Functionalism (design)

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Door knob and door handle designed by Ferdinand Kramer

In architecture and design , functionalism means the receding of purely aesthetic design principles behind the purpose of the building or device that determines the shape . Hence the famous saying “ Form follows function ” (“Function determines form”) by Louis Sullivan , who originated from the popular belief that contemporary beauty in architecture and design results from their functionality.

In the pre-industrial age, beauty was closely interwoven with functional contexts in society, e.g. B. with sacred, but also profane purposes. With industrial production, art emancipated itself from contexts of purpose, just as, conversely, usefulness emancipated itself from beauty. With industrially manufactured commodities, beauty becomes a mere "aesthetic excess". The creative functionalism reacts to this, which wants to make the aesthetics of the function visible against the illusionistic decoration. However, according to Andreas Dorschel, the concept of function was ambiguous from the beginning: "Function can mean both practical function or purpose as well as technical functioning or mode of production" . The beginnings of functionalism in design and architecture rich to the aesthetic theorists of the 19th century ( Lotze , Semper , Greenough ) but are in Germany only with the establishment of the German Work Federation in 1907 under the keywords objectivity and purpose of the form to the rank of artistically serious design style.

After the First World War and after the interlude of Expressionism , functionalism again gained greater attention as a design principle under the terms New Building , Bauhaus Style or New Objectivity . Functionalism prevailed in Sweden in the 1930s as a result of the Stockholm Exhibition of 1930 and the Manifest acceptera .

However, functionalism in Germany only became the truly generally binding epitome of modern building after the Second World War, and in this way it largely shaped the architectural language of reconstruction. Since the beginning of the 1970s, the formal poverty and inhospitableness of functionalist planning (the “functional building”) has increasingly come into the field of public criticism, which is why postmodernism in the 1980s finally tried to oppose functionalism with completely new design principles. In commercial and industrial architecture, as well as in public infrastructure, functionalism has always remained represented - solely out of financing issues.

Functionalism in architecture gained renewed topicality as a design principle in the second half of the 1990s, after the so-called deconstructivism had subsided . In architecture apart from representative buildings, the approach has become dominant again over the past few decades. Movements such as sustainable building , striving for a minimal use of resources, are just as inclined to a functionalist basic feature as energy-efficient building , in which the design follows technical requirements of thermal insulation , sun exposure and the like. The same applies to material-related subjects such as modern timber construction or earth building , or location alternatives such as building on the water .


Albrecht Wellmer emphasizes that functionalism in architecture tidied up the façades of the 19th century that were overloaded with ornamentation and thus destroyed an eclectic and mendacious “superstructure” that only hid poorly proportioned architecture. Functionalism thus made visible the desolation of an underlying architectural and urban “base” dictated by the economy, but also erased the traces of memory that could be used to orient changes. The functionalist modernization of the West German cities after the Second World War bore traits of "self-mutilation". The idea of ​​the architects and designers who pay homage to functionalism, that industrial progress "(to) humanize and domesticate with the weak forces of an aesthetic Enlightenment" has always been naive.


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Albrecht Wellmer: Art and industrial production , in: Ders .: On the dialectic of modernity and postmodernism. Frankfurt, 5th edition 1993, p. 115.
  2. Design and Improvisation: Products, Processes and Methods in Google Book Search
  3. ^ Albrecht Wellmer: Art and industrial production , in: Ders .: On the dialectic of modernity and postmodernism. Frankfurt, 5th edition 1993, p. 121 ff.