Evolution of “Form Follows Function” in India

If you are even remotely connected to the design industry, then you may have come across the term “Form follows function”.Master architects like Ar. Louis Sullivan and Ar. Frank Lloyd Wright considered this as a design criterion that is a “must” to be fulfilled while designing space, furniture or any product. There may be many questions arising in your mind as to what is form follows function meaning? What is form follows function architecture? What are form follows function examples? Don’t worry, we have answered all your questions in this article.

Form Follows Function Meaning

The form follows function meaning is literally in the term itself. Form follows functionsmeans that the physical nature/appearance or the aesthetics of the product or space should be in accordance with its purpose.

Now that you have understood the form follows function meaning, lets dive deep into form follows function literature.

Origin of the Term Form Follows Function

During the second industrial revolution in the 19th century, there was a fall in the requirement of labourers, as a lot of services were done with the help of machines. Hence, there was a major impact on the lifestyle of people in general. The term coined by Ar. Louis Sullivan came into advocacy after he designed an unconventional multi-story building in the year 1891. An essay called The Tall office building considered artistically by ‘Louis Suillivan’ was published in Lippincott’s Magazine, where he clarified that the inspiration behind the multi-story building was the lifestyle of people going to use it. Unlike earlier, the people now are functioning differently, so the design of the building has to be in accordance with their function.

The Tall Office Building

“Form follows function” has majorly impacted the design industries such as architecture, product designing, furniture designing, fashion designing and even graphic designing to a great extent. India has a rich history of civilization and its architecture has blossomed wonderfully. It was Europe and the West, which became aware of “Form follows function” architecture with the outset of industrialization.

Since ancient times, India has been known for its culture and authenticity. The only way Indian architectural styles were progressing was through the logic of how the form should follow function.

After going through form follows function literature, let us understand how the form follows function works.

How Does Form Follows Function Architecture Work?

Form follows function means the physical nature or shape of a product or space is designed in a way that its aim is fulfilled. The concept can be easily understood with the help of form follows function examples.

Form Follows Function Examples

Let’s understand this by Form follows function examples:

Example 1 – Set of Knives:

There are varieties of knives available in the market, but every kitchen has atleast three types of knives. 1. Chef knife 2. Peeling knife 3. Butter knife.

a. Chef Knife:

Chef Knife is an all-purpose knife. It is used to cut, chop, slice and mince all kinds of vegetables. Its blade is reasonably large and has medium thickness.

Chef Knife

b. Peeling Knife:

Peeling Knife is used to take off the skin of any vegetable or fruit. It has a slit opening that help to perform the function.

Peeling Knife

c. Butter Knife:

A butter knife is used for spreading butter or jam on bread. The blade is quite thick so that the delicate surface of the bread is not torn off while spreading butter on it.

Butter  Knife

If you spread the butter with a peeling knife it will definitely tear away the bread and if you cut vegetables with a butter knife, it will surely be a messy task. The form of the butter knife fulfills the purpose of spreading the butter without tearing the bread. The form of the butter knife helps in performing its function.

Example 2 – Types of Chairs:

Let’s understand form follows function architecture with an example of a chair. There are numerous varieties of chairs available:

a. Rocking Chair:

Rocking chair has a semicircular arc-type structure that connects the fore and back limbs of the chair. Hence, the chair is able to move to and fro to serve its purpose of “Rocking” for the person sitting on it.

Rocking Chair

b. Sofa Chair:

Sofa chair is basically a one-seater sofa. It is soft, comfortable and feels like a cushion. It is purposefully designed in this way to give support and relaxation.

Sofa Chair

c. Office Chair:

Office chair is designed to support and keep the spinal cord upright of the person who uses it. Hence, he/ she stays focused and can work for hours in the same position.

Office Chair

An office employee will never be able to work on a rocking chair as it can distract him. Similarly, an old man won’t be comfortable sitting on an office chair for a long period of time. Hence, these chairs have specific forms that help to fulfill their specific function.

Now that we are clear about ‘form follows function’ and how it works, let us see how the Indian architectural style integrated the same and evolved our architectural styles and lifestyles around it.

Art and Architecture of Ancient India and Indian architectural style in 19th century

Vedic Architecture:

According to ‘Joy Sen’[379] book “A System Evaluation of Global History Of Indian Architecture.”- Ancient Indian architecture also known as Vedic architecture is a mixture of cosmos and built-environment form. Indian saints have studied human minds, bodies and human evolution thoroughly and mentioned all the details in Vedas and Puranas.

A step-by-step systematic lifestyle is designed from these studies. This lifestyle helps humans evolve physically, mentally and spiritually. Around this lifestyle, the ancient Indian architectural style was designed, which is now known as Vedic architecture or Vastu Shastra.

Vedic Architecture
The Ancient Indian Architecture

Indian Architecture Style in 19th Century:

Even before the Britishers arrived, the Indian textile industry was flourishing globally. According to the book “The Third World Modernism” of ‘Duanfang Lu’[380], it was because India had different variety of clothing material and design; the clothes were customized according to the weather, needs and culture of user. The countries experiencing cold weather imported woolen clothes while the countries having sunny weather import varieties of cotton. As mentioned in book “Form Follows Fun” by ‘Peter Bruce’[381]-The ambivalence and tension that emerged from the exchanging of modernity between India and the West are studied through two exhibitions that were organized by MoMA in 1955: one about India mounted in New York and titled “Textile and Ornamental Arts of India” and the other about the West, mounted in India and titled “Design Today in Europe and America.” On the one hand, the promotion of modernity of affluence by America sought to demonstrate a fantastic view of future domesticity before an Indian audience. On the other hand, India sought to promote itself as a model of a nonindustrial material world.

Indian Textile Industry in 19th Century

The Museum of Modern Art, New York organized exhibition attracted over 30,000 people including artists and architects. This exhibition helped American to know and understand art and architecture of ancient India. Indian art and craft was in international headlines as follows.

Entrance at The Museum of Modern Art
Entrance at The Museum of Modern Art
Exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art
Exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art

Journalist Alice Hughes wrote “The American beholder is swept with the admiration of fantasy now displayed in the ‘Arts of India’ show. The 1955 MoMA exhibition was effectively contrived to convey the spectacle of Indian craft, a magical setting for equally exotic and magical objects amidst the concrete jungle of Manhattan modernity”.

On one hand architects such as Ar. Le Corbusier came to India with modern design, on the other hand an evolution in Indian furniture industry also began as the Indian and the western lifestyle differs.Mr. Manu bhai Shah– Union Minister of the industry stated “The degree of success in making a product depends greatly on the extent to which a fusion of technical quality, functional excellence and visual designhappens.  Thus art and architecture of ancient India too was changing its forms according to the needs of users and global influences.

Evolution of Indian Furniture Industry
Chairs in 1960s be le Corbusier (Mass produced)

Modernism – the Cause of form Follows Function in India

Even though the form follows function has been the most basic rule for creating anything and everything, modernism and mixing of cultures and their discoveries were the reasons for having better and precise perspective towards the concept. The form follows function architecture in India flourished with art and craft in textile, furniture and sculpture industry and later became prevalent in architecture. In India, architects like Ar. Le Corbusier, Ar. Charles Correa, Ar. B.V. Doshi and many others have contributed in evolution of the modern Indian architecture style.

Indian Architecture Pre Independence
Indian Architecture Pre Independence
Indian Architecture Post-Independence
Indian Architecture Post-Independence

Space Designing Through Vernacular Architecture in India

Space designing is complex, but “form follows function” principle makes it simpler. Let’s understand this in detail; with the example of vernacular architecture in india – “Bhunga”. Bhungas are found in Kutch district of Gujarat.

Kutch is located in an earthquake prone desert area where velocity of wind is also high. The Bhunga is designed aerodynamically, i.e. in cylindrical form; so that the structure can survive in spite of high velocity of wind. The roof is made of dry hay, hence if earthquake is experienced, the dry hay roof can be reconstructed easily again. The shape of the roof is conical which allows less heat inside the structure, which is perfect for desert area.

Vernacular Architecture in India

Hence, since the ancient times ‘form follows function’ has been the most basic rule for design. The Bhunga will be a perfect design for an earth quake prone desert area. The same design might not be the most ideal for the hilly or forest regions. To know more about vernacular architecture, Read on:


One can lead to aunique, user-friendly design if the design follows the concept of the ‘form follow function`. India has been familiar with the term earlier. The basis of evolution of Indian architecture style from ancient Indian architecture to modernism in Indian architecture has been through creating a form or space that follows the function ever since. Hope this article gives you deep insight on form follows function architecture.

Before you leave make sure to check our more articles:

Evaluating Floor Plan for Your New Home! Here’s All the Tips & Techniques!
How to Design a Functional Kitchen for Your Home?

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