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"Though human genius in its various inventions with various instruments may answer the same end, it will never find an invention more beautiful or more simple or direct than nature, because in her inventions nothing is lacking and nothng superfluous."

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)



"In common with a few (I am very sorry to say a very few) others in my profession, I look upon all my work as Art Work. A building to me is as a picture to a painter or a poem to a poet"

E.W. Godwin, in correspondence with a client, 1873



"Form follows function."

—The functionalist credo generally attributed to American architect, Louis H. Sullivan, c. 1900.



"There is a danger that the present development of civilization is in the process of destroying every beauty of life..."

William Morris, c. 1900.



"To the age, it's art."

—The rallying cry of the Vienna Secessionists in 1900, when the architect Josef Hoffmann and the other founders of the Secessionist movement were proclaiming the need for a new style for a new era.



"All beautiful things belong to the same age."

Oscar Wilde, c. 1900.



"The design of a pepper pot is as important...as the conception of a cathedral."

Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, c. 1900.



"This ornamentation arises out of the object with which it is connected. It refers to the purpose for its own method of construction. Ornamentation becomes organic to the object and refused to be nothing more than something glued onto it."

Portrait by Ludwig Kirchner

Henry van de Velde, 1901.



"The boundless evil caused by shoddy mass-produced goods and by the uncritical imitation of earlier styles, is like a tidal wave sweeping across the world."

Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, The Work Programme of the Wiener Werkstätte, 1905.



"The challenge from the outset was to recover richness from reduction, to rephrase simplicity with a reticent elegance that would render superfluous the conventional luxuriance they were eliminating."

—Summing up the work of the Wiener Werkstätte by Kirk Varnedoe, Curator, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in the museum's 1986 Vienna Seccesion exhibition.



"It is agreed, we refuse to duplicate handmade works, historical style forms, and other materials for production."

Peter Behrens, 1907.



"Ornament is Crime."

—Fin-de-siècle enfant terrible, Adolf Loos, penned this no-nonsense declaration as an obvious reaction to turn-of-the-century excess. The following variations-on-a-theme are taken from his book entitled, Decoration and Crime, 1908.

"Cultural evolution is equivalent to the removal of ornament from articles in daily use."


"Ornamentation as a rule makes the product more expensive."


"Lack of ornamentation leads to a decrease in production time and a raise in wages."


"Ornament is wasted work effort and therefore wasted wealth."




"A doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines."

Frank Lloyd Wright, c. 1910.



"It is precisely in electrical technology that it is important not to mask forms behind decorative additions, but because the technology is a completely new area, to find forms that represent the new character of the technology."

Peter Behrens, 1910.



"The Bauhaus attempts to gather all artistic creation into a single entity — the re-unification of all the artistic handwork disciplines — sculpture, painting, the applied arts, and crafts — as indissoluble elements of a new art of building."

Walter Gropius, from the Program of the National Bauhaus in Weimer, 1919.



"The artist possesses the ability to breathe soul into the lifeless product of the machine."

Walter Gropius, c. 1920.



"It seems justified to affirm: the more cultivated a people becomes, the more decoration disappears."

Le Corbusier, 1925.



"Today's furniture factories pay no attention at all to the needs of the human body when they design pieces of furniture. They are only interested in the external appearance. The human being is, however, an organic unity consisting of skeleton, nerves, and muscles. As a result, it is absolutely necessary for a chair to have springs."

Vladimir Tatlin, 1929.



"Of two products that are the same in price, function and quality, whichever is more beautiful will sell better."

Raymond Loewy, 1929.



"The plan is the generator."

Le Corbusier's version of Sullivan's oft-quoted quote "Form follows function." Meaning: you should begin with the floor plan with all its implications of rational relationships, rather than impose some sort of artistic vision on a building a priori, c. 1930.



"In its clear appearance and the beauty of its materials, steel furniture is a living expression of our search for rhythm, appropriateness, hygiene, cleanliness, lightness, simplicity in form. As a material, steel is hard, resistant, durable, and at the same time can follow flexibly the impulses of free design. Well-formed steel furniture possesses an independent aesthetic worth that belongs to itself alone."

Hans Luckhardt, 193l.



"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."

Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943.



"Less is more."

Mies van der Rohe, 1947.

Postmodern wags have added variations on this theme such as, "Less is more, more or less," and "More is more, less is a bore."



"Roam home to a dome."

Buckminister Fuller. The apostle of geodesic domes, c. 1950.



"The urge for good design is the same as the urge to go on living. The assumption is that somewhere, hidden, is a better way of doing things."

Harry Bertoria, c. 1960.




David Ryan
Adjunct Curator of Design
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Illustrations by Katherine Slade