Form ⇝ Flow ⇝ Function

Many places work in ways not originally intended. The artist’s impression is often unrealised, with public spaces less well used than in the drawings, shops not getting the footfall shown in the CGIs, tracks worn into green spaces painted as pristine in the renderings.

The actual function of places – as opposed to their intended function – follows the flows set up by the spatial form of those places, independent of their designers’ wishes otherwise.

It’s risky to think that form follows function if you don’t first understand how the actual functioning of places is a consequence of the flows shaped by their physical forms.

If you don’t understand how physical forms shape human flows and these flows then support functions (such as sitting, shopping, resting, feeling comfortable or feeling unsafe) then you risk designing the wrong physical forms and ending up with problematic functions.

So, in the classroom it might be:

“Form follows function”

But in reality it’s the other way round:

Function follows flow, and flow follows form.

In other words:

Function follows flow follows form.

With software that forecasts flows by analysing physical forms, and with design principles shaped by decades of experience, my colleagues at Space Syntax and I have been able to de-risk the design process. We’ve analysed forms, predicted flows and been able to anticipate the functioning of schemes at the earliest stages of design, feeding back our recommended changes to the physical shape of design proposals in order to optimise flows and close the gap between intended and actual functions.

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