Louis Henry Sullivan (1856-1924)

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

Photo of Louis Sullivan, 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 Dunkmar 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 own practice in 1895. He died on April 14, 1924 in Chicago, Illinois. He published his autobiography shortly before his death.

USA-Buffalo – Prudential (Guaranty) Building

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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).
USA-Buffalo – Prudential (Guaranty) Building

In his independent practice, Sullivan designed:

  • Schlesinger & Mayer department store (1898–1904), now the Sullivan Center) in Chicago, occupied by Carson Pirie Scott & Co from 1904 to 2007.
  • Particularly noteworthy projects undertaken in his last years were seven banks in a number of small Midwestern towns, like the National Farmers’ Bank in OwatonnaMinnesota and Merchants’ National Bank in GrinnellIowa (1914).
Schlesinger & Mayer department store, Sullivan, 1898–1904, Chicago

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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.

Cast-iron ornament, Sullivan, 1903

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

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.

The gilded entrance to the Transportation Building ILLUSTRATION: CHARLES GRAHAM

Image source: https://www.chicagomag.com

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 building 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.


Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/

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