Louis Sullivan: The Function of Ornament

My quest to find the meaning of “form follows function” has led to a dead end.

I had hoped that somewhere in the book, Louis Sullivan: The Function of Ornament, I would have found a design philosophy in Sullivan’s mantra that I could use in my own future work – a formula applicable to just about anything I would want to create.

My conclusion is that this philosophy is not a prescription for design, but is instead something uniquely personal to Sullivan and he may be the only one who really understood it.  Even those closest to him, his partner and his employee, had their own interpretations:

Dankmar Adler …amended Sullivan’s dictum that “form follows function” to read that function and environment together determine form.

Frank Lloyd Wright: …since a building, to be functional, must be integral with the environment, with a seamless continuity between materials and purpose, in actuality, “form and function are one.”

(pg. 202)

To Sullivan, “function” included intangible aspects: the social, psychological, political, and even spiritual.

…Sullivan fully understood that architecture was the social art – that buildings are the outward manifestations of internal values and what their buildings convey is the truest expression of what the people are.

(pg. 204)

Even though I didn’t get my #1 question answered, what does “form follows function” mean?, reading this book was certainly not a waste of time (except maybe the long history of early 20th century banking in the Midwest, but at least it was interesting).  Louis Sullivan was no doubt a complex human being, just as his ornament.  Now, my new question is: how in the world was all of that complicated ornamentation physically made and adhered to these buildings and has then stayed there for a hundred years or more?

It sounds like I’m ready to move on to a more technical subject for now.

And one not written by a Ph.D.