Architecture of Louis Sullivan

As a child, Louis Sullivan spent a lot of time exploring the streets and buildings of Boston, where he lived with his parents. After graduating from high school, a year early, Sullivan attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) at the age of sixteen to study architecture. He passed up the first two years at MIT by passing a series of exams. But,after a year of study, Sullivan moved to Philadelphia to work with another architect, Frank Furness.However, Furness’ work evaporated during the Depression of 1873. Furness had to let Sullivan go. Sullivan moved to Chicago in 1873 to take part in the building boom after the 1871 Great Chicago Fire. Sullivan worked with architect William LeBaron Jenney, who is often credited with erecting the first steel-frame building. Less than a year after working with Jenney, Sullivan moved to Paris and studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts for a year.Sullivan returned to Chicago to later become a partner with architect Dankmar Adler. It was here Frank Lloyd Wright embraced the designs of Sullivan.At the time, multistoried buildings were limited due to masonry. The bottom floor needed to handle the load of the upper stories. With the development of cheap steel in the second half of the nineteenth century, the rules for buildings changed. Mass production of steel was the main driving force behind the ability to erect skyscrapers in the mid-1880s. By assembling a steel girder framework, architects and builders could create tall, slender buildings. Industrial capital and civic pride encourage the surge of new construction throughout Chicago’s downtown.Sullivan coined the phrase “form follows function”. This philosophy placed the demands of practical use over aesthetics. But Sullivan designed buildings with eruptions of lush Art Nouveau decorations, usually cast in iron or terra cotta. His designs can be seen in Chicago’s Carson, Pirie Scott building, seen below. The corner entrance to the building is lavishly decorated in green cast iron. Sullivan’s designs were revolutionary at the time, appealing, and commercially successful. The Guaranty Building in Buffalo, New York is one of Sullivan’s widely-admired works. Completed in 1895, the Guaranty Building can be divided into three zones of design. A plain, wide-widowed base for ground-level shops. The main office block, with its vertical ribbons of masonry rising unimpeded across nine upper floors emphasizes the building’s height. The top level contains a cornice ornamentation perforated by round windows at roof level. The Interior of the building is designed as lavish as the exterior. Sullivan was financially and emotionally devastated by the Panic of 1893. He obtained a few commissions for small-town midwestern banks. One such back is the Merchant National Bank of Grinnel, Iowa, built in 1914, as pictured below. This building is one of Sullivan’s “Jewel Box Banks’. One of eight erected across the Midwest. The “Jewel Box” moniker came from the modern, box-like shape and richly ornamented interior.
Sullivan died in a Chicago hotel 1924. But his architecture and designs live on today.My family and I visited the Merchant National Bank of Grinnel, Iowa, in August of 2021. The bank is now the Grinnel Chamber of Commerce. Folks are allowed to enter the building within Chamber of Commerce hours