design formula:

Level of Functionality  = Level of Design Quality  

When designing a space, we should not only evaluate the established purpose of the room but also the individual users needs and habits.  For instance, a formal dining area may not be practical for those families that prefer to eat at the breakfast nook. The design form of the dinning room in this setting could be more beneficial if designed as a space that the users actually need, such as an office or living area. The function of a space is ultimately determined by the users habits and lifestyle.

Have you followed this idea? Have you redesigned a space against the expected function to satisfy your lifestyle?