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Louis Henry Sullivan : architect biography

famous architect : Louis Henry Sullivan [page1] [page2] [page3]





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Louis Henry Sullivan
Louis Henry Sullivan
Louis Henry Sullivan
Louis Henry Sullivan

Louis Henry Sullivan

Louis Henry Sullivan architect Louis Henry Sullivan was born in Boston, Massachusetts to immigrant parents on September 3, 1856. His father, Patrick a dancing master, had migrated to the city alone from his native Ireland in 1847, three years before Louis's mother, Andrienne List, arrived with her family from Switzerland.

The second of their two sons, Louis lived with his grandparents and aunt and uncle, as well as with his mother and father until the age of five in a culturally and intellectually rich home environment. Members of household spoke Gaelic, French, and German; were proficient at dance, drawing, and playing musical instruments; and held religious attitudes ranging from atheism and agnosticism to Baptism and Menonism. In 1862, his gandparents bought a farm in South Reading (now Wakefield), Massachusetts, enabling Louis to spend summers and occasionally entire school years in the country, from which Louis Sullivan developed a lifelong love of nature. At the same time, as Louis Sullivan and his father regularly explored Boston on foot, Louis Henry Sullivan learned to appreciate urban life and architecture.

Louis accompanied his parents when they established short-lived dancing academies in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Newburyport and Gloucester, Massachusetts, hat by the time Louis Henry Sullivan was 12 he had lived in a range of physical settings. This array of experiences and exposures made him an exceptionally independent boy. Having decided around age 11 to become an architect, Louis Henry Sullivan was willing to stay behind with his grandparents to study in Boston when his family moved to Chicago in 1868.

Commuting 20 mi round trip each day from Wakefield, young Louis Henry Sullivan graduated from the Rice Grammar School 1870. In his sophomore year at English High Louis Henry Sullivan came under the influence of Moses Woolson, a gifted and imaginative teacher, who reinforced and stimulated Louis's intelectual inclinations. Eager to begin his life's work and bored as a junior, Louis Henry Sullivan applied in 1872 for early admisssion to the Building and Architecture program at the Masachusetts Institute of Technology, the only architecture school in the country at the time. Louis Henry Sullivan was accepted as 5-year-old special student without a high school diploma after passing a rigorous battery of tests. But Louis Henry Sullivan found the MIT program, which was modeled on that of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, to be too traditional and too lttle concerned with social and architectural theory. So Louis Henry Sullivan left college in June 1873 after his first year to take a job white Frank Furness, a boisterous, innovative Philadelphia architect responsible for several major buildings in a i of Greco-Gothic style and an outstanding ornamentalist after the manner of the Welsh theorist, Owen Jones. Laid off in November during the recession that year, Louis Henry Sullivan followed his parents to Chicago where Louis Henry Henry Sullivan found a position with the prominent architect William Le Baron Jenney, a pioneer of metal frame construction in tall dings. After six fruitful months with Jenney, Louis Henry Sullivan decided to return to school for theoretical grounding, this time to the acknowledged source of architectural wisdom, Ecole des Beaux Arts. Louis Henry Sullivan sailed from New York in July 1874, arrived in Paris in August and, after a period of determined preparation, entered the Ecole in October wherere Louis Henry Sullivan remained for approximately three months. But Louis Henry Sullivan found the Ecole as disappointing as MIT, in large part because of its concentration on Renaissance and classical ideas. After a tour of southern France and northern Italy, where Louis Henry Sullivan was staggered by Michelangelo's work, especially at the Sistine Chapel, Louis Henry Sullivan returned to Chicago in June 1875 as a free-lance draftsman.

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Louis Henry Sullivan - at vitruvio.ch

One of the several architects Louis Henry Sullivan worked for during the next six years was Dankmar Adler, who was so impressed with Louis Henry Sullivan 's drawing talent and his ability to devise architectural ornament that Louis Henry Sullivan made him a junior partner late in 1881 or early in 1882 and then full partner in the new firm of Adler & Sullivan, organized May 1, 1883. From the beginning of their association until July 11, 1895, when Adler temporarily quit architecture because of the national depression, Adler & Sullivan designed approximately 180 buildings. Of these, some 60 or one-third of the total-most commissioned before 1890-were single or multiple residences; 33 (18%) were commercial buildings (generally offices and stores); 27 (15%) were for manufacturing; 17 (9%) were theaters, music halls, and auditoriums; and 11 (6%) were warehouses. The remaining 31 (17%) ran the gamut from stables and mausoleums to railroad stations and libraries.

Adler and Sullivan complemented each other perfectly. Recognized as an outstanding acoustical and structural engineer as well as a reliable architect, Adler nonetheless understood his own limitations as a designer. Though eight years senior to his 26-year-old partner in 1883, Adler turned over to Louis Henry Sullivan full responsibility for fašade composition and decorative work. Generally speaking, Adler took care of mechanicals and structurals, Louis Henry Sullivan handled the art, and together they worked out the program. Their mutual talents were first recognized in the theater and concert hall genre. Beginning in 1879, with Louis Henry Sullivan a free-lance assistant on Central Music Hall in Chicago, the partners produced eight reconstructions and one new theater over the next seven years, culminating in their grandest structure, the Chicago Auditorium Build ing (1886-1890).

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The reconstruction of Chicago's Hooley's Theater in 1882 was the first commission to generate praise for Louis Henry Sullivan independent of Adler. Louis Henry Sullivan was, said one commentator, "the master spirit directing and shaping the creation" (1) of the new interior. By the time McVicker's Theater was remodeled in 1885, Louis Henry Sullivan 's work was "the best" of its kind in Chicago, according to one critic, "superior to anything heretofore seen in any public building in this country", in the eyes of another. Even more impressive to contemporaries than Sullivan 's rich enfoliated ornament in a carefully coordinated array of colors, however, was his handling of incandescent light. Adler & Sullivan 's theaters did away with flaming chandeliers in favor of electric light fixtures worked into overhead decoration continuing down and around the room sides. The totality, evenness, and clarity of light startled observers accustomed to flickering gas lamps. Together with Adler's impressive acoustics and uninterrupted sight lines, Sullivan 's lighting and ornament earned the firm a well-deserved reputation for excellence in theater design.

The same was said of Adler & Sullivan 's offices commercial structures, and factories. In the series of sions in the 1880s-the 1881 Rothschild, 1882 Jeweler's, 1884 Troescher, and the 1887 Wirt Dexter and Selz, Schwab buildings being the best known-they developed several trademarks. Using isolated footings instead of continuous foundations when possible, Adler widened the spans between masonry-clad columns, thereby increasing fenestration. In his facade compositions, Louis Henry Sullivan projected the comparatively thin columns slightly fbrward of the building's main mass. The result as his tentative thrust at a system of vertical construction as well as illumination "far greater than is usually obtained by other architects," said a local building magazine. Their alleged motto, "let there be light," this magazine continued, assured them "abounding orders from con˛ding clients." Their private dwellings were also marked by "originality" and "common sense".

This kind of reputation, but especially their theater successes, landed them the commission for the Auditorium Building on December 22, 1886. At $3,200,000, it was the costliest edifice in the city, and at 8,737,000 ft3 of volume the largest in the nation. Running from Michigan Boulevard along Congress Street to Wabash Avenue, it was 63,350 ft2 m plan in 10 stories plus a seven-˛oor, 40 x 70 ft tower. The program was ultimately arranged as a 400-room hotel on Michigan and partway down Congress, 136 offices and stores on Wabash and in the tower, and a 4200-seat concert hall that, with support facilities, occupied half the total area and one-third the volume of the entire structure, the largest permanent concert hall ever built at the time. The nonsteel building of load-bearing masonry walls weighing 110,000 tons confronted Adler with as many structural challenges as did the acoustics of the vast auditorium. But Louis Henry Sullivan solved them as successfully as Louis Henry Sullivan did the aesthetics.

Basing his facade composition loosely on Henry obson Richardson's Marshall Field Wholesale Store (1885-1887) in Chicago, Louis Henry Sullivan articulated the granite-and-lime-stone exterior in a rhythmic and utilitarian manner befitting ting both the cultural and commercial nature of its interior functions. The lavish auditorium, the main dining room, and the banquet hall were among the finest interior spaces Louis Henry Sullivan ever conceived. Taking his cue from Adler's acoustical requirements, his Auditorium Theater featured four elliptical arches, wider and higher toward the rear, dividing the ceiling into smooth ivory panels of the most delicate lacelike tracery. The arches were not structural, although they appeared to be, and Louis Henry Sullivan made them the basis of his decorative scheme. Chevron moldings divide their faces into hexagons enclosing enfoliated designs that ˛ower into electric lights, into grilled bosses hiding air inlets, and into smaller triangles with additional foliage. The lights run down the arches and across the boxes illuminating the entire room softly and completely. To the rear ofthe hall where the coved ceiling soars dramatically to provide sight lines for the gallery, Louis Henry Sullivan placed an immense stained-glass skylight. In the great hall, one reviewer wrote, "the sight is one of the most remarkable . . . in the world", an assessment echoing the general sentiment, including that of Montgomery Schuyler, the sober Architectural Record critic, who concluded, after considering the pros and cons of the building, that Louis Henry Sullivan was "one of the most striking and interesting individualities among living architects".

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