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The big deal with Form

Over the five years of architectural education, one of the most common topics of discussion would be “form”. Most stalwarts have their own tempered opinion on form –  Sullivan’s very famous “Form follows function” or  Brancusi saying “Architecture is inhabited sculpture” or Corbusier saying  “Architecture is the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light”.

So what is the big deal about form ? Why is it so important to us architects ?

To understand this, we go back to the roots of architecture – Vitruvius’ triad on architectural design :

Vitruvian Triad

The elusive balance

Vitruvius described these three qualities as the core of architecture and Palladio sums this up beautifully –

“For one could not describe as perfect a building which was useful, but only briefly; or one which was inconvenient for a long time, or being both durable and useful, was not beautiful”. 

While it is an endearing task for all architects to find the perfect balance of these three, it is often the form that gains a lot of attention. What once was restricted to its structural limits has now expanded, becoming seemingly limitless.  From the curved stone walls of  Neolithic settlements, to the cuboidal shift in the modernist era and now to free flowing forms, technology has aided our explorations of form tremendously.

So what can we learn from this exploration of forms ? What is the dichotomy in form exploration ?

  1. Pure forms require work 

A lot of purists would understand the tempering these forms undergo. “Regular” forms like cuboids, spheres and pyramids have strong spatial qualities (often a result of their proportion) and it helps to understand these. It is then not a surprise that these forms have served many civilizations of the past. It is not easy to make these seemingly “normal” forms shine. They need to be tempered and refined, else they can be reduced to dull spaces.


“Living in a time of intense experimentation with architectural forms can induce a hunger of eye and mind for more basic forms. It is not just that we can tire of novelty and complexity, but also that we can yearn for a clarity of meaning not easily found in them… purer geometric volumes that have appeared in architecture over the ages, the meaning of which is not in doubt and does not need to be interpreted. ” – Lebbeus Woods

    2.Everything else is inherently interesting 

The need for new ideas, beyond the purist forms, has called for great experimentation by architects. What’s important to note is that by their very definition of not being a pure form, they become something novel for the human eye. They become interesting. However, they don’t always produce the spatial experience offered by pure forms. Why ? Because off late, they have been reduced to “Blobitechture” aided by computers –


The problem with these forms is that often they don’t have clarity – something that the human mind needs to comprehend the visual. Hence, these forms often leave the user feeling uncomfortable. It takes more than a computer generated form to create an experience for the user – something architects should be wary of.

 “I’ve noticed the computer sometimes leads to rather bland decision-making; Now, anybody can do a wobbly, blobby building.” – Peter Cook

Form is an exciting challenge for most architects, but it is also one of the most engaging aspects of architecture, leaving a huge impact on the user. It often boils down to having a mindful approach to help the user connect with the imagery produced. In the long run, as architects, it often helps us to take a step back, view the implications of form once in a while before getting consumed in the challenge that is form.

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