Everything begins with a seed. Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture.
Louis Sullivan: the Struggle for American Architecture
All content © 2011 Whitecap Films, Inc.
Louis H. Sullivan was one of the most influential architects to come out of the Chicago School of architecture in the late 1800s. He is often called the “father of the skyscraper”, the “prophet of modern architecture” and conceived the most famous phrase ever to come out of his profession, “form follows function” (or, more accurately, “form ever follows function”). Among his most outstanding surviving works are the Auditorium Theater, the Carson, Pirie Scott department store, and the Charnley House in Chicago, the Wainwright Building and Union Trust Building in St. Louis, the Guaranty Building in Buffalo, New York, and eight small “Jewel Box” banks that are among the most treasured pieces of historic architecture in the United States. After nearly a century, most of the Sullivan banks are still functioning as banks. Unfortunately, many other Sullivan buildings fell victim to urban renewal and were demolished, including the Garrick Theater in 1961, and the old Chicago Stock Exchange in 1972. Their destruction helped form the historic architectural preservation movement in Chicago. Louis Sullivan was committed to establishing an authentic, American style of architecture, free of historic imitations like the Beaux Arts style that fellow Chicagoan Daniel Burnham of Burnham and Root had made wildly popular as a result of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The firm of Adler and Sullivan (Dankmar Adler, a brilliant engineer, had hired Sullivan in 1880 and made him a full partner a year later) was a very successful venture until the panic of 1893 put them out of business. Perhaps the most influence Sullivan exerted on architecture was the inspiration he provided to his chief draftsman of seven years, Frank Lloyd Wright, who went on to advance Sullivan’s idea of American architecture into his Prairie Houses and, more generally, the Prairie School of the early 1900s. Sullivan is also credited with influencing the Art Nouveau and Secessionist art movements in Europe, not to mention the modernist architects who made up the Bauhaus school. His architecture is a mixture of plain geometry and undisguised massing punctuated with elaborate pockets of ornamentation in stone, wood and terra cotta. Fragments of his ornamentation hang in some of the most prestigious museums in the world, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art in New York. He died in 1924, penniless and forgotten to the public, and was buried in Graceland Cemetery.