Sullivan, Louis H(enry)

Sullivan, Louis H(enry)

biographical name


Louis Sullivan, detail of an oil painting by Frank A. Werner, 1919; in the collection of the …—Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society

(born Sept. 3, 1856, Boston, Mass., U.S.—died April 14, 1924, Chicago, Ill.) U.S. architect, the father of modern U.S. architecture. Sullivan was accepted at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris but was a restless student. After working for several Chicago firms, he joined the office of Dankmar Adler (1844–1900) in 1879, becoming Adler's partner at age 24. Their 14-year association produced more than 100 buildings, many of them landmarks. Their first important work was the Auditorium Building in Chicago (1889), a load-bearing stone structure with a 17-story tower, unadorned on the arcaded exterior and dazzlingly rich on the interior. Their most important skyscraper is the 10-story steel-framed Wainwright Building, St. Louis, Mo. (1890–91); above its two-story base, the vertical elements are stressed and horizontals recessed, and it is capped by a decorative frieze and cornice. During this period the young Frank Lloyd Wright spent six years as apprentice to Sullivan, who would be a major influence on the younger architect. In 1895 Sullivan's partnership with Adler dissolved, and his practice began a steady decline. One of his few major commissions was the Carson Pirie Scott store in Chicago (1898–1904), noted for its broad windows and exuberant ornamentation. Sullivan's ornamentation was based not on precedent but on geometry and natural forms. He considered it obvious that building design should indicate a building's functions and that, where the function does not change, the form should not change; hence his influential dictum “Form follows function.”

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