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November 16, 2010 12:44 PM   Subscribe

Shortly before his 1924 death in penniless obscurity, architect Louis Sullivan was commissioned by the Art Institute of Chicago to produce his final work: A System of Architectural Ornament According with a Philosophy of Man's Powers, a series of intricate illustrations, unfolding diagrams, and accompanying descriptions outlining Sullivan's somewhat opaque aesthetic theories. In 2006, Giles Phillips interpreted these plates into a shape grammar of 23 rules with which Sullivan's elaborate forms may be distilled into a series of basic transformations. Moreover, he helpfully put the entire book online for your viewing pleasure. posted by theodolite (18 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite

 
The conquest of neoclassical over Sullivanesque is an art history issue that can actually make me physically angry if I dwell on it too much.
posted by The Whelk at 12:54 PM on November 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


The Guaranty Building (pictured in the "entire book online" link) is in downtown Buffalo. Now, Buffalo has seen better days. Most of her architectural treasures, and there are many, are in some state of disrepair or ruin.

This building has not been treated with the care it deserves. The area around it is falling apart. And yet, take a look at some of the ornamentation on it. If you could spend a moment on that street you would understand so much of Buffalo: an absolutely gorgeous building and not another soul on the street beside you.
posted by munchingzombie at 1:05 PM on November 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


The conquest of neoclassical over Sullivanesque is an art history issue

Care to summarize the issue for us? Or perhaps just link to something and go take a calming walk?
posted by fatbird at 1:07 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The conquest of neoclassical over Sullivanesque is an art history issue that can actually make me physically angry if I dwell on it too much.

A subjugation that also angered Ayn Rand, who used Sullivan as the model for the Henry Cameron character in The Fountainhead.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:09 PM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thank you, thank you!

I went to school in this building, and I still miss its little details. I appreciated the heck out of that building. To be surrounded with such beauty, in such surprising places -- the air registers and grates and the gorgeous spaces behind plain institutional doors! The Auditorium itself is marvelous, too, and not to be missed if you like this kind of thing.

Carson Pirie Scott was another Chicago Sullivan; I used to just go and stand at the front entrance and marvel at all the details.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:14 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of course you know, ornament is criminal.
posted by LionIndex at 1:15 PM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


The conquest of neoclassical over Sullivanesque is an art history issue that can actually make me physically angry if I dwell on it too much.

The triumph of Corbusierian modernism over neoclassical and Sullivanesque is an art history issue that makes me physically angry if I dwell on it too much -- because I dwell in it too much.
posted by Faze at 1:29 PM on November 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


A subjugation that also angered Ayn Rand, who used Sullivan as the model for the Henry Cameron character in The Fountainhead.

I suppose there had to be one thing Rand and I could agree on.

Carson Pirie Scott was another Chicago Sullivan; I used to just go and stand at the front entrance and marvel at all the details.

The iron facade was completely restored this year and it looks incredible. I walk past it every day -- photographs really don't do it justice. It's one of those rare things where both the massive scale and fine detail are equally overwhelming.

Of course you know, ornament is criminal.

Breaking the law, breaking the lawww
posted by theodolite at 1:30 PM on November 16, 2010


fiercecupcake, the Carson, Pirie, Scott bulding in Chicago is currently being renovated as residential complex named, appropriately, Sullivan Center.
posted by hwestiii at 1:32 PM on November 16, 2010


Oh, I can't wait to see it next time I'm in Chicago! Thanks for the update, both of y'all. It broke my heart when CPS closed -- I was worried as to what would happen to the building. I had kind of avoided looking it up, just in case.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:37 PM on November 16, 2010


Wow. Have loved Louis Sullivan since we studied his work in college (American Art and Architecture) and I had the joy of walking past one of his buildings, in Greenwich Village, every day for the 3 months I lived down the street from it. It never got old.
posted by bearwife at 1:45 PM on November 16, 2010


Care to summarize the issue for us?

The big architectural opportunity of the late nineteenth century was Chicago's Columbian Exhibition. 27 million fairgoers and thousands of exhibits required over 200 new buildings.

Daniel Burnham, the architect in charge of the general design of the fair, could have seized the chance to showcase the American design vernacular that Sullivan and a few fellow Jenney acolytes were bringing forth. Can you imagine? Thousands upon thousands of neonate designers coming home from the fair with fluent non-Euclidean parallelisms in their heads? What a country we might have had!

Instead, Burnham went Beaux Arts; so went the nation. Not that the Exhibition's buildings weren't gorgeous, but where we might have had a revolution, we had lots of small town banks done up like the Parthenon.
posted by Iridic at 1:53 PM on November 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'd never heard of a shape grammar before, but I love it. Now I want some machine-readable art deco grammars please.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:54 PM on November 16, 2010


Excellent stuff. Thanks, theodolite!
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:24 PM on November 16, 2010


It's only a short stroll around Chicago's Graceland Cemetery pond from Sullivan's grave to Mies van der Rohe's, who distilled Sullivan's dictum that "form ever follows function" by eschewing the ornamentation that Sullivan was so good at.

And it's an even shorter stroll from there to Sullivan's Getty Tomb (1890), sometimes said to be the beginning of modern architecture in America. Note the filligree on the bronze gates, prefiguring the Carson Pirie Scott Building by nine years.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:08 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've written before about the Sullivan elevator grilles that my parents rescued from the demolition of the Chicago Stock Exchange. The trading room was salvaged by someone else and eventually ended up reconstructed inside the Art Institute of Chicago; and the Museum of Modern Art has one of the grilles (as did, ca. 1988, Goldman Sachs), though I have no idea where the ones we used to own went to after they were finally sold.
posted by dhartung at 7:19 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a great new documentary out about Louis Sullivan, called Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture. I saw it at the Full Frame Doc festival this year and was very moved. I came home and scoured the web looking for these plates, finally finding only a few of them in various places. Thanks for this!
posted by statolith at 7:12 AM on November 17, 2010


There's a great book that just came out about Louis Sullivan: The Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan. The book was apparently started over fifty years ago (the original photographer was, sadly, killed while photographing the demolition of one of Sullivan's buildings), and it's amazingly comprehensive. Expensive, but well worth it for Sullivan fans.
posted by klausness at 9:46 AM on November 27, 2010


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