Louis Henry Sullivan (September 3, 1856 – April 14, 1924) was an American architect, and has been called the "father of skyscrapers" and "father of modernism." He is considered by many as the creator of the modern skyscraper, was an influential architect and critic of the Chicago School, was a mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright.
Louis Sullivan proclaimed himself the first architect to have discovered an authentically expressive form for the tall office building. This achievement, he said, came with the "very sudden and volcanic design" for the Wainwright Building, constructed in St. Louis in 1891-92. Sullivan described the Wainwright Building as the birth of a "logical and poetic expression of the metallic frame construction."
Louis Sullivan was a visionary, given to utopian design, which he expressed in two ways. The one, his architecture, is much praised, but even when condemned, has had a profound impact, as strongly on his contemporaries as on subsequent generations. The other, his writing, is much condemned, but even when praised, has had a negligible impact except on a handful of colleagues, and later on except for a single essay.
ONE OF THE CURIOUS anomalies in the history of modern architecture is that Louis Sullivan, the man generally regarded as the Father of Functionalist Architecture, was himself a practicing ornamentalist, and, if anything, in terms of practice, his ornament may be his primary contribution to architecture.
Among the Chicago architects who developed the skyscraper, Louis Sullivan stands out. He recognized the skyscraper as the architectural form of the future and he introduced a new way of thinking about height. In the nine-story Wainwright building (St. Louis, 1890), Sullivan emphasized height, creating what he called a "proud and soaring thing." He also designed an exterior that largely reflected the interior function, thus keeping to his rule that "form follows function." Frank Lloyd Wright, perhaps the greatest American architect of the twentieth century, for whom Sullivan served as a mentor, described the Wainwright building as signifying the birth of "the ‘skyscraper’ as a new thing under the sun."
During his lifetime, Louis Sullivan's architecture brought him international acclaim. His innovations with two building types the urban skyscraper and the rural bank, have in some cases been landmarked and carefully restored. Some that are in the history books have been published over and over again. People who know architecture know his Wainwright and Guaranty buildings, the Chicago Stock Exchange, the Schlesinger & Mayer Store, his banks in Owatonna, Minnesota, and Grinnell, Iowa, and a few famous edifices of other genres: the Chicago Auditorium and the Transportation Building of the World Columbian Exposition in particular.
After one year of study, he moved to Philadelphia and talked himself into a job with architect Frank Furness. The Depression of 1873 dried up much of Furness’s work, and he was forced to let Sullivan go. At that point Sullivan moved on to Chicago in 1873 to take part in the building boom following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. He worked for William LeBaron Jenney, the architect often credited with erecting the first steel-frame building. After less than a year with Jenney, Sullivan moved to Paris and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts for a year. Renaissance art inspired Sullivan’s mind, and he was influenced to direct his architecture to emulating Michelangelo's spirit of creation rather than replicating the styles of earlier periods. He returned to Chicago and began work for the firm of Joseph S. Johnston & John Edelman as a draftsman. Johnston & Edleman were commissioned for interior design of the Moody Tabernacle, which was completed by Sullivan.
Louis Sullivan was born to an Irish-born father and a Swiss-born mother, both of whom had imigrated to the United States in the late 1840s. He grew up living with his grandmother in South Reading (now Wakefield), Massachusetts. Louis spent most of his childhood learning about nature while on his grandparent’s farm. In the later years of his primary education, his experiences varied quite a bit. He would spend a lot of time by himself wandering around Boston. He explored every street looking at the surrounding buildings. This was around the time when he developed his fascination with buildings and he decided he would one day become a structural engineer/architect.
Adler and Sullivan designed the Transportation Building for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It was a long structure, extending 960 feet, with walls punctuated by arcade windows. The focal point of the building was the Golden Door, an awesome portal formed by layers of receding arches that featured gold leaf ornament, adding to a sense of the building's movement. The Transportation Building, while not included with the buildings surrounding the central basin, nonetheless occupied a large, important site and was widely admired, despite a lack of overt classical references.
He replaced the standard classical ornamentation of the day with highly original, organic architectural details inspired by nature. One of Sullivan's most notable contributions was the creation of a form appropriate to the tall commercial office building. Rather than stressing the horizontal layers of each story, he emphasized the vertical rise of these buildings. Verticality was made possible by steel frame construction and the use of light materials such as terra cotta, which had a malleability appropriate for carrying out his ornament.
Born in Boston, studied briefly at MIT. Moved to Chicago in 1873 and began working in the studio of William Lebaron Jenney. Later joined the office of Dankmar Adler, a German engineer, and they developed the established the firm of Adler & Sullivan in 1881. Together these two men and their firm became integral to defining the Chicago School. Sullivan designed the Transportation building for the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893. After 1900, Sullivan lost much of his popularity.