Louis Sullivan - Table of Contents

Louis Sullivan

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Louis Sullivan
at Ocean Springs, 1890

Sullivan and his wife at Ocean Springs




Wainwright Office Building, Chicago


Guaranty Office Building, Buffalo


Carson, Pirie, Scott department store, Chicago

Carson, Pirie, Scot

Transportation Building

Transportation Building

Merchants' National Bank in Grinnell, Iowa

National Farmer's Bank in Owatanna, Minnesota

Louis Henry Sullivan was born in Boston. He studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for one year. After this, he worked as a draughtsman for architects Furness and Hewitt in Philadelphia and for William Le Baron Jenney in Chicago. In July 1874 Sullivan concluded his training at L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris; he returned to Chicago a year later

In 1879, he joined the office of Dankmar Adler (1844-1900), who had emigrated from Germany in 1854 and was established as an architect in Chicago by 1869. In 1883 Sullivan became a full partner. Sullivan was the design partner, while Dankmar Adler was the engineer.

Their first major building, and no doubt the most spectacular in Chicago up to that time, was the Auditorium (1886-90), which was strongly influenced by Henry Hobson Richardson. The auditorium itself is capable of seating more than 4,000. Sullivan's interior decoration is exceedingly interesting, of a feathery vegetable character, derived perhaps partly from the Renaissance in an arts and crafts spirit but at the same time pointing forward to the license of art nouveau. The tower on this building housed their offices.

His two most familiar skyscrapers, the Wainwright building, St. Louis (1890) and the Guaranty building, Buffalo (1894) express externally the skeleton structure and cellular interior arrangements.

However, Sullivan, through pleading in his "Kindergarten Chats" (1901) for a temporary embargo on all decoration, was himself as fascinated by ornament as by functional expression, and this appears even in the entrance motifs of his major building, the Carson, Pirie, Scott store (1899-1904), which is the most characteristic of the Chicago School.

For the Chicago Exhibition in 1893, Sullivan designed the Transportation building (temporary structure), with its impressively sheer giant entrance arch. He recognized the setback which the classicism otherwise prevailing at the exhibition would mean to the immediate future of American architecture

Louis Sullivan ended his partnership with Dankmar Alder in 1895, and his practice turned from skyscrapers (such as his last Chicago design, the Carson, Pirie, Scott store in Chicago in 1899) and very large buildings in the big midwestern cities to small buildings in small towns. Notable works in this phase of his career are the stunning Merchants' National Bank in Grinnell, Iowa (1914) and National Farmer's Bank (1908) in Owatanna, Minnesota.

Also in this later phase of his career, Sullivan wrote books on what came to be called organic architecture. Sullivan insisted that architecture had to embody the human connection with nature and to democracy, while still accepting the most modern functional needs and materials. He railed against the prevailing architectural practitioners for failing to take these principles into account. The book titles were "Kindergarten Chats" and "Autobiography of an Idea"

He was a difficult man, uncompromising and erratic, but his brilliance in undeniable - see the passages which his pupil Wright has devoted to his Leiber Meister.

Sullivan died in obscurity and poverty in a hotel room in Chicago in 1924.

He died poor and for several years Sullivan himself had no monument at all. This stone was erected by his admirers using private contributions. The six-pointed pattern on the front is one of Sullivan's own designs, and features his profile in the center. The sides of the monument show the evolution of the skyscraper. 


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