Saturday, February 5, 2011

Chapter 2: Form

The term "form" has so many meanings but, in design, it refers to formal structure, both inside and out, the outline, and the unity of the parts to its whole.

Form has visual properties of shape, size, color, and texture and relational properties of position, orientation, and visual inertia.

There are several important terms and concepts to discuss to give a clearer explanation of form:  Primary Solids, Dimensional Transformation, Subtractive Forms, Additive Forms, and Formal Collision of Geometry.

It's best to first talk about the most basic of form: primary solids, including the sphere, cylinder, cone, pyramid, cube which are generated from one or two primary shapes (circle, square, and triangle).  All of these forms are considered regular forms because its parts are related to one another in an organized manner...they are symmetrical and stable.  But remember, if there are regular forms, there are also irregular forms which tend to show asymmetry and are more dynamic.  Often the two types are seen working together in one composition. 

The picture below includes primary solids:  the light fixture is a sphere; the newel post on the stair is a rectangular cube; and the balusters are cylinders.


This diagram is meant to represent the variety forms that can be used in one space:

Primary solids can be manipulated to create new forms, a process called Dimensional Transformation.  The simplest way to think of this is by starting with a cube and then changing one of its dimensions (height for example).  With this, the form is transformed into a new form but still remains in the cube family of form.

The stacked suitcases in the picture below demonstrates dimensional transformation.  The dimensions of the suitcases get smaller and smaller as they go up, emphasizing height and drawing the eye up.

This diagram emphasizes the shrinking dimensions of the primary forms:

These forms are created through a subtractive transformation which changes the form by subtracting from its volume.  Subtractive forms may or may not retain their formal identities depending on if the subtraction deteriorates an edge or the overall profile.

Fireplaces, including the one in the picture below, are great examples of subtractive forms since volume has been taken away from the main form.

This diagram shows the cube form that is cut out of the fireplace.

As you would expect, these forms are created through additive transformation which adds elements to a form.  There are five main types of additive forms:  Centralized, Linear, Radial, Clustered, and Grid.
  • Centralized forms are created when there is a central, dominant form (typically geometrically regular) with a number of subordinate forms around it.
  • Linear form refers to a series of forms organized in a row.
  • Radial form is a central form with linear forms radiating from it.  It's a combination of centralized and linear forms.
  • Clustered form refers to a number of visually similar forms grouped together.  This type of form offers more flexibility: forms can be attached to a larger form; they can stand individually but be related by proximity; or the can overlap and merge.
  • Grid form is a group of forms that are organized by a three-dimensional grid. 
The picture below shows an example of centralized form.  The larger part of the house is the dominant form and the two secondary forms are on the sides, centralizing the parent form and the form as a whole.

The diagram emphasizes the balance and stability of a centralized form:

This concept refers to when to different forms are combined and create a new, interesting form, which can be done in several ways.  The types of forms that are commonly combined are the Circle and Square and a square and a rotated square, aka the Rotated Grid.  So, visually these forms colliding in each of these manners:
  • The two forms can completely merge with the two forms equally represented
  • One of the forms can contain the other completely withing its own volume
  • The two forms can overlap, but still their original identities are still obvious
  • The forms can be separate from each other but be connected by a third element, like a bridge 

When forms are collided, it's important to articulate the new form.  To articulate form is to define its shape and volume through the joining of surfaces.  The outcome describes the relationship between the whole and its parts including its Edges, Corners, and Surfaces. The way the edges of surfaces meet at corners is very important to the articulation of form.  Corners can be of any angle, they can be open, or rounded...the possibilities are numerous.  Surfaces can help to articulate form through value, texture, and pattern.  These visual properties can be contrasting or not, it just depends on the needs of the form.

The photo below shows how a corner is defined by an open cylindrical form.  The form is further articulated by a contrast in surface with the windows and decorative wall trim.  Also, if you imagine this room in plan view, you would see a collision of geometry...that of a circle and square overlapping:

This diagram emphasizes the form of the corner in the room:

That's it!  Thanks for reading!


  1. I really like your examples and diagrams, especially your articulation of form, the only thing is that i cant see your diagram for subtractive forms, but overall it is very beautiful and informative.

  2. Beautiful diagrams! I felt that each image was chosen especially to correlate with your personal design style. You seem to keep that consistent with every project and that is very successful!

  3. Wow! Great, creative diagrams. Good images and you did a very thorough job of explaining what each term meant. This makes the terms very clear.