Form follows function? Or material follows content.

Notes on ‘Form Follows Function’

According to Wikipedia, American Architect Lois Sullivan coined the phrase.

The full quote is:

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.

At the time, technology, tastes and economics were rapidly changing. The forms of late-19th century buildings were still being worked out, based on innovation going all the way back to ancient Greek and Roman architecture. It was clear to Sullivan that a new form for buildings was needed, and he thought that form ought to come from the function of a building, not historical precedent. Sullivan went on the design the shape of the tall steel skyscraper in late 19th-century Chicago.

Apparently, in nature, the opposite is true. Evolution passes on genetic traits to subsequent generations without any rationale for their purpose. Each generation of a species then finds a use for the form it has inherited. Function follows form in nature.

So perhaps ‘Function follows form’ is true of the humble toilet roll, too?


Malena Skote Design, Sweden

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I am an educated architect, but when I moved to a house with a garden 30 years ago, I suddenly had a huge desire to work with my hands. With great zeal, I took on the trellis construction, concrete casting and mosaic laying and felt the satisfaction of seeing something grow out of my hands. My garden projects became articles in magazines and later into books with my own texts and pictures and I started to take courses in concrete casting. My little hobby eventually became my job. Everything screaming at concrete bags rubbed on my shoulders so a few years ago I went on to experiment with softer materials like fabric and paper. And preferably I work with recycled material! Crafted with junk is my 11th book .

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