ARC 331 discussion board: TOPIC 04 (Due Monday, February 26 at 1 PM CST)

TOPIC 04: Louis Sullivan

Post: Read Sullivan’s essay “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered,” which many people consider as the origin of the popular saying, “form follows function.” Many people understand these words as a guide to rigid functionalism, although a close reading of the essay may lead a person to different conclusions. Having studied the essay, how do you think Sullivan was defining or identifying “function” in the tall office building?

52 Comments

  1. Reply
    Davis Burchett February 25, 2018

    Louis Sullivan uses the word “function” to talk about a thing’s use, and the importance of that use in relation to the uses of other things. So, function is the use of a thing, and relative importance of that thing a defined by its use. This is why the first floor should be treated in a “more or less liberal, expansive, sumptuous way” because it’s use is more important, and it is used by the most number of people. Similarly, Sullivan says that mechanical systems should all be kept in the basement and attic, away from people’s view, because people don’t use them. There purpose is to be in the background, helping the building function, and that is where Sullivan puts them. Form follows function in that when looking at a skyscraper, people can easily discern, if not the use, at least the relative importance, and amount of activity and interaction that occurs in each portion of the building.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson February 27, 2018

      What do you think about the “function” of the thing as a viewed object (considering other aspects of Sullivan’s essay, in addition to his explanation of the building’s use)?

  2. Reply
    Kate Davenport February 25, 2018

    I think that Sullivan was defining “function” in the tall office building as the reaction to the innate understanding that all humans have when considering how a tall building should be laid out. Sullivan related his thinking of function back to several examples of human interaction with existing vertical forms and the reaction that one might have when forming a tall structure in a similar way. He also mentions the emotion that one must consider when designing, which in definition cannot be rigid or strict functionalism, “what is the chief characteristic of the tall office building? […] it is lofty.” Sullivan also relates the function of the tall building to nature and part of three: day, bodies, and trees, all of which are commonly encountered by humans. By stating this, Sullivan can then conclude that how a tall building functions relies on the designer understanding what has already worked well in nature can be carried over and can function well in architecture.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson February 27, 2018

      It’s something I don’t think we consider frequently enough: what’s the function of the building from the point of view from people outside?

    • Reply
      Joanna Daniyam February 28, 2018

      I agree that the function of the tall building does not only look at defining the use of spaces, but comes as a reaction to how we view tall buildings. A building should reflect its interior but it could also draw out people’s feelings towards it; as you mentioned, emotion should be considered when designing, which steers away from rigid functionalism. I thought it was also interesting how you saw Sullivan’s connection of function with nature and how it was dependent on the designer’s understanding. I think this is true and we should follow our natural instincts and create a practical and unified building, offering visual impact.

  3. Reply
    Ryan Pickhardt February 25, 2018

    Through Sullivan’s multitude of lists, he set up rules that are vague enough to create unique designs, but strict enough to follow and create a useful/logical building. The function of this building is to not exploit architectural design but rather be used to focus the office worker. The building should not be dull and irresponsibly designed because that will also not benefit the worker. By setting up rules, there is then a formula architects can follow to properly create a high-rise office building. When it comes down to the reason for creating this building, it is for the worker, which is why function should be above form.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson February 27, 2018

      Can you cite something specific that he says about the “benefit” to the worker?

    • Reply
      Ryan Ayres March 2, 2018

      I agree with the points you made. It seems that Sullivan talks about form and function to where the play off each other and share a close to equal importance in the design of buildings. But it is still important to make sure the building has a successful function, which Sullivan hints at.

  4. Reply
    Eunice Slanwa February 26, 2018

    Based on my reading of the essay, I think Sullivan defines “function” as the use of the space; what goes on in the interior. Therefore, by “form follows function” he is not necessarily referring to the external appearance of the building. In his essay, Sullivan makes the argument that every problem contains and suggests its own solution, however the face of the building needs to be unified. In the first portion of his essay, he breaks down the stories based on their functions, and states that size and height of a room, and the size of window openings are based on the function of the space. For example, the “structural spacings and openings in the first or mercantile story are required to be the largest of all,” whereas the “spacings and openings in the attic are of no importance whatsoever.” He values practicality, and encourages that we follow our natural instincts, without thinking too much about rules and precedents. And in so doing, naturally the exterior of the building will be designed.
    While the rooms on each floor may be designed with different heights and areas, Sullivan points that an n-story building should not consist of n separate and unrelated buildings. The form of rooms may follow their separate functions, but the building should read as a whole.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson February 27, 2018

      What do you think about the “function” of the thing as a viewed object (considering other aspects of Sullivan’s essay, in addition to his explanation of the building’s use)?

    • Reply
      Kate Davenport March 1, 2018

      Eunice, I appreciate that you address that while each floor and room of the building may be different, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the exterior should mirror that. While the interior and exterior shouldn’t be entirely disconnected, it shouldn’t be entirely dependent on one another as well.

  5. Reply
    Joanna Daniyam February 26, 2018

    After reading the essay, I still think that Louis Sullivan is following the statement “form follows function”, but he is also calling for a unified look on the exterior. In his essay, I believe Sullivan was identifying function based on what you would expect on each story of the building and essentially what the spaces would be used for.
    Accordingly, he works his way to the exterior of the building. “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.” Sullivan is saying that form should follow function, but at the same time we need to be practical with our designs; basically “the tall office building should not, must not, be made a field for the display of architectural knowledge.” The exterior of the building should reflect interior functions, but should also be unified. Like he says in his essay, follow your natural instincts and in that, you create a form that follows function.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson February 27, 2018

      How do you square this call for “practicality” with his admonition to “heed the voice of emotion”?

    • Reply
      Ryan Ayres March 2, 2018

      You make some interesting points on Sullivan’s thoughts which I agree with. It seems that Sullivan tries to show the function of the building being at a greater importance than the form. But at the same time, there must be great care taken into the form of the building, which should be unified and work together with the function.

  6. Reply
    Samuel Barber February 26, 2018

    At the end of the essay Sullivan says, “It is the pervading law 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.” I think that this shows that Sullivan thought that the tall office building needed to have a form that accurately portrayed its function. In another part of the essay he says that it would look bad to have different levels of the building having different “forms” that suggested different “functions” on those levels. I think Sullivan was saying the function of the tall office building was to be a cohesive unit that housed many different interior functions. I think this is why he gives the many examples of things such as flowers, or Roman columns, saying that these should be the form of the building, because they represent on the outside, a single unit, not multiple units.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson February 27, 2018

      What do you think about the “function” of the thing as a viewed object (considering other aspects of Sullivan’s essay, in addition to his explanation of the building’s use)?

      • Reply
        Parker Done March 3, 2018

        Something that I interpret from the essay is that form and function are not always distinguishable. Certain features of a building take on the function of drawing attention or presenting beauty.

  7. Reply
    Randy Renteria February 26, 2018

    In the essay THE TALL OFFICE BUILDING ARTISTICALLY CONSIDERED, Sullivan identifies function of a tall office building through form. He explains that the structure and sets of offices in the floor plan help form the exterior of the building, ” In turn, these purely arbitrary units of structure form in an equally natural way the true basis of the artistic development of the exterior.” Each program gives the form a style identifying that it is a certain type of space. For example Sullivan explains that the main entrance is designed to attract the eye to its location, the rest of the stories are expressed in a less liberal way, they are expressed “with a sentiment of largeness and freedom”. The office stories are expressed through windows and other decorations. The Tall Office design shows the end of office stacks by expressing the attic with mass and the broad expanse of wall. Sullivan identified his function by placing program where it made sense. He then expressed the program by the form identifying where and what the space may be.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson February 27, 2018

      What do you think about the “function” of the thing as a viewed object (considering other aspects of Sullivan’s essay, in addition to his explanation of the building’s use)?

  8. Reply
    Daniel Becker February 26, 2018

    Sullivan starts out the essay by saying an “intercation and evolution of social reforms” have created a need for tall office builing. He continues to talk about how the architect who designs these is not a “bookworm” and in my option points out the only design interest to these buildings are its height. However, Sullivan seems to conclude that these “boring buildings” did meet the needs of the social reforms and thus are necessary. Contrary to Sullivan’s unimpressed thought about design which what he called a “formula to build” shown with structure, mchanical, and programmatic consistancy Sullivan seems to give legitimacy to the skyscraper

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson February 27, 2018

      But what about the functional angle of the question posed?

  9. Reply
    Rebekah Matson February 26, 2018

    For Sullivan, the function of the buildings went beyond the way the spaces were used. Function also includes the needed spacing within the room that coincides with the way the room is used. For instance, the office spaces have predetermined detentions that require comfortably sized rooms with larger windows, and that is what drove the form of the space. He also thought that there should be consistency throughout the floors, so there were not random floors stacked on top of each other. One could argue that this is another implication of the function rather than the form, because the uses of the levels needed to be tied together in order for the building to operate well as a whole. To Sullivan, the function of the space included the predetermined elements, rather than just meaning the use.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson February 27, 2018

      What do you think about the “function” of the thing as a viewed object (considering other aspects of Sullivan’s essay, in addition to his explanation of the building’s use)?

    • Reply
      Ryan Pickhardt March 1, 2018

      I do not think he prefered function rather than form, but instead he believed that function is before form. That creates a useful building because if we were to only design with function in mind, wouldnt we be just engineers? Sullivan did design very logically though, especially with how he staked his floors like you mentioned. Each plan alligns perfectly with the next so that it does not just opporate well horizontally, but also vertically.

    • Reply
      Randy Renteria March 1, 2018

      Rebekah, I agree with your statement, However, I like to elaborate on how Sullivan showed function through the form so humans can experience it from the outside. Sullivan explains different strategies to show define the saying “form follows function”. Two strategies he describes is the sense of loftiness, and main entrances catching people’s eyes to express its function. Sullivan explains that the phenomenal feeling an individual gets is what makes the Architecture more successful.

    • Reply
      Morgan Dykema March 2, 2018

      I think that function is important in a building but do not think that Sullivan preferred the function over the form of the building. The form is what draws the people in and makes for the human experience from the street, and that creates the function. I think Function is definitely necessary to create form but there has to be a harmony between the two of them to have a successful architecture.

      • Reply
        Parker Done March 3, 2018

        This makes me think of how Sullivan said that we have certain expectations for what a successful building looks like. We associate particular forms with their respective functions and if this is composed in a sense of harmony, we see a successful building.

  10. Reply
    Deyglis Castillo February 26, 2018

    Sullivan disagreed with the idea “that a sixteen-story building must not consist of sixteen separate, distinct and unrelated buildings piled one up on the other until the top of the pile is reached” He thought that every floor should be designed according to its purpose. “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 form each other.” Also that “….life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. That is the Law.”

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson February 27, 2018

      What do you think about the “function” of the thing as a viewed object (considering other aspects of Sullivan’s essay, in addition to his explanation of the building’s use)?

  11. Reply
    Kyle Drenth February 26, 2018

    In Louis Sullivan’s “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered”, Sullivan discusses and lists various general programs that may be found within an office building. He explains where each program should be located in respect to the use of the space such as commercial applications on the second floor where there is ease of entry and plenty of light. I would argue that not only does Sullivan focus on “form follows function”, but he also concentrates on the a progression of design and how the interior spaces should be reflected onto the exterior. From this idea, Sullivan continues on to say that architecture shouldn’t just be about adopting a specific style and forcefully adhering it to the building. Rather, we should gain inspiration through analogies and imitations of nature such as the three parts of a flower, that being the leaves at the base, the stem, and the head of the flower. These parts, representing the divisions of the building is a useful parallel in developing a façade that promotes meaning and not just a style that has no meaning.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson February 27, 2018

      But is it the three-part “composition” of the flower, or its natural expression of a “life-force,” that would be the reason he finds inspiration in it?

  12. Reply
    Morgan Dykema February 26, 2018

    In the beginning of the essay Louis Sullivan spoke very negatively about the tall office building. He had talked about how the floors were divided up and that the practical horizontal and vertical division is naturally based on a room of comfortable area and height, and the size of the room has a naturally determined standard structural unit, and window opening sizes. The rooms should be designed for their needs and that should influence the building design. The building should not be designed and then place the the rooms in appropriate places because it will not work. Form follows function. He talks about how other theorists believe the tall buildings should be divided up into three sections and should follow natural forms. The problem is that nine out of ten designers are not following this. The floors should be cohesive and belong to one building and not designed as separate buildings piled on top of one another.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson February 27, 2018

      How does he define function in this case?

  13. Reply
    McKenna Kritsch February 26, 2018

    I don’t think that Sullivan means that buildings are designed first and foremost by their function and that is how they should appear. I think his disrcription of this office building is functional in how it’s exterior makes sense with the interior, that a passerby can understand it, but I don’t think he is saying that each floor of every office building should reflect this. “It follows inevitably, and in the simplest way possible, that if we follow our natural instincts without thought of books, rules, precedents, or any such educational impediments to a spontaneous and sensible result”, but it is not rigid. When the user or the stranger comes upon this building type and can answer the “chief characteristic of this tall office building”, Sullivan considers the architect’s design successful. The architect’s building must be bold and carry a “force and power of altitude” that makes sense based on his own sense of living life to the fullest. In designing an office building, functionality takes the form of sense; it should be readable by passersby and occupants alike.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson February 27, 2018

      What is the “understanding” that the passerby should have? Is it just a mental thing?

    • Reply
      Ryan Pickhardt March 1, 2018

      I love how you interpreted his article. It makes sense to create something logical that is somewhat daunting when you first approach it. Without having intuition, the building would become a jumbled mess and would then become an unsuccessful design.

    • Reply
      Kate Davenport March 1, 2018

      Mckenna, I definitely agree and like that you highlighted Sullivan’s idea that the interior of a building will be reflected on the exterior and be understandable to the passerby. It should be more of an emotional and personal response that relates down to the human scale.

  14. Reply
    Daniel Bitner February 26, 2018

    Sullivan was defining “function” in the tall office building as the way the building is composed. His whole essay is discussing how other architects who think too much to design the tall office building and try to compose the outside as a separation of parts, usually in thirds. Sullivan rejects this and finds those strategies to be overthinking on the same level of design as someone who didn’t think about the building. For Sullivan, the building should be composed to best reflect what happens there and not to limit the design to a set composition like other architects do when designing tall buildings.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson February 27, 2018

      What do you think about the “function” of the thing as a viewed object (considering other aspects of Sullivan’s essay, in addition to his explanation of the building’s use)?

    • Reply
      McKenna Kritsch March 1, 2018

      I agree with this point of view and I think furthermore, your explanation of ‘not limiting the design’ is expressed by Sullivan according to what it demands: “the chief characteristic of the tall office building . . . [being that] it is lofty . . . [a] thrilling aspect”. Sullivan recognized that the social progress would demand that buildings start serving the function of office spaces and he encouraged, no matter the design, that the architect emphasize the “proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exaltation from bottom to top”. Though he describes the exterior as a separation of parts he explains that there should be no “dissenting line” that even suggests that the building isn’t a unit.

  15. Reply
    Ryan Ayres February 26, 2018

    In the essay by Sullivan, it seems that believes in the importance of a building having a good form, but insisting still that the spaces still provide a function. When reading the essay, it seems that Sullivan uses the form of the building as a way of identifying the function. When he talks about the tall office building, he describes it in having three parts, much like a column, having a base, body, and head. Each part of the building follows a certain form or design when relating to the function. The way that Sullivan describes a function of a building is interesting, where it seems that he sees the form and function of the building as equal, in that they should work together in order to be successful. In contrast, many people, specifically architects, often take multiple sides on which is more important in a building. But Sullivan goes back and forth when describing and comparing the two, and doesn’t seem to take an absolute side for the the most part. One interesting thing he said in the essay was how the tall office building should look like multiple buildings stacked on top of each other when relating to the floor’s function. While many see this as a more strict guide to form following function, I read and understood it in a different way where the two seem to form equal importance.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson February 27, 2018

      What else did he say about the comparison of buildings with Classical columns?

  16. Reply
    Parker Done February 26, 2018

    What I gather from this essay is a different interpretation on the phrase. While it is ideal that function precedes form in importance, it is also true that these elements cannot be clearly separated from on another in a successful building. For example, Sullivan states that a building should have an entrance that attracts people into the building. With that concept, the emphasis on form then becomes the function itself, which is to draw people in.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson February 27, 2018

      What do you think about the “function” of the thing as a viewed object (considering other aspects of Sullivan’s essay, in addition to his explanation of the building’s use)?

    • Reply
      McKenna Kritsch March 1, 2018

      You seem to propose this phrase of “form follows function” as some sort of contradiction to itself, but I don’t think that is what Sullivan was explaining at all. I think instead he was conveying the way these things compliment one another. To your example of the building entrance, Sullivan says that “a main entrance that attracts the eye to its location,” is followed by “the remainder of the story . . . based exactly on the practical necessities, but expressed with a sentiment of largeness and freedom”. I think the rest of his description after the entrance shows that in both cases, he means to compliment the fact that a building needs an entrance and a tall building needs a good base, so why not allow this need inform the qualities that will attract outsiders into the building. He finishes his essay with, “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”, which I believe emphasizes his perspective of how form compliments function and vice versa.

  17. Reply
    Eddy Kalinda February 26, 2018

    He was a great architect with little faith in the establishment. “Form follows functions” was a saying stating that the shape of a building or object should primarily relate to its intended function or purpose. But it seems that Sullivan’s interpretation was more complicated and misunderstood by people of his time. His purpose was to design a building that will use full capacity of it’s function regardless its beauty. So along his life people started mocking his strong ideas and change in the architectural mindset which led to his financial crisis because he lost his job. Sullivan identified function in the tall office building as an indefinite number of stories of offices piled tier upon tier. His main intention was satisfy the purpose of a tall office building.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson February 27, 2018

      People kept hiring him for his ideas, but it is true that he was deemed very difficult to work with and lost significant clients in his older age. But what do you think about the “function” of the thing as a viewed object (considering other aspects of Sullivan’s essay, in addition to his explanation of the building’s use)?

  18. Reply
    Connor Brown February 26, 2018

    Sullivan saw function in buildings in a less rigid light than many other people. Even though he began his essay with listing the ordinary functions of each floor like the basement having power engines, ground floor having stores, and floor above having multiple tiers of offices, he reveals to us that the building needs to address more functions than that. He states that one of the chief characteristics of tall buildings is their sense of loftiness. This feeling is what gives people the thrilling aspect of architecture. Main entrances should also carry the function of catching people’s eyes. This is what draws in the audience. So with Sullivan’s approach to function, we should be thinking more in terms of people’s feelings and their interpretations rather than a more literal and physical approach.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson February 27, 2018

      And that’s often overlooked–his consideration of how the building functions as a potential emotional prompt for passersby.

    • Reply
      Joanna Daniyam February 28, 2018

      I think this was very insightful and looking back over the essay, I agree that a building should address more functions than just what the spaces can be used for. Function should address the use of the building, as well as the perception of a building. By focusing on the aesthetics and psychological aspects, we can think of visual impact as a building function. In the same way people are thrilled by the sense of loftiness, is the same way we should think of how people might perceive a building. Like you said, we should think of how people react to the building and their interpretations of it.

    • Reply
      Randy Renteria March 1, 2018

      I agree with you Connor, Sullivan uses these strategies in order to make the Tall Office Building function show through the form. The experience a person views from outside the design is more compelling using theses tactics such as the sense of loftinesses and interesting form of the entrance to catch the eye. The feelings people get when experiencing this form of a tall building gives them a sense of the function of the building in a more appealing way.

    • Reply
      Morgan Dykema March 2, 2018

      I agree with you Connor. The personal human experience is what draws people to a building. Sullivan mentioned that tall office buildings that were doing it wrong were designed as separate buildings stacked on top of one another. This defeats the purpose of this connection and the ability to catch a person’s eye with the architecture.

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