Architecture has always been one of the major means of expression of social and cultural changes in a particular society. Each historical period is characterized by a particular art movement that introduces its rules and laws. According to Hugh Morrison (2007, p. 15) “the besetting architectural sin of the nineteenth century was the imitation of historic style”. Architecture was preoccupied with beauty that imitated past standards.
It was American architecture Sullivan who “emancipated” new architecture and was the first who provided new modernistic “aesthetic credo” of the architectural design. He stated that architecture of buildings should be reformed and it should meet the needs of a new society. He established new fundamentalist principle that sounded as “form ever follows structure”. Lewis (2001, p. 50) states that “Sullivan draped his buildings in the most voluptuous and sybaritic ornament America had ever seen”.
The principles of new modernistic architecture were also estimated by Walter Gropuis. According to his point of view, modern people needed modern “home appropriate to him and to his time” (Gropuis, 1926, p. 1). Thus, the architecture of new buildings needed the use of mew materials, methods of design and techniques.
However, today, the needs of modern society have changed and Sullivan’s statement “form follows structure” does not meet these needs. A new perspective on the relations between form and function suggest that sometimes structure can follow form. Thus, the construction of the building depends on many other issues, such as culture, landscape and the desire of the client, of course.
It the times of Sullivan, progress and functionalism were the core principles of modernism. These days, the form and function of a building can influence each other or even go separately. It all depends on different factors and if we look around, we will see that numerous buildings that were built for definite purposes are used for completely different aims.
Such situation illustrates the idea that function can follow form. However, Sullivan’s principle should also be taken into consideration. There is nothing stable in the world and one should not follow only one idea, open-mindness is a very important trait of character of every progressive architect.
So, according to Sullivan form follows function absolutely and completely. The Sullivan’s concept presupposed that new society had to break with the old traditions and introduce new principles into the design of the building. His assumption claims:
“The goal, of course, was reform. A building should not derive meaning and character from the historical motifs that cluttered its skin, but from the direct, logical expression of its purpose and materials.” (Lewis, 2001, p.1).
Such point of view was supported by Gropuis (1926, p. 1) who estimated that “the home and its furnishings are mass consumer goods. And their design is more a matter of reason than a matter of passion.” Thus, the construction of the building, its decoration and design should serve practical needs of people and excessive “decorative things” are useless.
Consequently, the central idea that should provide direction for every architect is the function that the building will perform, in other words, the form of the building should follow its function.
Of course, form follows function, however, there are also other factors that influence the form of the building. They provide new vision of the relations between form and function. The first factor that influences on the form of the building is the culture of the society. Building his famous Auditorium, Sullivan was directed not only with its future function, but with the idea that “Chicago was ready for a permanent opera house” (Boudreaux, 1993, p. 3).
So, the idea was to unite the needs of modern society with the purpose of Auditorium as a cultural venue. As a result, “Louis’s heart went into this structure. It is old-time now, but its tower holds its head in the air, as a tower should” (Boudreaux, 1993, p. 5). Thus, cultural needs should also be important for the architect and should be considered when designing a building.
The second issue that influences of the design of the building is the landscape. The architecture of the building should, more or less, coincide with the landscape around it. With this in mind, we can say that Sullivan’s statement about form and function fails, because, according to Lewis (2001, p. 57) “Sullivan’s architecture also showed no great feeling for landscape, or for the lyrical integration of buildings with nature.” Thought:
“To be an architect means to compose spatially. The true poets of architecture are those who did so with acrobatic imagination: Michelangelo, Soane, Wright. But here Adler and Sullivan’s resume was skimpy” (Lewis, 2001, p. 58).
A building looks good only if it fits the design of the buildings around it. A glorious skyscraper can look silly among old and small buildings. The harmony is a very important thing that plays a great role in the architectural design.
Finally, the desire of the client is one more considerable moment that every architect should take into consideration. Lewis (2001, p. 56) states that, “Sullivan was less interested in the specific personality of his clients than in the large anonymous forces of modern American life, so immense in magnitude in Chicago.”
These days, the desire of the client is even more important than the function of the building. One can wish to have a bed as aquarium, though, it is unnecessary for the function of the bed, for example. Thus, “the desire of the client is the law.”
Considering all mentioned above, we can say that Sullivan’s statement “form follows structure” can be debated. Moreover, modern practice shows that this statement can be converted as “structure follows form”, because there are new relations between those issues in the present-day architecture.
Summing up all ideas, we can come to a conclusion that today there are new relations between form and structure in the architectural design. According to Sullivan, form should follow structure. However, taking into consideration modern tendencies and social needs, we can say that sometimes structure can follow form.
In addition, there are many other factors to be considered while constructing the building and these factors influence greatly on forms, as well as on structure of the building. These factors are cultural development of the society, landscape that surrounds the building, desire of the client and many other minor ones.
All these factors should be taken in consideration when architect plans design of the building. However, we cannot reject Sullivan’s statement completely, as modern and progressive architect should be open-minded and pay attention to all details. Moreover, Sullivan’s statement created a basis for the modern architecture and many architects still follow it even nowadays.
Boudreaux, G. 1993, “Louis Sullivan: The Growth of an Idea”, Auditorium to the Bank viewed 17 November 2010, http://www.tape.net/~gerry/sullivan/sullivan.html
Gropius, W. 1926. “Bauhaus Dessau—Principles of Bauhaus Production”.
Lewis, M. J. 2001, “Louis Sullivan after functionalism” The New Criterion.