Louis Sullivan

Louis Sullivan when he enjoyed his widest acclaim, and shortly before his death when his dignified appearence belied his desperate financial condition and professional obscurity.
Louis Sullivan when he enjoyed his widest acclaim, and shortly before his death when his dignified appearence belied his desperate financial condition and professional obscurity.

Louis H. Sullivan (1856-1924) 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.

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 the firm Burnham and Root helped make wildly popular as a result of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Sullivan’s most profound influence can be found in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, who spent more than six years as Sullivan’s chief draftsman before going on his own to advance Sullivan’s idea of American architecture into his Prairie Houses and, more generally, the Prairie School of the early 1900s.

Louis Sullivan’s 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 Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery.