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Louis Henry Sullivan (1856-1924)

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

Louis Sullivan, circa 1895.

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About his life

Louis Henry Sullivan was born on September 3, 1856, in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Sullivan worked in the Chicago office of William Le Baron Jenny, the designer of the first steel skyscraper, and then moved to Dankmar Adler‘s office, where he became chief draftsman, and in 1881 became a member of the studio. Adler & Sullivan quickly made significant contributions to Chicago architecture. Their 14-year-old association has built over 100 buildings. Also, Frank Lloyd Wright had an internship at the company for 6 years. Sullivan began his practice in 1895. He died on April 14, 1924, in Chicago, Illinois. He published his autobiography shortly before his death.

The Guaranty Building-USA-Buffalo

Image source: by Reading Tom

What were his major works?

In collaboration with Dankmar Adler (1879–95):

  • Auditorium Building, Chicago (1887–89);
  • Guaranty Building, Buffalo, New York (1894–95; now Prudential Building);
  • Wainwright Building, St. Louis, Missouri (1890–91).
From the Prudential Guaranty Building

Image source: by amerune

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

Image source: by Matthew Black

In his independent practice, Sullivan designed:

Sullivan’s work after 1895 is characterized by the use of expressive plastic decor and ornaments. His 12-story Bayard (now Condict) building in New York was adorned with stucco terracotta and cast iron decorations.

Sullivan’s Transportation Building for the World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893 

Ornamentation on the World’s Fair Transportation Building, Chicago, 1893–94

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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 and the huge arched Golden Door 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.1906Sullivan’s Transportation Building

Image source: by Sydney Heritage

How can we identify Sullivan’s style?

Sullivan’s bold geometric lines and towering skyscrapers stood out among the architecture of his contemporaries, who emulated older, established styles. Sullivan drew on his experience at M.I.T. and in Europe and took an innovative and original approach to build design. Form follows function,” Sullivan said. The best confirmation of this statement was the construction of a skyscraper. Applying this 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

Image source: by leewrightonflickr

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