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Words that changed architecture

How ornamentation met its demise

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While much of the verbiage architects have churned out over the years has deservedly been forgotten, a number of phrases have managed to encapsulate, if not outright inspire, entire architectural movements. Among the best-known yet least understood of these is Louis Sullivan's "form follows function" (though to be precise, his actual words were "form ever follows function," and he borrowed the phrase from the American sculptor Horatio Greenough). Sullivan's point was that, in architecture, practical need invariably trumps aesthetics. Yet subsequent generations of modernists often took these words to mean that anything nonfunctional -- more specifically, ornament -- had no place in architecture, period. Ironically, Sullivan, whose exquisite and highly personal style of ornament remains unmatched by any American architect before or since, would have been loathe to have his words inspire countless blank-walled buildings. In 1908, the Viennese architect Adol...