Illustrated Architecture Dictionary ........  . Styles of Architecture ........  Louis Sullivan in Buffalo

Sullivanesque Style

The architects of Chicago were encouraged to build higher structures because of escalating land prices and the introduction of elevators.

Wainwright Building
Click on photo for larger size

Metal could support such structures, and the tall building was finally developed by William Le Baron Jenney in the Home Insurance Company office building (photo) in Chicago ( 1883-1885 ). Here, for the first time, conscious use was made of novel structural possibilities. Isted footings supported a skeleton of wrought and cast iron encased in masonry, with fireproof floors, numerous fast elevators, and gas light. The traditional masonry-bearing walls now became weather curtains or "skins," largely of glass, supported by the metal skeleton. The American skyscraper was born, although it was only with rare exceptions, as in the work of Louis Sullivan, that this original type of building was treated successfully.

In Sullivan's buildings, the fact that the interior of the skeleton was filled with identical spatial units was here, for the first time, expressed from the exterior. Sullivan provided his building with a firm visual base, treated the intermediate office floors as a unit, and crowned the whole with a bold cornice.


Guaranty Building

Although the twentieth century departed from this formula for a while, the Wainwright building in St. Louis and the Guaranty building in Buffalo remain a glorious and revolutionary expression of Sullivan's dictum, "form follows function."

An intricate weaving of linear and geometric forms with stylized foliage in a symmetrical pattern is the unique element of the Sullivanesque style, originated by Louis Sullivan (1856-1924). The decorative ornamentation devised by Sullivan and used on some of his office buildings is based on floral motifs but organized in a manner closely resembling the Irish interlace of the early Middle Ages.

Sullivan designed with the principles of reconciling the world of nature with science and technology. Form ever follows function was his famous dictum. His buildings were detailed with lush, yet tastefully subdued organic ornamentation. His attempt to balance ornamentation into the whole of building design inspired a generation of American and European architects; the idea that ornamentation be integral to the building itself, rather than merely applied.

Sullivan's complex, often murky theorizing and his singular genius with ornament created a personal style that had few imitators or followers. However, Sullivan is one of the few human beings to whom Frank Lloyd Wright publicly acknowledged a debt of influence in his career.

Stock replicas of Sullivan's designs manufactured by the Midland Terra Cotta Company and others gave distinction and focus to utilitarian buildings in Chicago's commercial strips and other confined areas, such as the

Typical Features:


Photos and their arrangement 2004 Chuck LaChiusa
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