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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


The word form comes from the Old French word forme, meaning physical form, appearance, pleasing look, image, which originated from Latin forma, meaning contour, figure, shapes, appearance, design’s sort, kind of condition. There are only theories of the origins of the Latin root forma for they are unknown. One theory holds that it is from Greek morphe, meaning form, beauty, outward appearance. Morphe also evolved into Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams and maker of shapes that can appear in any form in dreams[1]. Other theories include origins from the Sanskrit word dharman, meaning holding position, order; or root of ferīre, to strike[2].

The origins of the word can also be traced through philosophy. The word form first appeared in the Theory of Forms, which Plato associate with the word eido[3], meaning idea. Tracing eido to its Indo-European roots is weid, meaning to know and see[4].

There are many definitions of form, but the most common is the visible aspect of a thing; usually in a narrow sense of shape and configuration rather than colour[5]. Form is often used to describe the body and its outward appearance.

Similarly, form is used to describe the shape of a structure in architecture. The form of architecture often reflects the society’s culture, environment, and technology. In Modern Architecture, form reflects the function of the building, that is, function should proceed form.

 In 1896, architect Louis Sullivan established the principle “form follows function” which marked the beginning of Modern Architecture. In 1908, Adolf Loos established a second principle in Modern Architecture: “ornament is a crime”[6]. During the Modernist movement, buildings were reduced to its purest forms, stripped of historical references and ornament. This was most evident in the work of Mies van der Rohe who designed using only simple rectilinear and planar forms and eliminating all non-essential forms and ornamentation. Throughout the 20th century, “form follows function” took on variations, but remained a prominent principle in architecture.

In 1954, Frank Lloyd Wright introduced Organic Architecture. He argued that form should be determined by the “nature of materials”[7] and the environment. This is reflected in his most well-known work, Fallingwater; the house, built out of the stones found on the site, cantilevers over a waterfall much like the rocks in its surroundings, creating a sense of harmony between the house and its environment.

[1] Harper, Douglas. Online Etymology, “form”, accessed November 17,
[2] "form, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://oed.com/view/Entry/73421?rskey=Ytuejz&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed November 21, 2012).
[3] Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. "form", accessed November 21, 2012,http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/213675/form.
[4] “weid-“. American Heritage Dictionary: Fourth Edition: Appendix I. (2000).
[5] "form, n.". OED Online
[6] Loos, Adolf. Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays (Ariadne Press, 1998)
[7] Frank Lloyd Wright (1954). The Natural House (New York: Bramhall House), p. 3

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