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Louis Sullivan

Louis Sullivan

Louis Sullivan, circa 1895. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Education and Training

Considered the father of modern American architecture, Louis Sullivan was born in 1856 in Boston, Massachusetts into an Irish/Swiss family. Sullivan finished high school early and gained advanced standing at MIT. After studying architecture for one year, he moved to Philadelphia to work under architect Frank Furness. When a poor economy forced Furness to let Sullivan go, he moved to Chicago in 1873 to help rebuild the city after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Redefining Architecture in Chicago

After studying for a year in Paris, Sullivan returned to Chicago to work as a draftsman at the firm of Johnston & Edelman and helped design the Moody Tabernacle. Dankmar Adler hired Sullivan away in 1879 and the pair began their famous partnership, which led to the mentoring of many influential architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright. Initially, Adler & Sullivan drew acclaim for building theaters across America. The Auditorium Building (1886-1990) in Chicago was a mixed-use facility ahead of its time. The 1890s saw the construction of other famous projects: the Chicago Stock Exchange Building (1894), the Guaranty Building (1895–1896) in Buffalo, New York, and the Carson Pirie Scott Department Store (1899-1904) in Chicago.

Form Follows Function

Sullivan was a visionary with regard to implementing newly mass-produced steel and created a modern visual lexicon that set American architecture apart. At the turn of the 20th century, Sullivan expressed his theory that “form follows function.” Despite this precept, Sullivan would frequently adorn buildings with stylistic flourishes drawing on the natural world or geometric designs inspired by Irish folk art. Sullivan was also known for his tendency to frame doors and windows with arches.

Less Prominent, but Still Prolific

In the 1890s, despite international appreciation, Sullivan’s place in the world of architecture was already starting to become less secure. His work on the “White City” in the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 was panned by his contemporaries for not conforming to the all-white Beaux-Arts standard. Adler & Sullivan also struggled to land many large projects as the decade progressed. In the early 20th century, Sullivan designed mostly smaller-scale projects, which included several commercial buildings and banks throughout the Midwest. Sullivan also wrote multiple books on his design theories up to his death in Chicago in 1924.

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Louis Sullivan
Louis Sullivan
Louis Sullivan
Louis Sullivan