Louis Sullivan

From Academic Kids

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Louis Sullivan

Louis Henry (Henri) Sullivan (September 3, 1856 - April_14, 1924) was an American architect, called the "father of modernism", considered by many as the creator of the Prairie School of architecture, was an influential architect and critic of the Chicago School, and a mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright.



Louis Sullivan was born in Boston, and studied architecture briefly at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Learning that he could both graduate from high school a year early and pass up the first two years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) by passing a series of examinations, Sullivan entered MIT at the age of 16. After one year of study, he moved to Philadelphia and talked himself into a job with with architect Frank Furness.

The Depression of 1873 dried up much of Furness’s work, and he was forced to let Sullivan go. At that point Sullivan moved on to Chicago in 1873 to take part in the building boom following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. He worked for William LeBaron Jenney, the architect often credited with erecting the first steel-frame building. After less than a year with Jenney, Sullivan moved to Paris and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts for a year. He returned to Chicago, not yet out of his 18th year. His next few years passed working for various architects, but in 1879 Dankmar Adler hired Sullivan and a year later he became a partner in the firm. This marked the beginning of Sullivan’s most productive years.

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Prudential Building, Buffalo, New York 1894

With a string of triumphs such as the 1889 Auditorium Building in Chicago (where Adler and Sullivan reserved the top floor of the tower for their own atelier), the 1891 Wainwright Building in St. Louis (often credited as the world's first skyscraper), and the 1899 Carson Pirie Scott Department Store on State Street in Chicago, Louis Sullivan was the first architect to find the right form for a steel high-rise. The steel frame allowed taller buildings with larger windows, which meant more interior daylighting, which meant more usable floorspace. The technical limits of masonry had always imposed formal constraints; those constraints were suddenly gone, none of the historical precendents were any help, and this new freedom created a kind of technical and stylistic crisis.

Sullivan was the first to cope with that crisis. He addressed it by embracing the changes that came with the steel frame, creating a grammar of form for the high rise (base, shaft, and pediment), simplifing the appearance of the building by using ornament selectively, breaking away from historical styles and using his own intricate flora designs, using that ornament in vertical bands to draw the eye upwards and emphasize the building's verticality, and relating the shape of the building to its purpose. All this was revolutionary, appealingly honest, and commercially succcesful.

In 1890 Sullivan was one of the 10 architects, five from the East and five from the West, chosen to build a major structure for the World Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893, the "White City". Sullivan's massive Transportation Building and huge arched "Golden Door" stood out as the only forward-looking design in a sea of Beaux-Arts historical copies, and the only gorgeously multicolored facade in the White City. Sullivan and fair director Daniel Burnham were vocal about their displeasure with each other. Sullivan said, with justification, that the fair set the course of American architecture back by two decades. His was the only building to receive extensive recognition outside America, receiving three medals from the Union Centrale des Artes Decoratifs the following year.

Adler and Sullivan broke their partnership after the Carson Pirie Scott store. Afterwards Sullivan went into a twenty-year-long financial and emotional decline, beset by alcoholism and chronic financial problems. He was awarded several commissions for small-town Midwestern banks (see below), wrote books, and in 1922 popped up as a critic of Raymond Hood's winning entry for the Tribune Tower competition, a steel-frame tower dressed in Gothic stonework that Sullivan found a shameful piece of historicism. He and former understudy Frank Lloyd Wright reconciled in time for Wright to help fund his funeral after he died, poor and alone, in a Chicago hotel room.

Sullivan's legacy is contradictory. He is the first modernist. His stripped-down, technology-driven, forward-looking designs clearly anticipate the issues and solutions of Modernism. In his last years Sullivan seemed willing to abandon ornament altogether in favor of honest massing -- in fact, Adolf Loos, the author of the seminal manifesto "Ornament and Crime", had worked in Sullivan's office. But to experience Sullivan's built work is to experience the irresistable appeal of his incredible designs, the vertical bands on the Wainwright Building, the burst of welcoming Art Nouveau ironwork on the corner entrance of the Carson Pirie Scott store, the (lost) cast-iron caves on the Union Trust building, the white angels of the Bayard Building. Except for some designs by his long time draftsman George Grant Elmslie, and the occasional tribute to Sullivan such as Schmit, Garden and Martin's First National Bank in Pueblo (built across the street from Adler and Sullivan's Pueblo Opera House), his style is unique. A visit to the preserved Chicago Stock Exchange trading floor, now at the Art Institute of Chicago, is proof of the immediate and visceral power of the ornament that he used so selectively.

Selected Projects

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Transportation Building, Chicago 1889

Buildings through 1895 are by Adler & Sullivan.

The Banks

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National Farmer's Bank electrolier, Owatonna, Minnesota (1908)

By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, Sullivan's star was well on the descent and for the remainer of his life his output consisted primarily of a series of small bank and commercial buildings in the Midwest. Yet a look at these buildings clearly reveals that Sullivan's muse had not abandoned him. When the director of a bank that was considering hiring him asked Sullivan why they should engage him at a cost higher than the bids received for a conventional Neo-Classic styled building from other architects, Sullivan is reported to have replied, "A Thousand architects could design those buildings. Only I can design this one." He got the job. Today these commisions are collectively referred to as Sullivan's "Jewel Boxes." All are still standing.

Lost Sullivan

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Entrance from the 1893 Chicago Stock Exchange building
  • Grand Opera House, Chicago. 1880–1927.
  • Pueblo Opera House, Pueblo, Colorado. 1890–1922. Destroyed by fire.
  • Chicago Stock Exchange Building. Adler & Sullivan. 1893–1972

The Trading Room from the Stock Exchange was removed intact prior to the building's demolition and was subsequently restored in the Art Institute of Chicago in 1977.

  • Zion Temple, Chicago. 1884—.
  • Transportation Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago. Adler & Sullivan. 1893–94. An exposition building, it was only built to last a year.
  • Schiller Building (later Garrick Theater), Chicago. Adler & Sullivan. 1891–1961.
  • Third McVickers Theater, Chicago. Adler & Sullivan. 1883?–1922.
  • Thirty-Ninth Street Passenger Station, Chicago. Adler & Sullivan. 1886–1934.
  • Standard Club, Chicago. Adler & Sullivan. 1888–1910.

External links



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Wainwright Building, detail
  • Columbian Gallery – A Portfolio of Photographs of the World’s Fair, The Werner Company, Chicago 1894
  • Condit, Carl W., The Chicago School of Architecture, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL 1964
  • Engelbrecht, Lloyd C., "Adler and Sullivan’s Pueblo Opera House: City Status for a New Town in the Rockies", The Art Bulletin, Published by the College Art Association of America June 1985
  • Gebhard, David, in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, May 1960
  • Morrison, Hugh, Louis Sullivan – Prophet of Modern Architecture, W.W. Norton & Co., Inc. NY,NY 1963
  • Sullivan, Louis, The Autobiography of an Idea, Press of the American institute of Architects, Inc., NY, NY 1924
  • Sullivan, Louis, Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings, Dover Publications, Inc., NY 1979
  • Thomas, Cohen and Lewis, Frank Furness – The Complete Works, Princeton Architectural Press, NY, NY 1991
  • Twombly, Robert, Louis Sullivan – His Life and Work, Elizabeth Sifton Books, NY, NY 1986
  • Vinci, John, The Art Institute of Chicago: The Stock Exchange Trading Room, The Art Institute of Chicago 1977de:Louis Sullivan

fr:Louis Sullivan nl:Louis Sullivan pt:Louis Sullivan sv:Louis Sullivan


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