Sullivan, Louis Henry

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Sullivan, Louis Henry,

1856–1924, American architect, b. Boston, studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris. He is of great importance in the evolution of modern architecture in the United States. His dominating principle, demonstrated in his writings and in his executed buildings, was that outward form should faithfully express the function beneath. Sullivan's doctrine of "form follows function," the accepted and guiding principle of modern architecture throughout the world, gained few contemporary adherents for Sullivan. In the face of the powerful revival of traditional classicism in the final years of the 19th cent., little interest was focused on Sullivan's plea for the establishment of an architecture that should be functional and also truly American. Sullivan was employed in the Chicago office of William Le Baron JenneyJenney, William Le Baron,
1832–1907, American engineer and architect, b. Fairhaven, Mass. He studied at Harvard Scientific School and the École des Beaux-Arts.
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, designer of the first steel-skeleton skyscraper, and later entered the office of Dankmar AdlerAdler, Dankmar,
1844–1900, American architect who, as a partner of Louis Sullivan, was an important influence on modern American architecture. Born in Germany, he immigrated to the United States at the age of 10 and settled in Detroit, where he studied architecture and
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, where he became chief draftsman and in 1881 was made a member of the firm. Adler & Sullivan rapidly became prominent.

Sullivan's Wainwright Building, St. Louis (1890), a tall, steel-frame building, was designed so as not to belie its structural skeleton. His Transportation Building at the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago (1893), now demolished, shared nothing of the traditional classicism dominating the rest of the fair, and has become renowned for its originality and for heralding a new viewpoint in American architecture. In 1901, Sullivan began to advocate a more imaginative as well as functional expression of architecture, a philosophy reflected in his essays, collected as Kindergarten Chats (1918; ed. by Isabella Athey, 1947). His executed designs include the Auditorium Building, Gage Building, Stock Exchange Building, and the structure that now houses the Carson Prie Scott department store, all in Chicago; the Guaranty Building, Buffalo, N.Y.; a series of brilliantly designed small banks, above all the National Farmers Bank in Owatonna, Minn. (1906–8); and a number of memorials, including the Getty Tomb in Chicago. The Autobiography of an Idea (1924), which he wrote in his last years, contains the philosophy of his life and work. Sullivan's pupils and followers include Claude Bragdon and Frank Lloyd WrightWright, Frank Lloyd,
1867–1959, American architect, b. Richland Center, Wis., as Frank Lincoln Wright; he changed his name to honor his mother's family (the Lloyd Joneses). Wright is widely considered the greatest American architect.
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See his posthumously published Democracy: A Man-Search (1961); biographies by H. Morrison (1935, repr. 1971), W. Connelly (1960), and R. Twombly (1986); studies by A. Bush-Brown (1960), M. D. Kaufman (1969), and L. S. Weingarden (1987); F. L. Wright, Genius and the Mobocracy (1949, repr. 1972); R. Nickel et al., The Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan (2010).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Sullivan, Louis Henry


Born Sept. 3, 1856, in Boston; died Apr. 14, 1924, in Chicago. American architect, one of the pioneers of rationalism.

Sullivan never completed his academic training for an architectural career. He worked as a draftsman in the office of architect F. Furness in Philadelphia, and in 1874 he attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Beginning in 1875, Sullivan worked in Chicago. He joined the firm of the engineer D. Adler in 1879, and two years later he and Adler formed a partnership. Their first major project was the ten-story Auditorium Building in Chicago (1886–89), which contains a theater, hotel, and offices.

Under the influence of H. H. Richardson, Sullivan gravitated toward a combination of rational logic and romantic fantasy. In developing a new type of structure—the skyscraper—Sullivan brought out the aesthetic principles of steel-frame design and made use of the new proportions and rhythms dictated by the cellular structure of the office building. The architect’s most notable designs include the Wainwright Building in St. Louis (1890–91), the Guaranty Building in Buffalo (1894–95), and the Schlesinger & Mayer Department Store in Chicago (1899–1900, later the Carson, Pirie, Scott Store).

In 1896, Sullivan published the essay “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered,” the first exposition of his theory of rationalist architecture. In 1901–02 he wrote most of his books and articles, including Kindergarten Chats. In 1918, having failed to compete with commercial firms, Sullivan went bankrupt.

Sullivan was among the precursors of various schools and trends of 20th-century architecture. For example, his concept of organic architecture was developed by F. L. Wright. Sullivan’s work and his slogan “form follows function” greatly influenced the development of European functionalism of the 1920’s.


Excerpts from articles and books in Mastera arkhitektury ob arkhitekture, Moscow, 1972. Pages 34–61.
Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings. New York, 1947.
The Autobiography of an Idea, New York, 1956.


Bush-Brown, A. Louis Sullivan. New York, 1960.
Connely, W. Louis Sullivan as He Lived. New York, 1960.
Morrison, H. Louis Sullivan. New York [1962].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.