Archive for the ‘chicago school’ Tag

Louis Sullivan’s Virginia Hall, Tusculum College

This is one of Louis Sullivan’s lesser-known buildings, located in Tusculum, Tennessee, about 90 minutes driving east of Knoxville. Here he created a stately, minimalist building, pretty much devoid of the ornament he was known for. In fact, despite being completed in 1901, around the same time as his lavishly decorated Schlesinger and Mayer department store (better known as the Carson Pirie Scott building), and before the first of his Jewel Box banks, it’s an anomaly among Sullivan’s structures. The building is more reminiscent of his very early work with Adler, like his houses in Lincoln Park.

The overall plan is very simple, notable for the roofline, where the nearly blank facade flares out at the very top, perhaps in a nod to his skyscrapers which ‘grow’ out of the ground. But the spare materials suggest that Sullivan had a small budget to work with, and was starting to face his well-documented financial and personal ruin.

Facade, Virginia Hall

Facade, Virginia Hall

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Roof detail, Virginia Hall

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Adler and Sullivan’s Wainwright and Guaranty Buildings

I had the chance to visit both of these masterworks of Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler, two early skyscrapers, one located in St. Louis, the other located in Buffalo. I suppose that they’re grouped together by the date of the two structures, and the similarity of materials.

The earlier of the two structures is the Wainwright, built in then-boomtown St. Louis in 1891. This is one of Adler and Sullivan’s earlier works, completed several years after their landmark Auditorium Building in Chicago. This building expresses mass and verticality at the same time. The overhang of the roof lends it a strong presence, while the unadorned columns are unabashedly vertical elements that make it appear taller than its 10 stories. The signature decoration of Sullivan is muted, in contrast to the Guaranty Building.

Wainwright Building, cornice

The contrast of the vertical and the horizontal

The Guaranty Building, completed in 1894, lies in a particularly distinguished corner of a distinguished downtown Buffalo, just down the street from all sorts of Art Deco jewels, and next to a Daniel Burnham creation. To me, the Guaranty Building is the more aesthetically pleasing of the two, more vertical in its sweep, especially with the outward curve of the structure at the top, and the wonderfully detailed carvings on the upper floors. The overriding feel here is delicacy. The columns in the Guaranty Building are decorated, in fact, the entire facade of the building is decorated, and the overall effect is that the steel frame of the building is very nearly exposed. The building comes across as almost precarious, nearly naked. It stands taller than the Wainwright by a few stories, and like Sullivan’s other structures, appears to grow out of its foundation.

Prudential (Guaranty) Building, Buffalo

Detail of the facade

Street view, note the decorative elements at the top