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Louis Sullivan - Style and Best Works

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Louis Sullivan was born in Massachusetts, US. He is known as the father of modern architecture and skyscrapers. He famously coined the phrase “Form follows function”, paving the way for modern architectural style. He is known to be inspired by Vitruvius and has mentored many notable architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and has also made great contributions to the Chicago school of architecture. He along with Dankmar Adler is responsible for some of the most beautiful skyscrapers in America.


  • He insisted that a building should naturally respond to its surroundings, just as a plant would grow. 
  • Steel framework with adorned facades are elements of his style. 
  • He had a great eye for detail and used organic detailing to elevate the verticality of buildings. 
  • The inspiration for the form of skyscrapers as they are today are drawn from his works. He believed that skyscrapers should be proud and soaring.
  • While his contemporaries borrowed ideas from classical Greek and Roman architecture, he worked with organic ornamentation and advocated a uniquely American style.

Here are 4 of his best works that exhibit his style of architecture

1. Wainwright building

Wainwright Building by Louis Sullivan
Wainwright Building by Louis Sullivan
  • It is a 10-story office building in Missouri.
  • It is considered to be one of the first aesthetically pleasing skyscrapers. 
  • It has become a prototype for modern office buildings.
  • Inspired by the base-shaft-column structure of a classical column, the skyscraper has tripartite composition.
  • The two-story base holds recessed horizontal elements and projecting vertical elements that emphasize the verticality of the building and gives it an upward momentum.
  • Other ornamentations include an intricate frieze pierced by bullseye windows below the cornice and decorative spandrels all made of terracotta.
Ornamentation of the frieze
Ornamentation of the frieze

2. Guaranty Building

Guaranty Building by Louis Sullivan
Guaranty Building by Louis Sullivan
  • Also called the Prudential building, it is a skyscraper located in New York.
  • Sullivan’s principle of “form follows function” is brought to life in this building.
  • The building was zoned into the basement with a mechanical and utility area, lower levels for public areas with commercial shops, public entrances and lobbies, the offices, and then the attic with utility, storage, and water tanks.
  • The upper floors of the building have a U shaped plan to maximize light and airflow.
  • The stairwell is lined with white glazed terracotta tiles to increase the light in the interiors.
  • The elevators and staircases are enclosed by metal cages rather than walls to permit light into the hallways.
  • The steel framework of this building is a prominent feature that forms a part of its aesthetics.
  • The facade was richly decorated by embellishing it with terracotta blocks which divided the building into three, based on their design.
Plan of the upper floors in Guaranty building
Plan of the upper floors in Guaranty building
Terracotta facade decor
Terracotta facade decor

3. Auditorium building

Auditorium Building by Louis Sullivan
Auditorium Building by Louis Sullivan
  • It is a multi-use building consisting of an office, theater and a hotel located in Chicago.
  • The facade follows a romanesque style with repetitive window patterns and the use of load-bearing monochromatic rusticated stone walls that bring rhythm to the facade. The trademark's organic ornamentation is also seen.
  • The building was planned in such a way that it will be versatile in terms of size, shape, and purpose with the use of elements like reducing curtains.
  • The area below the stage could be covered with a temporary floor to convert the area into a banquet hall or ballroom.
  • This was one of the first buildings to make use of air conditioning systems and to be wired electrically. 
  • The positioning of the seats, the materials of the walls (plaster) and the orientation of the ceiling has been carefully designed so as to provide the best acoustics. The entire theater is shaped like a trumpet to help with the projection of sound from the stage.
Repetitive windows and stone walls
Repetitive windows and stone walls
Interior of the Auditorium building
Interior of the Auditorium building

4. Sullivan Center

Sullivan Center by Louis Sullivan
Sullivan Center by Louis Sullivan
  • Also known as the Carson, Pirie and Scott store, is a commercial building located in Chicago.
  • The building is most notable for its steel frame structure which allowed a dramatic increase in window area created by bay windows which permitted a great amount of sunlight into the building.
  • The steel framework uses a post and lintel system to provide a durable, light and fire proof skeleton.
  • The Chicago windows were first put to use here.
  • The wide glass panes allowed for an effective display of the merchandise within the store to the pedestrian traffic. 
  • Ornamentation above the entrance made this building stand out from its neighbors.
  • The entrance was located at a corner such that it could be easily approached from two directions.
Entrance of Sullivan Centre
Entrance of Sullivan Centre
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