Louis Henry Sullivan (September 3, 1856Â â" April 14, 1924) was an American architect, and has been called the "father of skyscrapers" and "father of modernism". He is considered by many as the creator of the modern skyscraper, was an influential architect and critic of the Chicago School, was a mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright, and an inspiration to the Chicago group of architects who have come to be known as the Prairie School. Along with Henry Hobson Richardson and Wright, Sullivan is one of "the recognized trinity of American architecture". In 1944, he was the second architect in history to posthumously receive the AIA Gold Medal.
Early life and career
Louis Henry Sullivan was born to an Irish-born father, Patrick Sullivan, and a Swiss-born mother, nÃ©e Andrienne List, both of whom had immigrated to the United States in the late 1840s. After graduating from high school, Sullivan 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 by passing a series of examinations, Sullivan entered MIT at the age of sixteen. After one year of study, he moved to Philadelphia and took a job 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 Ãcole des Beaux-Arts for a year. He returned to Chicago and began work for the firm of Joseph S. Johnston & John Edelman as a draftsman. Johnston & Edleman were commissioned for the design of the Moody Tabernacle, with the interior decorative "fresco secco" stencils (stencil technique applied on dry plaster) designed by Sullivan. In 1879 Dankmar Adler hired Sullivan; a year later, he became a partner in the firm. This marked the beginning of Sullivan's most productive years.
Adler and Sullivan initially achieved fame as theater architects. While most of their theaters were in Chicago, their fame won commissions as far west as Pueblo, Colorado, and Seattle, Washington (unbuilt). The culminating project of this phase of the firm's history was the 1889 Auditorium Building (1886â"90, opened in stages) in Chicago, an extraordinary mixed-use building which included not only a 4,200-seat theater, but also a hotel and an office building with a 17-story tower, with commercial storefronts at the ground level of the building fronting Congress and Wabash Avenues. After 1889 the firm became known for their office buildings, particularly the 1891 Wainwright Building in St. Louis, The Schiller (later Garrick) Building and theater (1890) in Chicago, along with the Chicago Stock Exchange Building (1894), the Guaranty Building (also known as the Prudential Building) of 1895â"96 in Buffalo, New York and the 1899â"1904 Carson Pirie Scott Department Store by Sullivan on State Street in Chicago.
Sullivan and the steel high-rise
Prior to the late 19th century, the weight of a multistory building had to be supported principally by the strength of its walls. The taller the building, the more strain this placed on the lower sections of the building; since there were clear engineering limits to the weight such "load-bearing" walls could sustain, large designs meant massively thick walls on the ground floors, and definite limits on the building's height.
The development of cheap, versatile steel in the second half of the 19th century changed those rules. America was in the midst of rapid social and economic growth that made for great opportunities in architectural design. A much more urbanized society was forming and the society called out for new, larger buildings. The mass production of steel was the main driving force behind the ability to build skyscrapers during the mid-1880s. By assembling a framework of steel girders, architects and builders could suddenly create tall, slender buildings with a strong and relatively lightweight steel skeleton. The rest of the building's elementsâ"the walls, floors, ceilings, and windowsâ"were suspended from the skeleton, which carried the weight. This new way of constructing buildings, so-called "column-frame" construction, pushed them up rather than out. The steel weight-bearing frame allowed not just taller buildings, but permitted much larger windows, which meant more daylight reaching interior spaces. Interior walls became thinner, which created more usable floor space.
Chicago's Monadnock Building (which was not designed by Sullivan) straddles this remarkable moment of transition: the northern half of the building, finished in 1891, is of load-bearing construction, while the southern half, finished only two years later, is column-frame. (While experiments in this new technology were taking place in many cities, Chicago was the crucial laboratory. Industrial capital and civic pride drove a surge of new construction throughout the city's downtown in the wake of the 1871 fire.)
The technical limits of weight-bearing masonry had always imposed formal as well as structural constraints; those constraints were suddenly gone. None of the historical precedents were any help, and this new freedom created a kind of technical and stylistic crisis. Sullivan addressed it by embracing the changes that came with the steel frame, creating a grammar of form for the high rise (base, shaft, and cornice), simplifying the appearance of the building by breaking away from historical styles, using his own intricate floral designs, in vertical bands, to draw the eye upwards and emphasize the building's vertical form, and relating the shape of the building to its specific purpose. All this was revolutionary, appealingly honest, and commercially successful.
In 1896, Louis Sullivan wrote in a poem:
- 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.
"Form follows function" would become one of the prevailing tenets of modern architects.
Sullivan himself, however attributed the idea to Marcus Vitruvius Pollio the Roman architect, engineer and author who first asserted in his book De architectura that a structure must exhibit the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas, venustas â" that is, it must be solid, useful, beautiful. This credo, which placed the demands of practical use above aesthetics, would later be taken by influential designers to imply that decorative elements, which architects call "ornament", were superfluous in modern buildings. But Sullivan himself neither thought nor designed along such dogmatic lines during the peak of his career. Indeed, while his buildings could be spare and crisp in their principal masses, he often punctuated their plain surfaces with eruptions of lush Art Nouveau and something like Celtic Revival decorations, usually cast in iron or terra cotta, and ranging from organic forms like vines and ivy, to more geometric designs, and interlace, inspired by his Irish design heritage. Terra cotta is lighter and easier to work with than stone masonry. Sullivan used it in his architecture because it had a malleability that was appropriate for his ornament. Probably the most famous example is the writhing green ironwork that covers the entrance canopies of the Carson Pirie Scott store on South State Street. These ornaments, often executed by the talented younger draftsmen in Sullivan's employ, would eventually become Sullivan's trademark; to students of architecture, they are his instantly-recognizable signature.
Another signature element of Sullivan's work is the massive, semi-circular arch. Sullivan employed such arches throughout his careerâ"in shaping entrances, in framing windows, or as interior design.
All of these elements can be found in Sullivan's widely-admired Guaranty Building, which he designed while partnered with Adler. Completed in 1895, this office building in Buffalo, New York is in the Palazzo style, visibly divided into three "zones" of design: a plain, wide-windowed base for the ground-level shops; the main office block, with vertical ribbons of masonry rising unimpeded across nine upper floors to emphasize the building's height; and an ornamented cornice perforated by round windows at the roof level, where the building's mechanical units (like the elevator motors) were housed. The cornice crawls with Sullivan's trademark Art Nouveau vines; each ground-floor entrance is topped by a semi-circular arch.
Because of Sullivan's remarkable accomplishments in design and construction at such a critical point in architectural history, he has sometimes been described as the "father" of the American skyscraper. In truth, many architects had been building skyscrapers before or contemporarily with Sullivan. Chicago itself was replete with extraordinary designers and builders in the late years of the 19th century, including Sullivan's partner Dankmar Adler, as well as Daniel Burnham, and John Wellborn Root. Root was one of the builders of the Monadnock Building (see above). That and another Root design, the Masonic Temple Tower (both in Chicago), are cited by many as the originators of skyscraper aesthetics of bearing wall and column-frame construction respectively.
Later career and decline
In 1890 Sullivan was one of the ten architects, five from the Eastern U.S. and five from the Western U.S., chosen to build a major structure for the "White City", the World's Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893. Sullivan's massive Transportation Building and huge arched "Golden Door" stood out as the only building not of the current Beaux-Arts style, and the only multicolored facade in the White City. Sullivan and fair director Daniel Burnham were vocal about their displeasure with each other. Sullivan was later (1922) to claim that the fair set the course of American architecture back "for half a century from its date, if not longer." His was the only building to receive extensive recognition outside America, receiving three medals from the Union Centrale des Arts Decoratifs the following year.
Like all American architects, Adler and Sullivan saw a precipitous decline in their practice with the onset of the Panic of 1893. According to Charles Bebb, who was working in the office at that time, Adler borrowed money to try to keep employees on the payroll. By 1894, however, in the face of continuing financial distress with no relief in sight, Adler and Sullivan dissolved their partnership. The Guaranty Building was considered the last major project of the firm.
By both temperament and connections, Adler had always been the one who brought in new business to the partnership, and after the rupture Sullivan received few large commissions after the Carson Pirie Scott Department Store. He went into a twenty-year-long financial and emotional decline, beset by a shortage of commissions, chronic financial problems and alcoholism. He obtained a few commissions for small-town Midwestern banks (see below), wrote books, and in 1922 appeared as a critic of Raymond Hood's winning entry for the Tribune Tower competition. He died in a Chicago hotel room on April 14, 1924. He left a wife, Mary Azona Hattabaugh, from whom he was separated. A modest headstone marks his final resting spot in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago's Uptown and Lake View neighborhoods. A monument was later erected in Sullivan's honor, a few feet from his headstone.
Sullivan's legacy is contradictory. Some consider him the first modernist. His forward-looking designs clearly anticipate some issues and solutions of Modernism. However, his embrace of ornament makes his contribution distinct from the Modern Movement that coalesced in the 1920s and became known as the "International Style". To experience Sullivan's built work is to experience the irresistible 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) terra cotta griffins and porthole windows 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 Schmidt, Garden & Martin's First National Bank in Pueblo, Colorado (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. Original drawings and other archival materials from Sullivan are held by the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries in the Art Institute of Chicago and by the Drawings and Archives Department in the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University. Fragments of Sullivan buildings are also held in many fine art and design museums around the world.
During the postwar era of urban renewal, Sullivan's works fell into disfavor, and many were demolished. In the 1970s growing public concern for these buildings finally resulted in many being saved. The most vocal voice was Richard Nickel, who organized protests against the demolition of architecturally significant buildings. Nickel and others sometimes rescued decorative elements from condemned buildings, sneaking in during demolition. This practice led to Nickel's death inside Sullivan's Stock Exchange building, when a floor above him collapsed. Nickel had compiled extensive research on Adler and Sullivan and their many architectural commissions, which he intended to publish in book form. Nickel's death led to the creation in 1972 of the Richard Nickel Committee, which arranged the completion of Nickel's book and its publication in 2010. The book features all 256 commissions of Adler and Sullivan. The extensive archive of photographs and research that underpinned the book was donated to the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries at The Art Institute of Chicago. More than 1,300 photographs are viewable on their website and more than 15,000 photographs are part of the collection at The Art Institute of Chicago. As finally published, the book The Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan was authored by Richard Nickel, Aaron Siskind, John Vinci and Ward Miller.
Another champion of Sullivan's legacy was the architect Crombie Taylor (1907â"1991), of Crombie Taylor Associates, who, with single-minded determination, led the effort to save the Van Allen Building in Clinton, Iowa from demolition. Taylor, acting as an aesthetic consultant, had worked on the renovation of the Auditorium Building (now Roosevelt University) in Chicago. When he read an article about the planned demolition, he uprooted his family from their home in Southern California (long after he had left Chicago, after heading the famous "Institute of Design", later known as the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), in the 1950s and early 1960s) and moved them to Clinton. With the vision of a destination neighborhood comparable to Oak Park, Illinois, he set about creating a non-profit to save the building, and was successful in doing so. Another advocate both of Sullivan buildings and of Wright structures was Jack Randall, who led an effort to save the Wainwright Building in St. Louis, Missouri at a very critical time and then relocated his family to Buffalo, New York to save Sullivan's Guaranty Building and Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House from possible demolition. His efforts were successful in both St. Louis and Buffalo.
A collection of architectural ornaments designed by Sullivan is on permanent display at Lovejoy Library at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Sullivan in fiction
That the fictional character of Henry Cameron in Ayn Rand's 1943 novel The Fountainhead was similar to the real-life Sullivan was noted, if only in passing, by at least one contemporary journalist.
More recent study of Rand's posthumously published journal notes as well as a close comparison of the respective careers of the real and fictional architects by Heynick has explored this connection in some detail. Although Rand's journal notes contain in toto only some 50 lines directly referring to Sullivan, it is clear from her mention of Sullivan's Autobiography of an Idea (1924) in her 25th anniversary introduction to her earlier novel We the Living (first published in 1936, and unrelated to architecture) that she was intimately familiar with his life and career. Indeed, the term "the Fountainhead," which appears nowhere in Rand's novel proper, is found twice (as "the fountainhead" and later as "the fountain head") in Sullivan's autobiography, both times used metaphorically.
The fictional Cameron is, like Sullivan (whose physical description he matches), a great innovative skyscraper pioneer late in the 19th century who dies impoverished and embittered in the mid-1920s (which is still early in the novel). Cameron's rapid decline is explicitly attributed to the wave of classical Greco-Roman revivalism in architecture in the wake of the 1893 Columbian World's Exhibition, just as Sullivan in his autobiography attributed his own fall to the same event.
The major difference between novel and real life was in the chronology of Cameron's relation with his protÃ©gÃ© Howard Roark, the novel's hero, who eventually goes on to redeem his vision. That Roark's uncompromising individualism and his innovative organic style in architecture was drawn from the life and work of Frank Lloyd Wright is clear from Rand's journal notes, her correspondence and various contemporary accounts. However, in the novel, the 23-year-old Roark, a generation younger than the real-life Wright, becomes Cameron's protÃ©gÃ© in the early 1920s, when Sullivan was long in decline. The young Wright, by contrast, was Sullivan's protÃ©gÃ© for seven years, beginning in 1887, when Sullivan was at the height of his fame and power. The two architects would sever their ties in 1894 due Sullivan's angry reaction to Wright's private moonlighting in breach of contract. After decades of estrangement, Wright would again become close to (the now destitute) Sullivan in the early 1920s, the time when Roark first comes under (the likewise impoverished) Cameron's tutelage in the novel. Wright, however, was now in his fifties. Nevertheless, both the young Roark and middle-aged Wright had in common at that time that they both faced a decade of struggle ahead. After the triumphs earlier in his career, Wright came increasingly to be viewed as a has-beenâ"until his career would experience a renaissance in the latter half of the 1930s with such projects as Fallingwater and the Johnson Wax complex.
Buildings 1887â"1895 by Adler & Sullivan:
- Martin Ryerson Tomb, Graceland Cemetery, Chicago (1887)
- Auditorium Building, Chicago (1889)
- Carrie Eliza Getty Tomb, Graceland Cemetery, Chicago (1890)
- Wainwright Building, St. Louis (1890)
- Charlotte Dickson Wainwright Tomb, Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis (1892) which is lised on the National Register of Historic Places is considered a major American architectural triumph, a model for ecclesiastical architecture, a "masterpiece", and has been called "the Taj Mahal of St. Louis." Interestingly, the family name appears nowhere on the tomb.
- Union Trust Building (now 705 Olive), St. Louis (1893; street-level ornament heavily altered 1924)
- Guaranty Building (formerly Prudential Building), Buffalo (1894)
Buildings 1887â"1895 by Louis Sullivan, with Dankmar Adler until 1895:
- Springer Block (later Bay State Building and Burnham Building) and Kranz Buildings, Chicago (1885â"1887)
- Selz, Schwab & Company Factory, Chicago (1886â"1887)
- Hebrew Manual Training School, Chicago (1889â"1890)
- James H. Walker Warehouse & Company Store, Chicago (1886â"1889)
- Warehouse for E. W. Blatchford, Chicago (1889)
- James Charnley House (also known as the Charnleyâ"Persky House Museum Foundation and the National Headquarters of the Society of Architectural Historians), Chicago (1891â"1892)
- Albert Sullivan Residence, Chicago (1891â"1892)
- McVicker's Theater, second remodeling, Chicago (1890â"1891)
- Bayard Building, (now Bayard-Condict Building), 65â"69 Bleecker Street, New York City (1898). Sullivan's only building in New York, with a glazed terra cotta curtain wall expressing the steel structure behind it.
- Commercial Loft of Gage Brothers & Company, Chicago (1898â"1900)
- Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral and Rectory, Chicago (1900â"1903)
- Carson Pirie Scott store, (originally known as the Schlesinger & Mayer Store, now known as "Sullivan Center") Chicago (1899â"1904)
- Virginia Hall of Tusculum College, Greeneville, Tennessee (1901)
- Van Allen Building, Clinton, Iowa (1914)
- St. Paul United Methodist Church, Cedar Rapids, Iowa (1910)
- Krause Music Store, Chicago (final commission 1922; front faÃ§ade only)
256 total commissions and projects of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan
By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, Sullivan's star was well on the descent and for the remainder 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 commissions are collectively referred to as Sullivan's "Jewel Boxes." All are still standing.
- National Farmer's Bank, Owatonna, Minnesota (1908)
- Peoples Savings Bank, Cedar Rapids, Iowa (1912)
- Henry Adams Building, Algona, Iowa (1913)
- Merchants' National Bank, Grinnell, Iowa (1914)
- Home Building Association Company, Newark, Ohio (1914)
- Purdue State Bank, West Lafayette, Indiana (1914)
- People's Federal Savings and Loan Association, Sidney, Ohio (1918)
- Farmers and Merchants Bank, Columbus, Wisconsin (1919)
- First National Bank, Manistique, Michigan (1919â"1920) A remodeling of an existing bank building.
- Grand Opera House, Chicago. 1880. Demolished 1927.
- Washington Elementary School, Marengo, Illinois.Adler & Sullivan.YR(????) Demolished 1993. (needs citation)
- Pueblo Opera House, Pueblo, Colorado. 1890. Destroyed by fire 1922.
- New Orleans Union Station, 1892. Demolished 1954.
- Dooly Block, Salt Lake City, Utah. 1891. Demolished 1965.
- Chicago Stock Exchange Building. Adler & Sullivan. 1893. Demolished 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; the entryway arch (seen at right) stands outside on the northeast corner of the AIC site.
- Zion Temple, Chicago. 1884. Demolished 1954.
- Troescher Building, Chicago. 1884. Demolished 1978.
- Transportation Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago. Adler & Sullivan. 1893â"94. An exposition building, it was only built to last a year.
- Louis Sullivan and Charnley Cottages, Ocean Springs, Mississippi destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. Frank Lloyd Wright also claimed credit for the design.
- Schiller Building (later Garrick Theater), Chicago. Adler & Sullivan. 1891. Demolished 1961.
- Third McVickers Theater, Chicago. Adler & Sullivan. 1883? Demolished 1922.
- Thirty-Ninth Street Passenger Station, Chicago. Adler & Sullivan. 1886. Demolished 1934.
- Standard Club, Chicago. Adler & Sullivan. 1887â"88. Demolished 1931.
- Pilgrim Baptist Church. Adler & Sullivan. 1891. Destroyed by fire January 6, 2006.
- Wirt Dexter Building. Adler & Sullivan. 1887. Destroyed by fire October 24, 2006.
- George Harvey House. Adler & Sullivan. 1888. Destroyed by fire November 4, 2006.
- Richard Bock
- Tall: The American Skyscraper and Louis Sullivan
- Columbian GalleryÂ â" A Portfolio of Photographs of the Worldâs Fair, The Werner Company, Chicago, IL, 1894.
- Condit, Carl W., The Chicago School of Architecture, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1964.
- Connely, Willard, Louis Sullivan as He Lived, Horizon Press, Inc., NY, 1960.
- Engelbrecht, Lloyd C., "Adler and Sullivanâs 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 (May 1960). "Louis Sullivan and George Grant Elmslie". Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 19 (2): 62â"68. JSTORÂ 988008.Â
- Hoffmann, Donald (January 13, 1998). Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, and the skyscraper. Courier Dover Publications. ISBNÂ 978-0-486-40209-3. Retrieved March 27, 2011.Â
- Morrison, Hugh, Louis SullivanÂ â" Prophet of Modern Architecture, W.W. Norton & Co., Inc. New York City, 1963.
- Nickel, Richard, Aaron Siskind, John Vinci and Ward Miller. "The Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan", Richard Nickel Committee, Chicago, Illinois, 2010.
- Sullivan, Louis, The Autobiography of an Idea, Press of the American institute of Architects, Inc., New York City, 1924.
- Sullivan, Louis, Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings, Dover Publications, Inc., New York City, 1979.
- Sullivan, Louis H. Louis Sullivan: The Public Papers Ed. Robert Twombly, Chicago University Press, Chicago & London, 1988
- Thomas, Cohen and Lewis, Frank FurnessÂ â" The Complete Works, Princeton Architectural Press, New York City, 1991.
- Twombly, Robert, Louis SullivanÂ â" His Life and Work, Elizabeth Sifton Books, New York City, 1986.
- Vinci, John, The Art Institute of Chicago: The Stock Exchange Trading Room, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1977.
- Weingarden, Lauren S. "Louis H. Sullivan: A System of Architectural Ornament" . Co-published by the Art Institute of Chicago and Ernst Wasmuth Verlag (Germany); distributed by Rizzoli International (U.S.), Wasmuth (Germany), Mardaga (France), 1990.
- Weingarden, Lauren S. "Louis H. Sullivan: The Banks". Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987.
- Book: "The Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan" by Richard Nickel, Aaron Siskind, John Vinci and Ward Miller
- Film: Louis Sullivan: the Struggle for American Architecture by Mark Richard Smith (2010)
- Lieber-Meister â" The Louis Sullivan Page at the Wayback Machine (archived October 28, 2009)
- Sullivan at 150 â" extensive list and photos
- Tribute to Louis Sullivan â" 150 Years
- Louis Sullivan at 150, Chicago History museum.
- Atlantic.com slideshow, "The Architecture of Louis Sullivan," with photographs by Richard Nickel and others
- Article on fragments of Adler and Sullivan Buildings in Chicago
- Louis Sullivan at DMOZ
- Louis Sullivan at www.prairiestyles.com
- "Sullivan's Banks" documentary by Heinz Emigholz
- Louis Sullivan at Find a Grave
- Graceland Cemetery Biography
- Louis Sullivan Collection â" images, bio
- Louis Sullivan Buildings Extant in Chicago â" photographs, descriptions, maps
- Louis H. Sullivan Ornaments â" digital photographs of ornaments with historic photographs of the original buildings