Adler, Sullivan, and “Form Follows Function:” JAE Article

The September Journal of Architectural Education is out this week, and it includes my article on Dankmar Adler’s suggested amendments to Louis Sullivan’s “three word spark…of arch-itectural brilliance.”  Link to the abstract here, the full .pdf is available from there to subscribers or those whose institutions subscribe.

The gist of the article is Adler’s response, at a national AIA convention in 1896, to Sullivan’s famed article in Lippincott’s. Essentially, Adler thought that “function” wasn’t enough to determine architectural form, and that the various milieux of technical, climatic, economic, and cultural factors at work on any project created a much richer, more complex relationship between form and what Nervi called the various “forces” acting upon it.

For me, this is particularly interesting since it parallels the philosophy of causation–what “causes” architecture to turn out one way instead of another?  Sullivan thought this was fairly straightforward, but Adler, a more circumspect engineer, was wary:

“…if ‘form follows function,’ it does not follow in a straight line, nor in accordance with a simple mathematical formula, but along the lines of curves whose elements are always changing and never alike; and if the lines of development and growth of the vegetable and animal organisms are infinitely differentiated, the process of untrammeled human thought and human emotions are even more subtle in the differences and shadings of their manifestations….before accepting Mr. Sullivan’s statement of the underlying law upon which all good architectural design and all true architectural style is founded, it may be well to amend it and say: ‘Function and environment determine form,’ using the words environment and form in their broadest sense.”


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