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c r e at i n g a
new american
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
[+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.