Louis Sullivan (1856-1924)

Carson Pirie Scott Store

The Carson Pirie Scott Store,
designed by Louis Sullivan in 1899, marked the high point of the functional tradition in the Chicago school and is the foremost American example of the transformation of utility and structure into powerful architecture. The great cellular screens along the streets are derived directly from the steel cage behind them. Such a treatment of the elevations is the distinguishing mark of the Chicago school. The interplay of tension and compression, of thrust and counterthrust, is given intensified expression by subtle but effective means.
(Technology Review, April 1961)

Louis Sullivan was born in 1856 in Boston and studied architecture for a year at MIT before leaving for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Like H.H. Richardson, Sullivan is regarded today as one of the most individual and innovative architects of the developing modern period. He replaced the standard classical ornamentation of the day with highly original, organic architectural details inspired by nature. One of Sullivan's most notable contributions was the creation of a form appropriate to the tall commercial office building. Rather than stressing the horizontal layers of each story, he emphasized the vertical rise of these buildings. Verticality was made possible by steel frame construction and the use of light materials such as terra cotta, which had a malleability appropriate for carrying out his ornament.

Adler and Sullivan designed the Transportation Building for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It was a long structure, extending 960 feet, with walls punctuated by arcade windows. The focal point of the building was the Golden Door, an awesome portal formed by layers of receding arches that featured gold leaf ornament, adding to a sense of the building's movement. The Transportation Building, while not included with the buildings surrounding the central basin, nonetheless occupied a large, important site and was widely admired, despite a lack of overt classical references.

It was the assemblage of noble, classical edifices, laid out according to the plans of D.H. Burnham in the Great Basin of the Exposition, that particularly angered Sullivan but captivated hundreds of visitors. These buildings--the Agricultural Building (McKim, Mead & White), Machinery Hall (Peabody & Stearns), the Administration Building (Richard Morris Hunt), the Electricity Building (Van Brunt and Howe), and Manufacturers Hall (George B. Post)--formed the heart of the Exposition and represented important interests. The presence of drawings in the MIT architecture studio by Adler and Sullivan and by William LeBaron Jenney extended the memory of the Exposition, reinforcing the exceptional qualities of the two buildings.

The Auditorium

Designed by Adler and Sullivan in 1887-1889, the Auditorium in Chicago was the first of Sullivan's masterpieces. It consists of three distinct parts integrated into a single volume: the great theater stands between a hotel on the east and an office block on the west. Every structural device available to its planner was called on, but none of this intricate structure is visible from the interior. Sullivan treated the interior spaces as open volumes enclosed by richly ornamented planes or by the curving surfaces of elliptical vaults. (Technology Review, April 1961)

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