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Louis Sullivan c r e at i n g a new american architecture Patrick F. Cannon Photography by james Caulfield Reaching for the Sky Problem: How shall we impart to this sterile pile, this crude, harsh, brutal agglomeration, this C hicago has long laid claim to being the birthplace of the modern skyscraper. While the genesis of the engineering techniques that permitted buildings to rise ever higher is a long one, there seems little doubt that they came together for the first time in the tenstory Home Insurance Building of 1885, designed by William Le Baron Jenney. Jenney was a trained engineer turned architect. Despite the Home Insurance Build- stark, staring exclamation ing’s steel frame and masonry nonbearing curtain wall construction, it was just a taller of eternal strife, the version of its neighbors. No attempt was made to express its verticality; indeed, it had no graciousness of those higher fewer than four horizontal bands dividing its façade into five separate units. forms of sensibility and culture that rest on the lower and fierce passions? How shall we proclaim from the Many of Adler & Sullivan’s office building designs of that time and earlier weren’t unlike the Home Insurance Building. But when the firm began to exploit the new structural possibilities available with steel framing, Sullivan began to think seriously about how best to emphasize the new buildings’ most obvious feature—their height. The late 1880s were busy years for the firm, not least because of the extreme dizzy height of this strange, demands of designing and constructing the Auditorium Building, begun in 1886 but weird, modern housetop not finished until 1889. The Auditorium had an office tower that rose to sixteen stories, the peaceful evangel of but only five floors rose above the main building, which was of masonry load-bearing sentiment, of beauty, the cult of a higher life? Louis H. Sullivan “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered” construction. It was the commission for the Wainwright Building in St. Louis in 1890 that was the turning point in Sullivan’s development of a true tall building aesthetic. Frank Lloyd Wright later recalled Sullivan putting a rough sketch of the building on his table and Sullivan’s young assistant realizing his master had solved the “problem” of the skyscraper. How had he done it? While he would not have put it in these terms, he had seen the tall building as a column consisting of a base, shaft, and capital. All of his important tall buildings, except the Chicago Stock Exchange, follow this pattern: a basement The epigraph to this chapter is drawn from Louis H. Sullivan, “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered,” Lippincott’s Magazine 57 (March 1896): 403–409. for the furnace and other utilities, a two-story base for shops and similar uses, a sill, and then the multistory main office section, with identically expressed bearing columns and nonbearing mullions rising to the attic, often highly decorated and capped by an equally highly decorated cornice. Typically the massive corner piers rise uninterrupted Far right: The Rothschild Building (Chicago, 1880–1881) was typical of Sullivan’s office building designs prior to the advent of steel framing. A premium was put on providing the maximum window size permitted by bearing walls. The building was designed before Sullivan’s name was added to the firm of Adler & Company. Photograph by Harold Allen, courtesy Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, Art Institute of Chicago. Near right: A fragment of the ornamental frieze from the cornice of the Rothschild Building. Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. from the sidewalk. Spandrels separating the windows are recessed so that the columns and mullions rise uninterrupted to the cornice. The two Chicago buildings that best expressed Sullivan’s ideas—the Chicago Stock Exchange and the Schiller Building—have both been demolished, the Schiller in 1961 and the Stock Exchange in 1972. Only fragments of these great accomplishments remain in museums and private collections. Tragically, photographer and preservationist Richard Nickel died in an accident while trying to salvage some pieces of the Stock Exchange. Although the interior is much changed, the Wainwright Building in St. Louis has a largely original exterior. Also in St. Louis, the Union Trust Building of 1893 still stands but with significant changes to the base. Sullivan’s only New York City commission, the Bayard (later Bayard-Condict) Building, exists in a largely restored condition, as does the Guaranty Building in Buffalo, New York, perhaps Sullivan’s best tall building, restored in the 1980s. 3 The Guaranty Building (Buffalo, New York, 1895) is perhaps the most richly decorated commercial building in America. Every inch of the façade, except the glazing, is covered with terra-cotta molding. Arched forms begin above the entrance doors and are repeated just below the sill, in the sill itself, in the spandrels, and in the attic openings below the cornice. Rather than looking fussy, the combination of geometric and foliate designs helps the building soar gracefully from base to top. Opposite: The main Schlesinger & Mayer store (Chicago) was built in stages beginning in 1899. The last three bays to the south (right) were added as late as 1961, designed by Holabird & Root to match Sullivan’s design. 5 Sullivan designed twenty column capitals, each of a unique design, for the banquet room inside Chicago’s Auditorium Building. They were carved by Robert W. Bates. 6 Elaborately gilded electroliers hang where the ceiling beams meet. Their exposed incandescent bulbs produce a magical effect in the evening and nighttime hours, the primary times when the room would have been used. 7 Louis Sullivan c r e at i n g a n e w a m e r i ca n a rc h i t e ct u r e Louis Sullivan’s designs stand today as the preeminent exemplars of Chicago school architecture. Even 192 pages, 10 x 8⅞ inches Frank Lloyd Wright, a former assistant to Sullivan, would later refer to him as his “Lieber Meister,” Smyth-sewn casebound with jacket or “beloved master.” Sullivan (American, 1856–1924) brought to his practice a conviction that More than 150 color photographs by ornamentation should arise naturally from a building’s overall design, restating, in a large or small way, themes expressed in the structure as a whole. Having spent much of his career in a late Victorian world that bristled with busy, fussy ornament for ornament’s sake, Sullivan refuted the fashionable style with the now famous dictum “Form follows function.” This break from tradition is perhaps most evident in Sullivan’s strides to reimagine the commercial space—from America’s earliest skyscrapers to the small-town banks that populated the architect’s commissions in the second half of his career. In Louis Sullivan: Creating a New American Architecture, nearly two hundred photographs with James Caulfield Includes Bibliography and Index of Buildings $39.95 US ($45.00 Canada) ISBN 978-0-7649-5771-0 Catalog No. A192 Available March 2011 descriptive captions document Sullivan’s genius for modern design. Patrick Cannon introduces Text © Patrick F. Cannon each chapter with key biographical information and discusses the influences that shaped Sullivan’s Photographs © James Caulfield illustrious career. Rare historical photographs chronicle those buildings that, sadly, have since been destroyed, while James Caulfield’s contemporary photography captures Sullivan’s existing Chicago buildings and many other structures in eastern and midwestern cities that are of equal importance in the architect’s oeuvre. Patrick F. Cannon has had a long career as Published by Pomegranate Communications, Inc. Box 808022, Petaluma, CA 94975 800 227 1428 www.pomegranate.com a publicist, journalist, and editor. He is the author of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple: A Good Time Place, Prairie Metropolis: Chicago and the Birth of a New American Home, and Hometown Architect: The Complete Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park Pomegranate Europe Ltd. Unit 1, Heathcote Business Centre, Hurlbutt Road Warwick, Warwickshire CV34 6TD, UK [+44] 0 1926 430111 [email protected] and River Forest, Illinois, all published by Pomegranate. James Caulfield has been a commercial and advertising photographer for more than twenty-five years. His studio is a state-of-the-art natural-light production facility in downtown Chicago. His work is also featured in the books Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple, Prairie Metropolis, and Hometown Architect. Printed in China The Chicago Stock Exchange trading room, as reconstructed at the Art Institute of Chicago.