Sullivan, Louis

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

Louis Henri Sullivan is regarded as the first great modern architect of the United States and one of the founders of the modern architectural movement. He gave beauty of form to the skyscraper and other early modern buildings.

Sullivan was born on September 3, 1856, in Boston, Massachusetts. He decided at an early age that he wanted to be an architect. At the age of 16, he entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But he left after a year to work for architects in Philadelphia and Chicago. In 1879 he began working with the Chicago architect and engineer Dankmar Adler.

Sullivan and Adler helped pioneer the design of tall office buildings and skyscrapers. By this time, very tall buildings were possible because of the invention of the elevator and the development of the steel frame to support walls and floors. Sullivan rejected the idea that these buildings should resemble buildings of the past. He said that "form follows function," meaning each building should have a shape and appearance that reflect its structure and its use. He strove to emphasize the soaring vertical lines of tall buildings and to provide horizontal contrasts. He was known especially for using bands of ornamental scroll-work.

Sullivan and Adler designed many important buildings. Among the best known are the Auditorium Building in Chicago, the Wainwright Building in St. Louis, and the Guaranty Building in Buffalo, New York.

Sullivan's career declined in the early 1900's, and he died in poverty in Chicago on April 14, 1924. But his two books on the philosophy of architecture, Kindergarten Chats (1901-02) and The Autobiography of an Idea (1924), greatly influenced younger architects.

William Dudley Hunt, Jr.
Author, Encyclopedia of American Architecture

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