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Architects’ Vocabulary: Form, Function and Feeling

Learn about some key terms used to describe and think about a building.

Professional designers, like architects, often use three key terms to describe spaces: form, function and feeling. Introducing some simple definitions will help, especially non-professional designers, to develop and communicate thoughts and ideas about their building. For our purposes, we can describe these design terms as follows:

  • Form: The geometry and structure of a building which simply means the shapes, proportions and sizes of spaces and volumes that constitute a building. For our purpose, we will also include the material manifestation of forms that is: the materials used to build it, and how different elements have been brought together, their texture and their colour.
  • Function: The purpose of a building, and how its different spaces are used or expected to be used, at different times by different users. The term function can sometimes include the notion of ‘affordances’ of a place. While in a strict sense function is what a space is intended to do, affordances incorporate other things people are able to do in a space. For instance, the main function of a church’s nave is to pray with others but a nave, due to its size, acoustics, or other architectural features affords others uses such social gatherings or cultural events.
  • Feeling: The qualities of a space, and how they affect our emotions and our senses when we’re in it and moving around it. Of course, one may argue that triggering certain feelings can be part of the purpose and therefore function of a building. This is correct and valid. However, there is a distinction between the ‘experience’ of a place and its purpose or ‘function’. Talking about the ways people perceive and sense a space aims to bring to the fore discussions about the ‘experience’ of a place that is well beyond its functions.

image of the three key terms form, feeling and function

The above terms are quite common in the professional language of designers. Using or being aware of these terms can be a helpful device for developing and communicating thoughts or ideas about a building and its future.

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