Louis Henry Sullivan (1856-1924)

Louis Henry Sullivan a pioneer of modern American architecture and the “father of skyscrapers.”

Louis Sullivan, circa 1895: A black and white portrait of a stern-looking man with a nice suit on.
Louis Sullivan Portrait (1895)

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Sullivan#/media/File:Louis_Sullivan_circa_1895.jpg

About His Life

Louis Henry Sullivan was born on September 3, 1856, in Boston, Massachusetts. Sullivan worked in the Chicago office of William Le Baron Jenny who was the designer of the first steel skyscraper. Then, he moved to Dankmar Adler‘s office, where he became chief draftsman and, in 1881, became a member of the studio. Moreover, Adler & Sullivan quickly made significant contributions to Chicago architecture. Their 14-year-old association built over 100 buildings. Additionally, Sullivan began his practice in 1895. He died on April 14, 1924, in Chicago, Illinois, but published his autobiography shortly before his death.

The Guaranty Building, in the USA, Buffalo.
The Guaranty Building -USA-Buffalo

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/282499e9-5280-4c8f-8d87-9ec506ab0de2 by Reading Tom

His Major Works

In collaboration with Dankmar Adler (1879–95) he created the following:

  • Auditorium Building (1887–89) in Chicago
  • Guaranty Building (1894–95; now Prudential Building) in Buffalo, New York 
  • Wainwright Building (1890–91) in St. Louis, Missouri
From the Prudential Guaranty Building, the top of a column with ornate, engraved designs.
From the Prudential Guaranty Building

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/c484d53e-c26d-4550-974f-4f25b91c8e65 by amerune

Wainwright Building, St. Louis, Missouri (1890–91).
Wainwright Building (1890–91) in St. Louis, Missouri

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/21f80bf6-feb6-4b3a-916a-c85853ea6d27 by Matthew Black

In his independent practice, Sullivan designed the following:

  • Schlesinger & Mayer department store (1898–1904, now the Sullivan Center) in Chicago, occupied by Carson Pirie Scott & Co from 1904 to 2007
Schlesinger & Mayer department store, Sullivan, 1898–1904, Chicago.
Schlesinger & Mayer department store (1898–1904) in Chicago

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/0a2f52d4-6d4b-489e-8d35-90899c580159 by Teemu008

Schlesinger and Mayer Department Store, Cast-iron ornament, Sullivan, 1903.
Cast-iron ornament (1903) from the Schlesinger and Mayer Department Store

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/ac8d6502-5994-41fd-95e6-c251bb31fd33

Particularly noteworthy projects undertaken in his last years were seven banks in some small Midwestern towns, such as the National Farmers’ Bank in OwatonnaMinnesota, and Merchants’ National Bank in GrinnellIowa (1914).

After 1895, Sullivan’s work uses expressive plastic decor and ornaments. His 12-story Bayard (now Condict) building in New York was adorned with stucco terracotta and cast iron decorations.

World’s Columbian Exposition Transportation Building (1893)

Ornamentation on the World's Fair Transportation Building, Chicago, 1893–94.
Ornamentation on the World’s Fair Transportation Building (1893–94) in Chicago

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Sullivan#/media/File:LSTransportation2.jpg

In 1890, Sullivan was one of ten American architects selected to build the main building for the White City, the 1893 World Columbia Exposition in Chicago. Sullivan’s huge Transport Building stood out as the only building with a colorful facade in the entire White City. But while exhibition director Daniel Burnham criticized Sullivan’s project, it was the only building to gain widespread recognition outside America, receiving three medals from the French Union Centrale des Arts Decoratifs the following year.

Central Railway Station Viaducts c.1906-Sullivan's Transportation Building.
Central Railway Station Viaducts (1906)

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/b7e2465d-23da-4dd2-b795-c6de2bc5d28c by Sydney Heritage

Features of the Style

Sullivan’s bold geometric lines and towering skyscrapers stood out among the architecture of his contemporaries, who emulated older, established styles. Additionally, Sullivan drew on his experience at M.I.T. and in Europe and took an innovative, 0riginal approach to build design. Applying his “form follows function,” principle, Sullivan developed a modern style that emphasized the use of new building technologies and materials, as well as verticality and openness.

Closeup of the cartouche above the entry to the Merchants' National Bank designed by Louis Sullivan, one of his 'jewel box' banks.
Closeup of the cartouche above the entry to the Merchants’ National Bank

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/20bef92a-e3e7-4418-8d9c-49796dcb64e4 by leewrightonflickr

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