Louis Sullivan full name is Louis Henry Sullivan. He is an American architect and is regarded as Father Of Modern architecture“ and “Father of Skyscrapers“ as well. He was an influential architect and was considered as the creator of modern skyscraper. He was a critic and a mentor to the famous future architect Frank Lloyd Wright who apprenticed for 6 years with Sullivan in his firm. His design of the polychrome modern transportation building earned him accolades for his innovation, creativity, and originality.
Louis Sullivan had a famous saying “Form follows Function”. Sullivan’s collaboration with Adler led to the construction of many historic buildings considered as landmarks of architecture.
Louis Henry Sullivan was born on September 3, 1856, in Boston, Massachusetts, United States. His father Patrick Sullivan was an Irish Born dancing master who migrated to the US in 1840s along with Louis’s mother Andrienne List who was Swiss born and both got married there in 1852. When his parents moved to Chicago in 1869, Sullivan stayed back with his grandparents and attended public schools in Boston.
In 1872 at the age of 16, Sullivan enrolled at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to study architecture. Louis was an impatient architectural student and left in the first year with thoughts of studying at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris or be an architect’s apprentice.
Following the suggestion of Richard Moris Hunt, he moved to Philadelphia and worked for Frank Furness’ firm Furness and Hewitt for several months until work dwindled in the economic panic of 1873. In 1873, Sullivan moved to Chicago and was employed by William Le Baron Jenny who was a prominent figure in the development of the style of Chicago School and was often credited with designing the first steel frame building. Finally. in 1874, Sullivan got admission in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and he moved to Paris.
As Louis was a restless and an erratic student; he was not regular in studies and therefore after a year of studying there he left his graduation to work with Emile Vaudremer. Later in 1875, he moved back to Chicago where he started working for Joseph S. Johnston and John Edelman as a draftsman. He also designed the interior decorative “fresco secco” stencils of the Moody Tabernacle.
It was Edelman who introduced Sullivan to Dankmar Adler. In 1879 Louis Sullivan joined Dankmar Adler as an employee and soon became a partner in his firm at the age of 24 in 1881; which marked the beginning of Sullivan’s most productive years of his career. They became famous as experts in theater architecture. Their designs were favored in Colorado, Seattle, and Washington which gave them a commercial expansion that resulted in many commissions.
Sullivan’s brilliance as a designer was complemented by Alder’s business ability and he was also good in acoustics and other technical and legal aspects of architecture. The firm’s theater architecture phase ended in 1889 when they built The Auditorium Building in Chicago that marked the initial period of Sullivan’s design maturity. After 1889, they became known for their commercial buildings.
Sullivan and Alder had 14-year association in which they produced more than 100 buildings among which many of them are considered as landmarks in the history of American Architecture. After the great economic depression in America; all the business declined owing to that panic in 1893 due to which the two partners broke up. This led to severe financial problems for Sullivan compounded by his alcoholism and unfriendly behavior.
In personal life, Sullivan was married to Mary Azona Hattabaugh in 1899. The couple was childless and got separated 10 years later. In his latter years, Sullivan’s most noteworthy projects were the construction of 7 banks at Midwestern Town.
In 1889, Sullivan and Alder designed their first commercial building The Auditorium Building in Chicago which was a combination of a hotel and office block wrapped in a U-shaped around a 4,100 seat auditorium. It is 17 story high building made of Granite and limestone with a notable simple exterior and interiors decorated by ornament and colored stenciled patterns which brought forth Sullivan’s talent for designing ornamentation.
In 1892, Sullivan designed a masterpiece in form of Wainwright Building, a mausoleum in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis which is one of the greatest skyscraper designed by Sullivan. The exterior is made of steel frame throughout and had a 2 story base above which the vertical elements are stressed and are capped by a deep decorative frieze and a projecting cornice and is considered as St. Louis landmark.
In 1893, Sullivan designed the polychrome modern Transportation building for the “White City” i.e. The World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Its multi-colored Façade and the huge , arched Golden Door which was inspired by the Roman and Neoclassical style.
In 1895, Sullivan designed The Guaranty Building in Buffalo, New York which is a 16-storey building with a surface sheathed in decorative terra cotta .It is also known as The Prudential Building and is considered as one of the best work of Sullivan and Alder.
His other notable projects included The Chicago Stock Exchange Building (1894) , The Carson Pirie Scott department Store (the Sullivan Center) in Chicago (1899) which had a corner visible from 2 Avenues. The ornamentation above the entrance was a distinct feature.
Awards & Honors
In 1944, Louis Sullivan became the second architect of history to receive the Gold Medal from AIA (American Institute of Architects) in acknowledgment of his enduring contribution to the theory and practice of architecture.
Sullivan is one of the “recognized trinity of American architecture” along with Wright and Henry Hobson Richardson.
Louis Henry Sullivan died on April 14, 1924, at the age of 67 in Chicago, Illinois, United States because of kidney disease and inflammation of the cardiac muscles. In his last years, Sullivan turned to alcohol due to frustration at his declining status and was deeply in Debt. He was buried on April 16 in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery. And despite of his acknowledged work and greatness, Sullivan died in poverty, in a cheap South Side Hotel room, without an architectural job for his last two years.