Sullivan, Louis Henry

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 Jenney, designer of the first steel-skeleton skyscraper, and later entered the office of Dankmar Adler, 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 Wright.

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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Architecture: Biographies