George Nicola
George Nicola

George is a seasoned interior designer and property marketing strategist with over 13 years of experience. He specializes in transforming properties into visually stunning spaces, helping clients recognize the potential and beauty in each property. With an impressive international client base of exciting projects throughout Europe and America.

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What is Functionalism?

The definition of functionalism describes the principle that the function of something is what makes it identifiable and desirable rather than what it is made of. The role played by an object determines whether it is inherently beautiful or not even before judging its aesthetic characteristics.

Functionalism can be described as a doctrine that what makes something a thought, desire, pain (or any other type of mental state) depends not on its internal constitution, but solely on its function, or the role it plays, in the cognitive system of which it is a part. In other words, functionalism states that mental states are defined by what they do rather than by what they are made of.

The key idea is that mental states are characterized by their causal relations with other mental states, sensory inputs, and behavioral outputs. A particular mental state, such as a desire for food, is defined by its causal relations like being caused by hunger, causing the body to move toward food, etc.

The actual makeup of the desire, whether electrical signals, neurochemicals, or whatever else, does not define or characterize it. All that matters is the functional role it plays.

The article aims to inform someone interested in functionalism and multi-functional interior design or who wants to learn more as they design their house or home in this style or use its elements.  

A function describes the relationship between inputs and outputs. To define a function, it specifies the outputs that result from particular inputs.

A function performs a task or calculation that relates arguments (inputs) to return values (outputs). The key effect is that functions map input values to their associated outputs.

Functionalists believe that a society can only operate within social structures and organised functions with shared values and beliefs. As such, functionalism plays a vital role in promoting social order for the well-being of all individuals and objects in the society.

Who is the father of functionalism?

The father of functionalism is generally considered to be Hilary Putnam, the American philosopher who originally formulated the functionalist theory in the 1960s.

Specifically, in 1960 Putnam published a paper titled “Minds and Machines” in which he outlined the core ideas of what would become functionalism. In this paper, Putnam argued that mental states should be understood based on what they do rather than what physical parts they are made of.

Putnam used the famous thought experiment of the “Turing machine” to make his point. He suggested that a Turing machine, made up of gears and levers rather than flesh and blood like a human, could theoretically have the same mental states as a human if it carried out the same functions. It did not matter what physical stuff the machine was made of.

This emphasis on function rather than form was the key insight that launched functionalism as a theory of mind in philosophy. While there were precursors to the idea, Putnam is widely regarded as the originator and primary architect of functionalism, making him the “father” of this important perspective.

Through his writings in the 1960s and his subsequent development of functionalist ideas over the following decades, Putnam more than anyone else defined and championed the doctrine. So credit belongs to Hilary Putnam for establishing functionalism as an influential movement.

What is Functionalism in Architecture?

Functionalism is an architectural movement that emphasizes the functional and practical aspects of building design. It arose in the early 20th century as a reaction to the ornate, decorative styles of the past, such as Art Nouveau and the Beaux-Arts style.

The process to create functional architecture, incorporating functionalism examples and interior design.
The process to create functional architecture, incorporating functionalism examples and interior design.

Architecture is the art and science of designing spaces to serve practical physical and psychological needs of people.

The basic functions of architecture are:

Shelter – To provide protection and refuge from natural elements like heat, cold, rain, wind, etc. for healthy and comfortable living.

Structure – To design stable structural systems suited to the type of building that can withstand normal wear and tear and external pressures like wind, earthquake etc.

Aesthetics – To creatively integrate engineering requirements with beautiful forms, styles, textures and visual appeal.

Functionality – To create spaces and buildings suited to their functional purpose, ranging from homes to workplaces.

Access and Circulation – To allow for easy external access and movement between spaces through doorways, corridors, lobbies etc.

Light and Ventilation – To allow air and light to enter the building providing fresh air, lighting and cross ventilation for good health and respiration.

Sustainability – To design energy efficient and eco-friendly buildings by using appropriate materials, natural lighting, passive cooling etc.

Culture – To respect socio-cultural factors and express the local traditions, lifestyle, customs, etc through architectural style.

Safety – To adhere to codes and best practices on structural safety, fire safety, etc to prevent hazards and ensure security.

Amenity – To consult with clients and incorporate amenities, facilities and services that maximize usability, comfort and convenience.

To do functional architecture diagram:

A functional architecture diagram illustrates the high-level functions within a system and how they interact, exchange data, and support business processes.

The key functions are represented as modular blocks that have certain inputs, actions, and outputs. The connections between functions show the flow of information and sequencing from one activity to another.

Some key elements to include in a functional architecture diagram are:

  • Key system functions: The high-level capabilities that support overall goals
  • Functional relationships: How functions relate and interact with each other
  • Information flows: What information moves between functions
  • Interfaces: Where functions exchange inputs and outputs
  • Data storage: Where business data gets created, persist, and get used
  • Users: People and external systems interacting with the functions

The emphasis should be the fundamental business capabilities, not technology or implementation details.

The diagram brings clarity around what the system is intended for, how components work together, and the crucial functionality needed to meet requirements.

It enables simplification of complex processes so they can be better understood, communicated to stakeholders, and set the building blocks for development. The end result clearly maps functional elements into an elegant architecture.

The diagrams would visualize these key functional elements and how they interconnect to create the overall system architecture to support business objectives.

The specifics would vary across industries and use cases but hope these examples illustrate what high-level functional architectures may look like.

Here are some examples of functional architecture diagrams in architecture:

  1. Building HVAC Control System
  • Key functions shown: Temperature Monitoring, Sensor Data Processing, Actuator Control, Setpoint Adjustment, Alarm Triggering
  • Data flows: Sensor data, control signals, alarm notifications
  • Relationships: feedback loop from Temperature Monitoring to Actuator Control
  1. Smart Energy Management Platform
  • Functions: Energy Usage Tracking, Analytics & Reporting, Prediction Modeling, Utility Billing, Portfolio Optimization
  • Information flows: Energy consumption data, billing data, building/grid data
  • External interfaces: Utility companies, building automation systems
  1. Digital Construction Management
  • Functions: Design Collaboration, 3D Modeling, Construction Scheduling, Cost Tracking, Document Sharing
  • Data storage: Central project database and file repository
  • Users: Architects, engineers, project managers, contractors, owners
  1. Building Access Control and Security
  • Functions: Authentication, Access Rights Management, Badging/ID, Door Unlocking, Intrusion Detection, Surveillance Footage Storage
  • Relationships: Access Rights Management configures Authentication requirements
  • Interfaces: ID badge scanners, cameras, motion sensors
 

The issue of function versus creative expression can be seen as a tension in architecture between practical concerns and artistic ones. However, their roles are mutually reinforcing rather than exclusive.

Functionality needs to be central because it serves people’s basic physical, mental, and social needs. Buildings and spaces should choreograph human comfort, utility, circulation, habitation effectively. So considerations like client requirements, accessibility, sustainability, contextual harmony and pragmatic usability should take primacy.

At the same time, architecture goes beyond pure utility to also uplift the human spirit. Structure should fuse with poetry. Master architects find endless ways to render purpose inspiring – through soaring vaults, iridescent materials, elegance of proportion. They transpose engineering into art.

As Louis Kahn said, “even a single brick wants to be something.”. Beyond function, the tactility, spatial harmony, interplay of light and other aesthetic design choices that make a building enjoyable does matter immensely. They enhance experience profoundly.

So function takes priority in the sense that it is foundational. But appealing and inspirational creative expression should not be sacrificed either because it caters to human beings, not just practical needs but also emotional needs of delight, beauty and wonder. Architecture should embrace both aspects symbiotically.

The most admired buildings in history – like the Taj Mahal or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater – do elevate functional purpose into a work of art. For architecture, function sets the stage, but creative genius steals the show. In exemplary designs, neither takes precedence at cost of the other – instead they fuse into one unified experience.

The key is to rationally engineer practical spatial layouts suited precisely to human behaviors and task demands. Make function the generator of architectural form and space planning.

Here are some key tips for making functional architecture:

  1. Clearly identify the needs and goals Thoroughly understand how the spaces will be used – the activities, required adjacencies, traffic flows, interactions etc. Develop clear project goals regarding issues like capacity, flexibility, environment etc.
  2. Organize spaces by function Group together spaces that serve common functions or have interrelated activities. For example, keep back office operations separate from client-facing areas. Stack functions vertically too.
  3. Focus on circulation and flow
    Design clear circulation paths between spaces based on functional connections and user flows. Prioritize circulation elements like corridors, lobbies elevators. Use techniques like zoning.
  4. Blend in flexibility Build in adaptable space arrangements and movable elements to accommodate future changes in functional use. For example, knock-out walls, raised floors, demountable partitions.
  5. Choose durable, lean materials Specify robust yet efficient construction materials and systems matched to functional performance criteria while controlling costs.
  6. Refine form for function Shape architectural form based on a rigorous optimization of spatial function. Articulate form clearly as an outcome of configuring efficient plans.
  7. Capture user insights Incorporate direct user input in the design process regarding functional needs. Validate concepts and test mockups with user groups.

Dimensioned plans, elevations, sections, site context views, 3D views, schedules and structural drawings comprise architects’ primary visualization toolkit for design and presentation. Simple, annotated diagrams are relied upon extensively.

Some of the most commonly used diagrams by architects include:

  1. Floor Plans: A graphical overhead view showing the layout and relationships between interior rooms, spaces, doors, windows etc. These are used to design and communicate room arrangements.
  2. Elevations: Orthogonal views of the exterior (or sometimes interior) faces of a building that illustrate its vertical elements like height, materials, architectural styling etc.
  3. Sections: Vertically sliced views that reveal the interior compartments and construction details otherwise hidden from view. They communicate depth, structural assemblies etc.
  4. Site Plans: A scaled aerial view diagram showing the building footprint and its relationship to adjacent site elements like landscaping, parking, access roads etc. Conveys context.
  5. Perspectives: Realistically rendered 3-dimensional views of the interior/exterior that provide an immersive visual experience of the spatial volumes and aesthetic effects.
  6. Schedules & Symbols: Tables, legends and symbolic 2D drawings that specify architectural materials, finishes, glazing, decorative elements chosen for the project.
  7. Structural Diagrams: Simplified drawings describing structural systems and methods for transferring loads through beams, columns, shear walls, trusses etc.

What are Functionalist Architecture Examples?

Some examples of functionalist architecture include:

The Bauhaus School in Germany, which Walter Gropius founded in 1919. The school’s buildings were designed to be functional, emphasizing clean lines and simplicity and using industrial materials such as steel and glass. A true icon that influenced generations of architects.

Bauhaus_Dessau_2018
The Bauhaus School in Germany / Photo by Aufbacksalami on Wiki

Le Corbusier designed the renowned Villa Savoye in France in 1929. The building is an example of the International Style, a form of functionalist architecture that emphasizes geometric shapes and incorporates large windows to bring in natural light. Its unique shape and layout inspire architects to this day.

VillaSavoye
Villa Savoye in France / Photo by Valueyou on Wiki

The Seagram Building in New York City was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson in 1958. The building is an example of modernist architecture, another form of functionalism that emphasizes sleek, minimalist design and industrial materials such as steel and glass.

Seagram_Building
Seagram Building in New York City, USA / Photo by Ken OHYAMA on Wiki

Jørn Utzon designed the Sydney Opera House in Australia in 1973. The building is an example of organic functionalism, which combines functionalist principles with a more organic, sculptural aesthetic.

Sydney_Opera_House_Australia
Sydney Opera House in Australia / Photo by Bernard Spragg on Wiki

How functionalism is different compared to other styles?

Functionalist architecture is different from other styles of architecture in several ways.

  1. Emphasis on function: Functionalist buildings are designed to emphasize their practical and functional aspects. They are designed to be efficient, practical, and functional, focusing on meeting the needs of the people who will use them.

  2. Use of industrial materials: Functionalist buildings often make use of industrial materials such as steel, glass, and concrete, which are strong, durable, and able to be mass-produced. These materials allow for the construction of buildings with clean lines and simple, unadorned exteriors.

  3. Minimalist design: Functionalist buildings are often characterized by their minimalist design, emphasizing simplicity and the absence of decorative elements.

  4. Geometric forms: Many functionalist buildings use geometric forms, such as squares, circles, and triangles, in their design. These forms often create a sense of order and balance in the building’s layout.

  5. Lack of ornamentation: Functionalist buildings are typically free of ornamentation and decorative elements, with an emphasis on the functional aspects of the building rather than its aesthetic appeal.

Best Books on Architectural Functionalism

Here are some of the best and most influential books on architectural functionalism:

“Towards a New Architecture” by Le Corbusier (1927) – This hugely impactful manifesto by the great modernist architect introduced ideas about functionalism and “the house as a machine for living”. It laid out many key principles.

“Radical Functionalism: A Social Architecture for Mexico” by Juan O’Gorman (1999) – An important treatise applying functionalist theory to create practical, low-cost housing for Mexico’s working class. Very socially-conscious.

“Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science” by Alberto Pérez-Gómez (1983) – A thought-provoking critique of functionalist dogma, arguing instead for an interpretive, symbolic approach to design. Challenging ideas.

“Use Matters: An Alternative History of Architecture” by Neil Spiller (2020) – Makes the case for prioritizing use and social purpose in architecture over form/aesthetics from a functionalist lens. Fresh thinking.

“Le Corbusier, the Noble Savage: Toward an Archaeology of Modernism” by Adolf Max Vogt (1998) – A scholarly reappraisal of Le Corbusier’s functionalist vision and complex relationship to machines and the human spirit.

I selected these books because they either pioneered core functionalist concepts or offered impactful alternative views. Together they showcase the richness and diversity of discourse around functionalism’s role in shaping architecture.

What is Functionalism in Design?

When it comes to design, functionalism exemplifies that a building or object should be principally orientated towards its day-to-day functions or practical use in such a way that its purpose take precedence over any other aesthetic values.

For instance, the construction of a private residence that requires a driveway, garden and garage is deemed successful when the design satisfies the emotional, cultural and cognitive needs of the homeowner as well as technical requisites such as utility, durability and beauty.

How Does Functionalism Evolve in Design?

In modernist design, functionalism is the dominant idea that rejects any beautifications that are not related to the function of an object or a building, leading to designs that emphasize functional purposes. In contrast to a number of modernist innovations in art, functionalism evolvement in design seeks to simplify instead of complicating traditional design practices.

For instance, design principles are influenced by several factors in various planning and construction stages: functionality, material requirements, cost ratio, the capability of the process, etc. These factors originated from the functionalism principle, which is the fundamental catalyst for the emergence of various types of modernist designs.  

Functionalism in Art

Functionalists describe art as prearranged conditions envisioned to give an aesthetic experience appreciated for its noticeable visual appeal, or an arrangement that is naturally envisioned to possess such an aesthetic value.

A work of art at a particular time (t) is considered to possess functionalism only if:

  1. It is found among other dominant forms of art at t and fulfils a standard or accepted function within the set of dominant forms of art at t; or
  2. It is a high-quality artefact that exudes superiority in accomplishing a function within various sets of functions for dominant forms of art.

What is Functional Efficiency in Architecture and Design?

In architecture, functionality strictly follows the principle that the function and purpose of a building take precedence when designing it. Functional efficiency allows users to design a building in the safest and fastest manner or with the least input cost and effort.

During the 1920s, architect Louis Henry Sullivan proclaimed that “form follows function” in architecture and design. Functional efficiency ensures that the visualisation of architectural beauty emanates from the repetitive function of various designs. As such, a building must conform to the designer’s preconceived depiction, rigged with practical considerations, such as use, structure and material.  

Functionalism and the Modular Approach

The modular approach in functionalism emphasizes using independent parts that have standard interfaces. To complement the functionalist design of buildings, modernist architects and designers believe that a furniture’s function and materials determine its shape.

They strip down furniture to its basic components during the design process while avoiding any decorations and colour. Most modernist furniture designs are predominantly white, grey and black in colour.

You can use the modular approach to construct a building by incorporating fixtures and fittings assembled in a factory and transported to the construction site for installation. For example, modular kitchens can have 2 base units: one for the oven and the other for shelves and drawers.  

The modular approach comes with the following advantages:

  • Saves Time
  • Low labour costs
  • No need for storage
  • No bad weather delays
  • Limited amount of waste

Why Does Every Design Style Contain Functionalism?

Functionalism plays a practical/pragmatic role in all design styles, which broadly answers the question: Can this design achieve all the aspects required for this purpose or space?

Instead of theorising your design style, functionalism will help you incorporate:

  • Functional items – This focuses on the usefulness of items and eliminates decorations.
  • Minimalist interiors – This incorporates only essential furniture and removes unnecessary ones.   

Functional and Non-functional Design Styles

Functional design focuses on the purpose of the style, while non-functional designs have subverted functions and mostly focus on quality attributes, such as shape, reusability, customizability, etc.

Functional Design Styles

Zeman Café (Czech Republic)

Designed for Josef Zeman by the architect Bohuslav Fuchs in 1923, this café is purely made of simple geometric shapes.

The large red-framed windows complement the building’s rectangular shape. It was demolished in 1964, but young architects constructed its perfect replica, which was reopened in March 1995.

Credit: Bam.brno.cz / Public domain

ERA Café (Czech Republic)

Designed by the architect Josef Kranz for Josef Špunar (1929), this building is of intersecting rectangles that open into the exterior. The ground floor has a dynamic spiral staircase, and its façade is divided by a minimalist arrangement of windows. It was once turned into a pub and an agricultural college before being reverted to a café in 2011

Credit: Cafe Era / Public domain

Bellavista Estate (Denmark)

Designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1934, this housing estate is made of rounded corners, storey displacements, corner windows, white-washed facades, and latticework over balconies. The living rooms have sea views that instil an exotic atmosphere of elegant modernity.

Credit: Visitcopenhagen.com / Public domain

ADGB Trade Union School (Germany)

Designed in 1930 by Swiss architects Hannes Meyer and Hans Wittwer, this training centre complex is made of steel, glass blocks, visible concrete, and pronounced steel windows. After many demolition threats in the early 2000s, this “masterpiece of poetic functionalism” underwent rehabilitation to its original state by architects Franz Jaschke and Winfried Brenne in 2007.

Credit: architectuul.com & ArienSharon / Public domain

Lasipalatsi or Glass Palace (Finland)

Designed by Niilo Kokko, Heimo Riihimäki and Viljo Revell in 1936, this functionalist landmark building with big glass surfaces is one of the most iconic structures in Helsinki, Finland. It is home to a unique wintergarden, cinema with lobby, restaurant complex, underground exhibition spaces and shops.

Credit: Johnnagullichsen.com / Public domain

Functional Architecture - Lasipalatsi.-Photo-Tuomas-Uusheimo-Amos-Rex-1

Designed by Niilo Kokko, Heimo Riihimäki and Viljo Revell in 1936, this functionalist landmark building with big glass surfaces is one of the most iconic structures in Helsinki, Finland. It is home to a unique Wintergarden, cinema with lobby, restaurant complex, underground exhibition spaces and shops.

Non-functional Design Styles

Parthenon (Greece)

Designed by the architects Ictinus and Callicrates between 447-432 BCE, the Parthenon is an ancient temple of the Doric order. It has eight columns at the front and 17 columns along each side. Its walls are adorned with sculptures that are highlights of Greek art.

Credit: artincontext.org / Public domain

Painting-of-Classical-Architecture
Temple of Apollo (Italy)

Constructed in 120 BCE, this classical structure of architecture was erected in the Doric style to replace a former temple. The temple had 15 columns along each side and 6 columns at each end made from single pieces of stone. It was 174 feet in length and 70 feet in width.

Credit: artincontext.org / Public domain

Non-funcitonal Classical-Building-Reconstruction
Maison Carrée (France)

Constructed during the Roman Empire around 16-20 B.C., the Maison Carrée is one of the well-preserved temples. Standing 23 feet high, the temple had an ornately decorated facade with deep pronaos accentuated by the profound porch and a six-columned portico at either end.

Credit: artincontext.org / Public domain

non-functional Famous-Classic-Architecture
Library of Celsus (Turkey)

Designed by the architect Vitruoya in114 AD, this is one of the surviving structures from the Roman Empire. In the 1970s, archaeologists rehabilitated its damaged façade and decorated it with intricate designs and prestigious symbols. Four pairs of columns border each of its entrances.

Credit: artincontext.org / Public domain

non-functional Classic-Architecture
Temple of Hephaestus (Greece)

Designed by the architect known as ‘The Hephaisteion Master’ in 449- 415 BC, this well-preserved temple was made from marble obtained from Mount Penteli. It has a centrally placed cella for storing cult images. Some decorations reveal a blend of both Doric and Ionic sculptures.

Credit: artincontext.org / Public domain

non-functional architecture Classical-Period

How Functionalism Architecture Evolve to Multifunctional Spaces

Since functionalism architecture focuses on the purpose of a building, it can be used to design multifunctional spaces. For example, a central space can house a theatre, a school, a public library, a cinema, and a café to bring people together in an inclusive manner.

By incorporating diverse architecture in one place, multifunctional spaces play an essential role in the future development of cities by seamlessly designing functionalist buildings for people to live, socialise and work.

Relationship between Function and Form

Function describes a building’s functional and structural requirements, such as construction materials, occupancy, use, organization, and program, while form describes its visual appearance, such as shape, outline, and composition. The relationship between function and form gives the architectural work its meaning.

The function is a product of matter, while the form is a product of the mind. Function and form usually combine to give an observer an effortless expression of interpreting the architectural creation without following any exact rules about whether the form must follow the function or vice versa.

Note: Humanistic architectures usually show the contradiction between form (human mind) and function (material world) in their designs.

Multifunctional Spaces Architecture and Design: What are they?

A multifunctional space combines different functions within a building by adding tasks to a design to create spaces with multiple purposes, for example, designing an open floor plan with a dining area within a kitchen. It’s ideal for people who want to cook and socialize simultaneously.

The objective of creating multifunctional designs is to incorporate different functions within a space and to provide reduce costs, reduce clutter, and save installation space. However, it is essential to note that you may encounter challenges when incorporating additional functions.

How to Design Multifunctional Spaces = Space-saving

Globally, living spaces are shrinking by the day, as occupants try to find innovative ways to save space. Below are some creative ways of maximising every square foot of your interiors:

  • Fit a bathtub in the master bedroom
  • Fix a playroom in the children’s bedroom
  • Incorporate a dining room in the kitchen
  • Convert a bedroom to a home office using fold-down beds
  • Create modular wooden shelves and cabinets in the living room for books and seating.

Pro Tip: Choose minimalist furniture, plan the overall layout beforehand, use colours with lighter tones for walls, and store things in the right place.

Multifunctional Spaces Examples

Located outside of the bathroom, the storage units contain a fold-out bed, work surfaces, and shelves when fully closed.

Credit: PKMN Architectures / Public Domain

A logically well-laid-out bedroom fitted with a tub for unwinding with a bubble bath.

Credit: szc-ast.com / Public Domain

Key Takeaways

  • Functionalism is the principle that the function of something is what makes it desirable
  • In architecture, the function and purpose of a building takes precedence of its design.
  • Functionalism plays a practical/pragmatic role in all design styles
  • Functional design focuses on the purpose of the style
  • Non-functional designs focus on quality attributes, such as shape, reusability, etc.
  • Function describes a building’s functional and structural requirements, such as construction materials, occupancy, use, organization, and program
  • Form describes a building’s visual appearance, such as shape, outline, and composition
  • A multifunctional space combines different functions within a building by adding functions to a design to create spaces with multiple purposes.

If you need guidance on your design project or have questions, feel free to drop us an email at george@tallbox.co.uk

To find the domain of a function in architecture:

Focus on the input values that are meaningful for the function. The domain consists of the set of possible inputs that would produce a valid output.

For example, consider a function that calculates the total square footage of a floor plan. The inputs are the length and width measurements of the rooms. The domain would be the set of possible positive, real number values for length and width. Negative values or strings of text would not make sense as inputs.

Next, determine if there are restrictions or constraints on allowable inputs based on the context. A function for calculating total occupancy of a building may have an upper bound for room capacity based on fire codes. So the domain would be limited to appropriate input values.

Also, think about the data types the function is designed to handle. A floor area calculator expects numeric room dimensions. Non-numeric inputs would produce errors or invalid outputs.

In summary, to find the domain, analyze:

  1. The set of all possible valid inputs that fit the function.
  2. Any constraints or restrictions needed to produce meaningful outputs.
  3. The data types, formats, structures the function can use.

The domain consists of the inputs meeting those criteria. Understanding the domain helps set proper boundaries for functional behavior.