where did the term “form follows function” come from?

Image of “form follows function” sofa by Daan Mulder

The first mention of the phrase could be ascribed to the American sculptor Horatio Greenough, who in 1852 was relating it to the organic principles of architecture.1
The American architect Louis Sullivan, who admired rationalist thinkers like Greenough, Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman and Melville – picked it up, in 1896, in his article The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered. Here Sullivan actually said “form ever follows function”, but the simpler (and less emphatic) phrase is the one usually remembered. For Sullivan this was distilled wisdom, an aesthetic credo, the single “rule that shall permit of no exception”. The full quote is thus:
It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function. This is the law. 2

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