Today is architecture and facade day, and I would like to share one of my all time favorite architects- Louis Sullivan. Mostly because of the amazing decorative detailing on his facades. What makes these details so fascinating to me is that Sullivan believed deeply the functionality of architecture and space was far and away the most important aspect of design. Despite his utilitarian view, he seemed compelled to place highly intricate, organic, dynamic ornament onto these functional buildings.
Louis Sullivan had little formal training and no degree in architecture (yes, you could get away with this kind of thing in those days), but worked with the great Frank Furness in Philadelphia, then Jenney in Chicago (father of the skyscraper) before going into business for himself. He was mentor and employer of the young Frank Lloyd Wright, (later to become FLW’s nemesis). Throughout the last two decades of the 19th Century he designed roughly two hundred buildings and later in life published several books on architecture including a book of his intricate drawings (A System of Architectural Ornament, published in 1924). This book is at the top of my wish list at the moment!
While many of Sullivan’s buildings are no more, The Art Institute in Chicago (as well as many other museums throughout the US) has preserved many fragments of his buildings (as well as a complete room). In a way it is even more fortunate for us today that we have the fragments rather than complete buildings, because who could really appreciate (or even see) these details on the exterior of the 5th or 8th floors? I suppose neighbors in the building across the way…
Here are a few pieces from the Art Institute collection which, like most art, is never quite the same in photos as in person.
All photos courtesy of the Art Institute Chicago.