In the Round–Architecture Form and Function

By Nancy Katz, January 29, 2007

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

Three to seven 50-minute class periods


In this lesson, students will learn about the relationship of form to function in architecture as they create polygonal structures that serve a particular function. How does the form, here the shape of architecture, influence the use of that structure? How can it facilitate communication between people and how effective is the particular function of the building? This lesson will help facilitate an understanding of how architecture impacts the lives of those in a community. It also provides a way for students to relate form and function to their personal lives, from family interactions, to putting their energies to community matters that can make a difference. They will see that the issue of form and function is one that designers of all types are involved with, whether they are designing fabric for firefighters, desks for students to use in school, a water irrigation system, or a handle to open a door. The students will be engaged in the learning process by designing and constructing a round building that serves a specific function which is best utilized if the building is in that particular round form.

National Standards


Students will:
  • understand how the form of an architectural structure impacts its function
  • construct a model of an architectural structure incorporating a specific form with a particular function
  • make connections between form and function for other objects they encounter and use daily and translate this information to the design of their round structures
  • observe the architecture in their own community and question the issue of form in relation to function
  • brainstorm how the form of a community structure can impact the community use of the structure as well as the effectiveness of the structure in the community
On a personal note, the students will reflect on how form in their own lives impacts function in relation to their personal connections. How might the design of their school locker impact their study habits? How does the arrangement of furniture in their house affect family interaction?


  • Images of polygonal and round structures around the world made available to students through photographs, Web sites, art, drawings, and books. Examples: Globe Theatre, London; The Roman Colosseum; A sports arena; The Pantheon, Rome; Temple of Heaven, China.
  • Documentary film on Barns of New York State
  • Internet sites:


  • pencils
  • drawing paper
  • cardboard
  • round paper plates (preferably cardboard, the Chinette brand plates worked well)
  • scissors
  • glue
  • fabric
  • paint
  • string
  • wire
  • any other material needed for model-making, embellishment, and decoration


form, function, architecture, architect, polygonal, atrium, arch, column, facade, dome, arena


  • Introduce the idea of form and function to the students. “The Great Spoon Challenge” is a good lesson to use as an introduction.
  • Introduce the class to form in architecture by studying polygonal and round structures. Use examples from the Web sites, photos, and drawings listed under “resources.” Center the class conversation and brainstorming around buildings students have seen in pictures or have visited that are polygonal or round in structure. Ask the students the following questions: How does the form of these structures affect their function? What sorts of activities are best accomplished in a round form structure? How is efficiency of function and ease of communication facilitated in a round structure?
  • Break the students into small groups (two to four people). Instruct them that they will be designing and building a model of a round structure. As a group, they should brainstorm about a circular building they would like to build, as well as what function the building should have based on its round shape. Students should do a series of sketches as they work out their initial ideas.
  • Give each group at least two heavy-cardboard Chinette paper plates which they can use to transform into the round structure they are creating in their sketches. It is also possible to vary this and use two sizes of plates, large and small. Each student could work separately to create his or her own model, too.
  • Each small group of students could work on making individual structures that serve the same function, to show different solutions each person comes up with for the same design challenge. At the end of the lesson, the whole class could create one structure taking ideas from each group.
  • Students should use all of the materials to create their model. It may be helpful to discuss “scale” with the students while they are making their models.
  • Throughout the process, students should evaluate their building, referring back to their initial drawings and notes. Write the following questions on the board and have the students refer to them throughout: Is the function of the building more successful because of the form? Do you foresee any problems of the form hindering the function? Can people in the space accomplish what they set out to do in the space? Is there a way to improve efficiency, communication, and functionality?
  • Students will develop their structure into a more complete model with details of color, texture, and materials by using fabric, wire, string, paint, and other materials.
  • Students should not loose sight that what they are making is a model. Cardboard will not behave the same as steel, wood, or bricks. Students should be aware of what the real materials might be.
  • Students will present their structures to the class and talk about how the form of the building works with its particular function. They will imagine how the people using the space actually work, live, play, and function in the space.


The group critique, evaluation, and presentation of the models serves as a way of determining if the student has successfully learned the objectives of this lesson. I did not have a rubric for this lesson. Students' self-evaluation will question the connection of form and function in their model. If the students work individually on models in their groups, take the best each student has to offer for the solution to the particular problem.

Enrichment Extension Activities

  • Students could apply the same concept of form impacting function to other objects or structures they use and see throughout their daily life. They could redesign certain objects whose form does not ease their function.
  • Also, further research could be done on the culture and use of round structures throughout the world. The Web sites under "resources" are helpful.
  • When this lesson was first implemented, it was extended into two research projects focusing on round structures. The study of polygonal and round structures was inspired by the local architecture of two round barns in a town near our school. Two classes worked on this project. One centered their work on the study of round barns in the United States and then focused on the two nearby barns. The other class researched round structures around the world, and more specifically the round barns that were popular through the mid nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They found that it was the specific technology and workings of the dairy farm that made round barns efficient and profitable for the farmer. As the need for expansion became necessary for dairy farms to compete in a growing economy, the round structure and the technology associated with that structure became obsolete. How can a round structure be expanded? This was a question that became crucial for farmers of round barns. This group of students spent a day at the barn, drawing, writing, taking notes, and measuring the structure which today is used as a working barn. The students tried to envision how this magnificent structure might be renovated into a new structure with a new function that could in some way have an impact on the community. The issues of land use, architectural preservation, and community needs were concepts that were discussed and taken into consideration.

Teacher Reflection

The students were very successful in creating round structures where the form of the structure was integral to the function of the structure. The group critique, evaluation, and presentations made it clear that the students understood essential concepts. They were also able to take these concepts and produce inventive, original work. In the future I might have students work initially in 3-D instead of drawing first. This way the model making would serve as the initial sketch and then drawings could follow from these models. Using round plates for the models was successful because the students were working with a round shape from the beginning. In a way it was a game and a challenge for the students to create a round structure out of the round, somewhat flat plate.

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