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Form Follows Function Biology Essay Topic


Understanding the origin and evolution of the shapes observed in nature remains an exciting challenge. Even from a cursory inspection, it is clear that the shapes of animals and plants, as determined by the distribution of mass over volume, are distinct. Animals are able to move and are approximately homogeneous in their mass distribution. Plants are rooted organisms endowed with heterogeneous self-similar geometry where the mass is concentrated in the stem and branches rather than in the leaves. By addressing the fundamental physics underlying the relation between form and physiology and the origins of Kleiber’s law, we discuss how the two divergent life forms of plants and animals may have independently evolved to achieve equivalent energetic efficiencies.


Despite the vast diversity of sizes and shapes of living organisms, life’s organization across scales exhibits remarkable commonalities, most notably through the approximate validity of Kleiber’s law, the power law scaling of metabolic rates with the mass of an organism. Here, we present a derivation of Kleiber’s law that is independent of the specificity of the myriads of organism species. Specifically, we account for the distinct geometries of trees and mammals as well as deviations from the pure power law behavior of Kleiber’s law, and predict the possibility of life forms with geometries intermediate between trees and mammals. We also make several predictions in excellent accord with empirical data. Our theory relates the separate evolutionary histories of plants and animals through the fundamental physics underlying their distinct overall forms and physiologies.

Understanding the origin and evolution of the geometries of living forms is a formidable challenge (1, 2). The geometry of an object can be characterized by its surface−volume relationship—the surface area S of an object of volume V can scale at most as and at least as (3). These geometries have been used by nature in space-filling trees and animals, respectively. Here, our principal goal is to explore how it is that both geometries of life coexist on Earth, whether intermediate geometries are possible, and what all this implies for evolution of life on Earth.

Living organisms span an impressive range of body mass, shapes, and scales. They are inherently complex, they have been shaped by history through evolution and natural section, and they continually extract, transform, and use energy from their environment. The most prevalent large multicellular organisms on Earth, namely plants and animals, exhibit distinct shapes, as determined by the distribution of mass over the volume. Animals are able to move and are approximately homogeneous in their mass distribution—yet they have beautiful fractal transportation networks. Plants are rooted organisms with a heterogeneous self-similar (fractal) geometry—the mass of the tree is more concentrated in the stem and branches than in the leaves.

The approximate power law dependence of the metabolic rate, the rate at which an organism burns energy, on organism mass has been carefully studied for nearly two centuries and is known as allometric scaling (4⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓–32). From the power law behavior, with an exponent around 3/4, one can deduce the scaling of characteristic quantities with mass and, through dimensional analysis, obtain wide-ranging predictions often in accord with empirical data. However, what underlies this ubiquitous quarter-power scaling, and with a dominant exponent of 3/4?

In an influential series of papers, West and coworkers (11, 12, 14⇓–16) suggested that fractality was at the heart of allometric scaling. Inspired by these papers, a contrasting view was presented (13), which argued that, although fractal circulatory networks may have advantages, quarter-power scaling came built in with the directed transport of nutrients. However, this latter paper was necessarily incomplete because it did not address the distinct geometries of animals and trees. More recently, members of both groups joined together to construct explicit models for animals, which showed (24) that “quarter-power scaling can arise even when there is no underlying fractality.” Here, we take a fresh look at the problem and derive quarter-power scaling quite generally for all living organisms. We then turn to a consideration of the sharp differences in the geometries of animals and trees and argue that the evolution of organismal forms follows from a rich interplay of geometry, evolutionary history, developmental symmetry, and efficient nutrient acquisition.

Despite their independent evolution and different metabolisms, vascular plants and bilaterian animals share major design features, namely, an internal mass comprising organized cells capable of metabolic and bioenergetic activities, a transport mechanism for distributing molecules and energy within itself, and a surface capable of exchanging matter and energy with the environment. Regardless of the shape differences observed between these two groups, the physics associated with the transformation, transport, and exchange of matter and energy must unavoidably impose physical constraints on their designs. An organism is akin to an engine—part of the energy obtained from nourishment is used for organism function, growth, reproduction, while the rest is dissipated through its surface. We consider the hypothesis of the survival of the fittest in terms of energy metabolism and postulate that an organism with a higher energy intake would have a competitive advantage over another organism of similar mass performing energetically suboptimally, and explore its consequences.

Consider an isotropic 3D organism of spatial extent h whose volume V scales as . Generalization to organisms with distinct scaling along the three different directions is straightforward. We make the simplifying assumption that the consumption and metabolic activity is distributed uniformly in space and in time or suitable averaging is used. We denote the basal metabolic rate of the organism by B and its mass by M. B is a measure of the energy being delivered to the organism per unit time and ought to be proportional to the energy dissipated through its surface. There is no evidence of size selection in empirical data, and this lends support to the assumption that the efficiency of the engine is independent of the organism’s size. We will derive Kleiber’s law based on energy intake considerations and study the role of geometry, as captured in the surface−volume relationship, on considering the expelled energy.

Our goal is to understand the ideal dependence of B on M in the scaling regime. The characteristic time scale associated with the organism is known to scale as —it is a measure of how long it would take for energy proportional to M to be dissipated at a rate of B. Henceforth, proportionality constants, which serve to fix the correct units of various quantities related through scaling relations, will be omitted for the sake of simplicity.

The number of metabolites, N, consumed in the organism per unit time is proportional to B. Let us define , so that a single metabolite is consumed per unit time in the local region surrounding each site of an grid. Each of these sites can be thought of as being within a service volume, in which one metabolite is consumed per unit time, of linear spatial extent . At the local level, the metabolites need to be transported this distance over unit time, and one immediately finds (24) that the transport velocity . Another measure of the transport velocity is obtained by noting that it is a characteristic length scale of the organism divided by the corresponding characteristic time scale and therefore scales as . Setting the two measures to be proportional to each other, one obtains Kleiber’s law .

An alternative way of deriving the same result in a more rigorous manner is through the consideration of the properties of efficient transportation networks. The goal is to determine the minimum number of metabolites in transit, a measure of the organism mass, to ensure that metabolites are delivered in unit time within the organism volume. One can prove that the mass scales at least as with the optimality arising for efficient directed networks with no large-scale backtracking (13). This again leads to Kleiber’s law.

Remarkably, the idealized metabolic rate−mass relationship is predicted to be algebraic with a exponent independent of the geometry of the organism. Such competitive equivalence explains the coexistence of animals with a homogeneous tissue density and fractal plants on Earth. The mass-specific metabolic rate, , scales as , whereas the transit time scales as . Indeed, characteristic biological rates (such as the heart beat and mutation rates) and characteristic biological times (such as circulation times or lifetimes) scale as and , respectively (6, 7, 9⇓⇓–12, 14⇓–16).

Results and Discussion

We now turn our attention to geometry and the constraints it imposes on the physiology of an organism. The link arises from the well-known observation that the metabolic rate is proportional to the surface area. The crucial point, which seems to have been overlooked in the literature, is that the proportionality constant includes the velocity of nutrient delivery and/or energy transport at the surface. Thus, the two quantities that determine the metabolic rate, B, are the surface area, S, and the velocity of transport at the surface, v: . A pure power law in the relationship would be expected only when the product of the surface area and the transport velocity at the surface scales precisely as a power law of the organism mass. One would expect that the transportation ability at the surface could vary from species to species depending on the conditions of the surface as well as on ambient conditions. Thus, pure power law behavior would only hold in an idealized situation.

The surface area of the organism, S, is given by , and therefore . The surface area of an object of volume V can scale at most as or at least as . More generally, with , and thus . Noting that , one finds that , , and . The relationship is different for different geometries, leading to profound consequences for life (Table 1). The two limiting cases of geometry have been exploited by nature: in trees, and in animals.

For a tree, the volume is all surface with the leaves acting as terminal units from which water transported from the ground evaporates. The transport velocity is independent of the organism mass. This is convenient because water has to be transported upwards against gravity. The organism mass and implies a density which increases with organism mass (see Methods). This geometry is tantamount to an organism in three dimensions having an effective dimensionality (12) of 4. Interestingly, a value lower than of the metabolic rate−mass exponent is predicted if the tree is not isotropic, i.e., its crown diameter scales sublinearly with tree height (22). The mass of the tree is not uniformly distributed but rather is concentrated in the trunk and the branches in a self-similar manner (19, 20).

In contrast, an animal has a uniform density—mass and volume are proportional. The positive scaling (24) of the blood velocity with animal mass as requires the presence of a pump, the heart (33, 34). A fractal tree is a rooted organism because of its branching, whereas the nonfractal animal has the advantage of being able to move. The density of service volumes is independent of tree volume, whereas it decreases with increase in animal size, as does the mitochondrial density.

An organism with an intermediate geometry, although matching a tree and a mammal in metabolic efficiency, would require a complex circulation network because not all volume elements lie at the surface. Such organisms would not be as easily mobile because of their fractal geometry, and require a pump because the transport velocity increases with organism mass as . Table 1 shows the key predictions of our analysis and highlights the commonalities and differences between the geometries and physical attributes of plants and animals.

Given the richness of nature’s adaptive strategies and differences in life history, climate, metabolic strategies, and habitat of multicellular organisms, a remarkable result is that, despite deviations and variations, robust trends are observed in the relationship between metabolic rates and body mass. Fig. 1 shows interspecies log-log plots of the metabolic rate−mass relationships for trees [data from Mori et al. (21)] and mammals [from McNab (18) and presented in ref. 23]. Even though the curvatures of the two plots are distinct, in the large mass limit, both trees and mammals approximately follow Kleiber’s law , where B is the basal metabolic rate of an organism of mass M. The observations of such scaling behavior have been accompanied by vigorous debate on the specific form of the relationship as well as on the reasons underlying such behavior. Much of the debate has stemmed from the exponent value of . As noted above, the exponent arises for a tree essentially from an effective dimensionality of the tree being 4 instead of 3. How can the effective dimensionality of an object be greater than the dimensionality of space it resides in? The constraint of packing a mass (scaling as the tree volume to the power) within the tree volume requires a density that scales as . This is facilitated through a heterogeneous distribution of mass over a range of scales. The mass of a tree is not uniformly distributed but is rather concentrated within the trunk and the branches. Denoting the tree height and trunk radius by h and , respectively, we obtain or and . In order for this mass to be contained within a volume of size , the mass M cannot be greater than , and this can be satisfied only when , the upper cutoff scale for tree size. Here ρ is an upper bound on the density of a tree component and can be thought of as the mass density of the trunk.

Fig. 1.

Log-log plots of metabolic rate versus mass for trees and animals show deviations from pure power law behavior. The plot suggests that the curvatures (23) in the data sets are opposite to each other. Shigeta Mori (21) provided the tree data (A), and the mammal data (B) are taken from ref. 18. The curvatures are explained as arising from the crossover of exponent values. (A) The solid line shows a fit to . The adjusted value is 0.979, with SE 0.220 and P value of , and with SE 0.0602 and P value of . Interestingly, one obtains a leading exponent indistinguishable from if one chooses to make it an adjustable parameter. (B) Motivated by the lack of consensus of the exponent associated with pure power law behavior of the metabolic rate with mass, Kolokotrones et al. (23) carried out extensive analysis of several data sets, principally one due to McNab (18), and showed that the data exhibit curvature on a log-log plot. The analysis was carried out twice, excluding and including the effects of body temperature on metabolic rate. In both cases, the authors used an empirical quadratic fit in which the logarithm of the metabolic rate was expanded in terms of the logarithms of the body mass, measured in grams. The dashed line is a fit to . The adjusted value is 0.961 comparable to the quality of fit presented in (23), with SE and P value of , and with SE 0.162 and P value of .

By definition, where is the average mass density (apart from a numerical factor that takes into account the specific tree geometry—the numerical factor is for a sphere of diameter h). Because , (apart from a constant with units that fixes the correct dimensionality). From the obvious bound , the trunk density, we deduce that , where the constant K has units of length4/mass. One would expect that K would depend on details and not be universal.

The result is known to occur in two contexts: (i) It describes the relationship between tree height and diameter (see figure on p. 142 of ref. 6 for interspecies scaling, and figure on p. 143 for intraspecies scaling); and (ii) because of the self-similar nature of a tree, it also describes the tapering of a tree trunk (22). Interestingly, the tapering has been derived previously (6) in a completely different manner using solid mechanics by asking how tall a column of a given diameter could become before it buckles under its own weight.

During the seedling stage of tree growth, most of the mass is composed of metabolically active tissues (17). When the mass of the leaves (which is responsible for the metabolism) accounts for a constant fraction of the total mass, M would be expected to be proportional to B. The crossover between the two distinct behaviors ( and Kleiber’s ) can be simply captured by the expressionwhere sets the scale of B at which the crossover occurs corresponding to a crossover mass of . The distinct linear scaling for juveniles was underscored by Reich et al. (17), and a somewhat similar crossover relationship was presented by Enquist et al. (29) and more recently by Mori et al. (21). Fig. 1A shows a log-log plot of B versus M for trees (data from ref. 21) along with a fit to Eq. 1.

We now consider the other limiting case of organism geometry corresponding to a minimal surface area for a given volume: an animal with , , and . To match the metabolic efficiency of animals with trees, one now requires . In the simple situation of a single velocity scale (i.e., the velocities in various parts of the mammal body all being proportional to each other with a proportionality constant independent of organism mass), one would expect that the mean blood velocity also scales as . This is supported by empirical data (9)—a velocity increasing with organism mass necessitates the use of a mechanical pump such as a heart. Unlike in trees, the service volumes being nourished in an animal do not all reside at its surface. Thus, one requires a more complex circulation network because, nonetheless, dissipation occurs at the surface. Unlike trees, which are fractal and rooted, compact organisms have the distinct advantage of being able to move. Again, assuming a single velocity scale, the aorta cross-sectional area ought to scale as the ratio of B to the transport velocity or as . One would expect then that the aorta radius scales as , again in accord with empirical data (24, 35). When Kleiber’s law holds, the mass-specific metabolic rate, , scales as , whereas the transit time scales as .

The linear size of the service volume and the transport velocity at the surface become smaller in an animal as its mass decreases. One would therefore expect that below a certain threshold mass, , mechanisms such as diffusion, which are body mass independent (recall that the velocity in trees is indeed independent of mass), become operative. Our approach allows one to incorporate velocity variation with organism size in a natural way leading to:Fig. 1B shows a log-log plot of mammal metabolism data [from McNab (18) and presented in ref. 23] along with a fit to Eq. 2. In this simple scenario, the opposite curvatures in a log-log plot of B versus M arise because the exponent crosses over from 1 to as tree size increases whereas the crossover occurs from to as mammal mass goes up.

We turn now to a discussion of the prevalence of separate convergent forms in animals and plants, which is diagnostic of physical and metabolic factors serving as selective pressures affecting the overall evolution of form. Developmental perspectives (36⇓–38) provide the fundamental insight that the patterns of organismal symmetry are established during the earliest developmental stages for most multicellular organisms, including plants and animals. Subsequently, these organisms often grow into complex forms through independently evolved mechanisms including modularity, fractal structure, and segmentation. Despite the diversity of life forms, the approximate validity of Kleiber’s law (4, 6, 7, 9⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓–25) provides a remarkable unifying feature. This allometric scaling pertains to biological structures ranging from unicellular organisms to the tallest trees and has direct implications for characteristic rates and time scales.

Animals and plants evolved from different ancestral unicellular eukaryotes (37), and their characteristic developmental symmetries, transport systems, and complex forms have evolved independently from each other (Fig. 2). Interestingly, basal lineages of either plants or animals do not exhibit the characteristics of transport tissues and complex structures observed in later-evolved species of both groups. This implies that various selection pressures, including physical constraints, have been favoring the evolution of overall forms and transport structures that are better adapted to carry out particular energetic strategies.

Fig. 2.

Consensus phylogenetic trees for the evolution of the major lineages of modern plants (A) and animals (B) underscore the role of physics as a major selective pressure for driving the evolution of the design of multicellular organisms. (Adapted from refs. 36, 39, and 40.) The origins of the major innovations in organismal form are also plotted on these trees. The earliest diverging lineages of multicellular animals (e.g., sponges and cnidarians) and of multicellular plants (e.g., bryophytes) lack complex transport tissues. The later-arising groups of vascular plants and bilateral animals evolved complex transport tissues, namely, xylem and phloem, and circulatory systems, respectively. In terms of species numbers, vascular plants and bilateral animals dominate modern ecosystems, but it is important to consider the simpler forms of the basal lineages to understand the selection pressures driving the evolution of complex organismal forms. Organism drawings are intended to associate the names of different groups with representative organisms. Due to their size range of 7 orders of magnitude, they are not presented in proper scale. seg, segmentation. (Reprinted by permission of Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, NJ.)

Bilaterian animals with circulatory systems are characterized by higher metabolic and transport rates than simpler basal animals, such as barrel sponges and large cnidarians, of the same mass. In the fruit fly Drosophila, a gene called tinman functions as the master control switch for initiating the development of the simple insect heart. Despite the profound differences in the circulatory systems and cardiac structures of insects vs. vertebrates, the homologous gene designated as plays the same role in vertebrate heart development (33). The presence of these homologous genes and associated regulatory networks in the principal bilaterian lineages argues that the bilaterian common ancestor had evolved a major innovation in animal design, namely a rudimentary circulatory system having a pump whose development was regulated by the ancestral gene (34).

The earliest plants evolved from simple algal relatives to become the first successful multicellular invaders of terrestrial environments. They—and their modern bryophyte descendants—lack complex transport systems, i.e., water-conducting xylem and sugar-conducting phloem. In a manner analogous to what happened in animal evolution, the evolution of these complex transport systems in vascular plants accompanied a dramatic change in organismal form (36, 38). Then several lineages of early vascular plants independently evolved bilateral leaves specialized for photosynthesis and evapotranspiration, as well as cylindrical roots specialized for water and ion absorption (36, 38). The basic form of these ancient plants is replicated by the fractal stem and root systems of modern plants. Interestingly, this fractal form has permitted many vascular plant lineages to achieve great heights, as evidenced by repeated evolution of tree-like plants ranging from the arborescent lycopods and horsetails in Carboniferous forests 360–300 million years ago to the coniferous and angiosperm trees of today (38

Table 1.

Summary of predictions of the theoretical analysis

We wrote a final paper wich occur a selected topic by ourselves. My topic wa about “form” and “function”. Here it is;


Finding an accurate form for a structure has been a challenging matter in architecture. And also there has been a question in this task what its function of the structure and how it is served. These all question has been existing from starting the architecture history and of course it will lasting. Mankind started architecture for its needs and they always look for the best ways which can serve their need and answer their requirements. When it is the case, the relationship between form and function has been an ongoing topic in architecture circle. Especially, in the architecture period of Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance nearly all buildings had ornamentation or figurative decoration. Building’s façades or form was used as a way of expression. For example, in the Gothic period architects design buildings with ribbed vaulting for the giving expression of being close to god. With time function of this ornamentation started to questioning. Then the idea of functionalism started to spread in the 18th century. The principle of functionalism is designing a building according to the purpose of building with the other words function of the building. According to the perspective of functionalism, buildings should design as a unity of pure, unornamented form which is the combination of rhythmically unified various patterns. In the progress of time, the relationship of form and function turn into a contradiction which occupies an important place in architectural history with the contributions of lots of important architects. No matter there are lots of declarations about the contradiction that discuss by some important architects such as Louis Sullivan, Adolf Loos, Robert Venturi, Frank Lloyd Wright for clarifying their relation, this contradiction between functionalism, form and aesthetic are remaining as a continuous debate that dependent variable of individual perspective. This paper is not written for criticizing this statement or sharing my own ideas about it. The goal of this paper is analysing the debate between form and function and also analysing contributions and evaluation of it as well. The reason for this debate took an important place in architecture progression I also aimed briefly analyse the developing ideas that influence this statement.

Before starting analysing form, function, and their retaliations which show variety by the time, the architectural meaning of form and function should understand. In 2013, John Shannon Hendrix explains form and function as
“By “form” is meant the visual appearance of a building (line, outline, shape, composition); by “function” the structural and functional requirements of a building (construction, shelter, program, organization, use, occupancy, materials, social purpose). The form, of course, can be said to have a metaphysical “function” to represent or express an idea, but that sense of the word is not used here. Both terms have modern connotations, related to the dictum “form follows function,” but both have also played a role in architecture throughout history.”[ Hendrix, John. Contradiction between Form and Function in Architecture. (Routledge, NY, 2013), p.1.]
in his book “The Contradiction Between Form and Function in Architecture”. This important debate actually started in 1869, with Louis Sullivan’s claim “form ever follows function” in his article “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered”. He changed a course of architecture history and creates new aspect to modern architecture by saying
“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human, and all things super-human, 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”.[ Louis H. Sullivan, “The Tall Building Artistically Considered,” in Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings (New York: George Wittenborn & Co., 1947), p. 208.]
According to Sullivan’s thought architecture should be sensible and logical because the result of a building has a sense of responsibility of living. In other words, the design should have a spirit. Also in his essay, he suggested that form is expressing inner life of the building. So that form should represent that life. He stated his idea about form by saying;”All things in nature have a shape, that is to say, a form, an outward semblance, that tells us what they are, that distinguishes them from ourselves and from each other.”[ Louis H. Sullivan, “The Tall Building Artistically Considered,” in Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings (New York: George Wittenborn & Co., 1947), p.207.]Sullivan also discusses that “form follows function” is a related topic of nature. He explains this idea “Unfailingly in nature these shapes express the inner life, the native quality, of the animal, tree, bird, fish, that they present to us; they are so characteristic, so recognizable, that we say simply, it is “natural” it should be so”.[ Louis H. Sullivan, “The Tall Building Artistically Considered,” in Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings (New York: George Wittenborn & Co., 1947), p.344.]
Therefore, Sullivan argues that buildings cannot show its characteristic as an organic thing so that it should be designed the way that expresses its characteristic as it happens in nature with the other words the way form follows function.

After a few decade, Frank Lloyd Wright explains the relation of nature and building by stating;
”Primarily, Nature furnished the materials for architectural motifs out of which the architectural forms as we know them today have been developed, and, although our practice for centuries has been for the most part to turn from her, seeking inspiration in books and adhering slavishly to dead formulae, her wealth of suggestion is inexhaustible; her riches greater than any man’s desire. ”[ Wright, Frank Lloyd. In the Cause of Architecture. New York: F.W. Dodge, 1928, p.1.]
As clarified by the quotations of Sullivan and Wright, the relation of nature and form is a rich source of design. This approach related with nature and form of Sullivan becomes one of the debatable issues which has actually occurred by misinterprets of Louis Sullivan’s approach. Contrary to the claims by some people who disagree with Sullivan’s statement, he did not suggest a form for a specific type of building. He suggested having a form like in nature. For instance, there are seven million people in the world but as categorization, they are all human. As a duty, architects should understand the environment and the needs then create a building according to this special character. The sum and the substance of it, Wright and Sullivan suggested using as a source of design not a source of copy. By following this path architects extrapolate countless form for every building even if have a similar function.

Briefly stated, the basic purpose of Sullivan’s suggestions were for having a functional design (functional building type to the modern high-rise office building) which can sense by its form. He clearly stated that form of buildings should no longer express privileges or religious messages, it should express what they are by writing;
” And thus, the design of the tall office building takes its place with all other architectural types made when architecture, as has happened once in many years, was a living art. Witness the Greek temple, the Gothic cathedral, the mediaeval fortress.”[ Louis H. Sullivan, “The Tall Building Artistically Considered,” in Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings (New York: George Wittenborn & Co., 1947), p.345.]

In following years, in the light of Functionalism architects started to abandon the predecessor ornamentation approach and the idea of creating a design for serving its function starts to gain an importance place in architecture. In 1908, Adolf Loos declares that “ornament is crime”. In his essay, Loos stated that”Every period had its style: why was it that our period was the only one to be denied a style? By “style” was meant ornament.”[ Adolf Loos, “Ornament and Crime,” in Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays (California: Ariadne Press, 1997), p.20.] As stated in the quotation of Loos a style with the other words ornamentation showed itself in every period of architecture. Without having a function, ornamentation was found at buildings. This expensive expression had served only the individual aesthetic taste. As a figurative expression, ornamentation rejected by the manifesto of Adolf Loos. In this manifesto, Loos express unnecessity of ornamentation by writing;
“Well, the epidemic of ornament is recognised by the state and is subsidized with government money. I, however, consider that to be regressive. I will not subscribe to the argument that ornament increases the pleasure of the life of a cultivated person or the argument which covers itself with the words: “But if the ornament is beautiful! …” To me, and to all the cultivated people, ornament does not increase the pleasures of life. If I want to eat a piece of gingerbread I will choose one that is completely plain and not a piece which represents a baby in arms of a horse rider, a piece which is covered over and over with decoration. The man of the fifteenth century would not understand me. But modern people will.”[ Adolf Loos, “Ornament and Crime,” in Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays (California: Ariadne Press, 1997), p.21]

His aim was demonstrating a lack of necessity of ornamentation or decoration. Having pure forms or creating a form for only following its function reduce to Loos the saying “ornament is crime”. According to Loos’s aspect, without serving any function, creating a form or decoration or ornament was only waste of time and money. He wrote this essay for reveal these redundant accessories for whom may not aware.

Sullivan may start the debate of “Form Follows Function” but Loos carries it a step forward. Indeed, as a common ground Sullivan and Loss pointed out that architect should use the natural organic forms instead of various stylish expressions. Furthermore, they also clarify that these stylish decorations only visually serve expressions on the buildings. According to their perspective, designing unused things for creating living art in the building should be a history any longer. The distinction of Loos’ ideas and Sullivan’s ideas occurred by Loos’s sharp approach to usage of ornamentation. Some of the architects claim that there should be some aesthetic concern in a design. So that they found Loos’s approach as an extreme remark. In “The Function of Ornament” book Farshid Moussavi opposes this extreme remark by giving example the counter view of Gottfried Semper;
“For Semper, the functional and structural requirements of a building were subordinate to the semiotic and artistic goals of ornament. For Loos, on the other hand, ornamentation was a crime. In his view, the ornament was used in traditional societies as a means of differentiation; modern society needed not to emphasize individuality, but on the contrary, to suppress it. Hence for Loos, ornamentation had lost its social function and had become unnecessary.”[ Moussavi, Farshid, and Michael Kubo. The Function of Ornament. (Barcelona: Actar, 2006), p. 7.]
With this example, Farshid Moussavi also aimed the underlined the need of ornament. She is perceived ornament as a communication way of culture by located on the buildings. As a matter of fact, she wrote;
“Ornament is the figure that emerges from the material substrate, the expression of embedded forces through processes of construction, assembly, and growth. It is through ornament that material transmits affects. Ornament is therefore necessary and inseparable from the object. It is not a mask determined a priori to create specific meanings(as in Postmodernism), even though it does contribute to contingent or involuntary signification (a characteristic of all forms). It has no intention to decorate, and there is in it no hidden meaning. At the best of times, ornament becomes an “empty sign” capable of generating an unlimited number of resonances.”[ Moussavi, Farshid, and Michael Kubo. The Function of Ornament. (Barcelona: Actar, 2006), p. 8.
This approach of Farshid Moussavi’s has an encounter approach with Sullivan. The reason of Sullivan’s unornamented form approach, another counter reactions in this debate occurred against Louis Sullivan. As an accusation of some dissident architects, they discuss that even if Sullivan who is famous for with the quote of “ Form Follows Function” could not apply his own principle in his own design, related to his usage of the terra cotta ornamentation in Wainwright Building, Guaranty Building. He is criticised because of using this material while defending functional form. As a reaction to this attitude, Marcel Breuer said, “Sullivan did not eat his functionalism quite as hot as he cooked it”[ Hendrix, John. Contradiction between Form and Function in Architecture. (Routledge, NY, 2013), p.10.]. For clarify, Hendrix explains this incomprehensible situation by writing “Sullivan said that form should follow function in the creative process of the architect, and that “the essence of things is taking shape in the matter of things”in nature, but he did not say that the form of the building should follow the function of the building, its functional or structural requirements.”[ Hendrix, John. Contradiction between Form and Function in Architecture. (Routledge, NY, 2013), p.10.]As the matter of fact that Sullivan manifest ornament in 1892 “Ornament in Architecture”. Moreover, this article is considered hat influence Adolf Loos. As ı mention before, Although the manifest of Sullivan’s not sharp as Loos’s, he also expresses his thought very clearly by pressing these words;
”I should say that it would be greatly for our aesthetic good if we should refrain entirely from the use of ornament for a period of years, in order that our thought might concentrate acutely upon the production of buildings well formed and comely in the nude.”[ Louis H. Sullivan, “Ornament in Architecture,” in Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings (New York: George Wittenborn & Co., 1947), p. 187.]
To admitted, his way of using terra cotta in his design is not serve as an example. In point of fact, it should understand the difficulty of transferring thoughts, a general ideas or philosophy in structure while designing. Unfortunately, lots of pioneer architects- commonly architecture philosophers- lost their path while transferring their ideas to reality. But the reason of the unsuccessful example of practice, this principle of should not consider as a wrong.This statement is a general perception for the idealization of architecture. Its application is another matter.

In brief, the idea of creating the functional design is having a functional form that serves as its usage and representation of inside life in the design process, not finding a form of building that follows its function without concerning functional, structural requirements and only respecting the inner life and order. The reason of these two principles “form follows function” and “ornament is Crime” have not any strict difference between them some architects find a solution with merging these two principles as “Form follows function” allows for ornamentation as long as it serves a function. As a result, some architects follows this joined principle in their design and some of them only take a part that fit with their architectural perception, so it should point out that this remark influences lots of important architects and of course of architectural events. Furthermore, lots of architects such as Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Oscar Niemeyer and much mores also interpreted this debate and voicing their own ideas about it. Sullivan’s real aim was finding the right form of a building as it works for nature. He argues this issue with his main declaration, he thought that form should embrace its identity as much as works in nature

In fact, however, Sullivan declares “ Form ever follows function”, actually, Wright turned this slogan into today’s known form by saying “Already it has been said – Lieber Meister declared it – and biology knows and shows us that form follows function.”[ Wright, Frank Lloyd 1953: The Future of Architecture.( New York), p. 296.]And also in “Language of Organic Architecture”, Frank Lloyd Wright defends the idea of “Form follows function” not only for seeing his former teacher and employer Louis Sullivan as “Lieber Meister” but also for corresponding his own architectural theories and attitude. In the same essay, he also pointed out that this debatable remark becomes an “ a much-abused slogan and the password for sterility”.[ Wright, Frank Lloyd 1953: The Future of Architecture.( New York), p. 332.]Therefore, he explains the main principle behind this slogan in ”Frank Lloyd Wright” documentary, by saying““ Form Follows Function” – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.”[ Frank Lloyd Wright. Dir. Ken Burns. 1997.]Despite all, misunderstands and critics, Sullivan’s real aim was finding the right form of a building as it works for nature. He argues this issue with his main declaration, he thought that form should embrace its identity an as much as works in nature. Wright also wrote “Forms follows Function” is mere dogma until you realize the higher truth that form and function are one.”[ Wright, Frank Lloyd 1954: The Natural House. (New York), p. 20.].Beside the respect and tendency of exception to Sullivan’s ideas, another reason of Wright takes a stand for Sullivan’s opinion and tries to utilise is this idea provides a basis for his own architectural style. As in his mentor’s suggestions, Wright also embraces nature in his design. Frank Lloyd Wright cherishes to nature and natural order in the light of that fact he creates his architectural style which called “organic architecture”. Wright, in a similar vein with Sullivan, desires using organic characteristics and natural principles in the design process of mankind(in this case architects)for intelligently creating forms.

The approach of Sullivan not only creates lots of debate and critics but also opens lots of doors whom may understand the real logic of it. This debate’s discussion never be “form follows function”, form or function. As a close person to Sullivan, Wright explains this real aim with“Not until we raise the dictum, now a dogma, to the realm of thought, and say: Form and function are one, have we stated the case for architecture.”[ Wright, Frank Lloyd 1953: The Future of Architecture.( New York), p. 296,] As in the saying, this famous remark should be perceived as a case for architecture not a stylish or ideological approach of one man. It is a matter of architecture.

To illustrate to Wright and Sullivan, another important architect made and another declaration about this debate by saying;“ We no longer argue over the primacy of form or function(which follows which?), we cannot ignore their interdependence”.[ Venturi, Robert 1977: Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. (New York), p.18 ]Some of whom may not understand the real intellectual of “form follows function”, this statement is considered this as an another manifestation of Robert Venturi as a case of his statement “Less is Bore” against Mies van der Rohe’s statement “Less is more”. On the other hand, this Robert Venturi’s statement more like another explanation for drawing attention to the purpose of this declaration. The real aim of Sullivan never was sharply defining form follows function or function follows form. As a Venturi says there should not no more discuss which follows which this is not the topic. The real topic is understood them as an undivided part of a uniting composition.

To sum up, the main reason of that ı approach to this” form follows function” debate by analysing Louis Sullivan, Adolf Loos, Frank Lloyd Wright and Robert Venturi is pointing out development process by their contribution. This idea is not only famous for its strong statement but also for the thing that becomes by development trough the time with these names and much more. All these pioneers contribute this topic by criticising or carrying a step forward by their interpretation. This ideology may be started as a statement of one architect but it is influenced many mores.Related with this is an ongoing debate with lots of interpretation, as a goal of this paper ı would like to enlighten some known misunderstood of this remark by analysing not only counter perception but also encounter perception. No matter this debate never conclude, its beneficence to the development of the other perception of architecture such as organic architecture and functionalism should appreciate. In addition to all these debates, this slogan of Sullivan should perceive as a more than a function or form issue, it is a general approach for defining the architectural aspect.


  • Louis H. Sullivan, “The Tall Building Artistically Considered,” in Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings (New York: George Wittenborn & Co., 1947)
  • Hendrix, John. Contradiction between Form and Function in Architecture. (Routledge, NY, 2013)
  • Adolf Loos, “Ornament and Crime,” in Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays (California: Ariadne Press, 1997)
  • Moussavi, Farshid, and Michael Kubo. The Function of Ornament. (Barcelona: Actar, 2006)
  • Louis H. Sullivan, “Ornament in Architecture,” in Kindergarten Chats and Other
  • Writings (New York: George Wittenborn & Co., 1947)
  • Wright, Frank Lloyd 1953: The Future of Architecture.( New York)
  • Frank Lloyd Wright. Dir. Ken Burns. 1997.
  • Wright, Frank Lloyd 1954: The Natural House. (New York)
  • Venturi, Robert, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour. Learning from Las Vegas:
  • The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1977.
  • Gousios, Georgios, and Diomidis Spinellis. Beautiful Architecture:. Beijing: O’Reilly, 2009.
  • Wright, Frank Lloyd. In the Cause of Architecture. New York: F.W. Dodge, 1928.

Posted in ARCH 222, GENERAL

Tagged form, form follows function, function, ornament is cime


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