With his plans for high-rise buildings in the Chicago of the 1890s, Louis Sullivan declared himself a revolutionary. His approach was very simple: a skyscraper, he announced, “must be tall every inch of it tall. The force and power of altitude must be in it, the glory and pride of exaltation must be in it.”
That achitecture was to be his field was at first less than clear, however. Louis Sullivan twice took up an academic career. Born in Boston, he first studied in his home city, but left the Institute of Technology after only a year. Neither did he stay long at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Back in Chicago, he was active above all as an interior decorator. But it was not to be long before, in his mid-2os, this son of a Swiss mother and an Irish dance teacher finally found his metier and his place, in the heart of Chicago.
After great areas of the city had been destroyed by the great fire of 1871, rebuilding proceeded at top gear. For the first time, architects resorted to a new construction method: rather than building thick walls to support the weight of the building, they constructed load-bearing frameworks of steel. Over the years that followed, business and office high-rises of metal and glass shot up into the air. And many of them were Sullivan’s. From 1880 he worked in the office of the architect Dankmar Adler.
The two executed their commissions for office buildings and department stores with a very clear division of labor: Adler was the engineer, Sullivan the designer. The combination worked well, and a first major commission was the building of the opera house, incorporated into a ten-story building. The trend took off, and in 1890-1891 the two architects designed their first skyscraper with a steel skeleton, the Wainwright Building. More skyscrapers followed. The Guaranty Building, built in Buffalo by Adler & Sullivan up to 1895, by no means disguised its height in the facade; the vertical is clearly emphasized in the surface of decorative terracotta.
Form Follows Function
Sullivan’s conviction was that a building’s structure, function, and appearance should form a harmonious whole. Architectural decoration could certainly play its part, but it should be subordinate to function. With the Schlesinger & Mayer Store (today Carson, Pirie & Scott), in 1899-1904 Sullivan provided a fine example of this principle. The two lower floors of the building show his weakness for rich ornamentation. In the tower-like extension of one corner of the building is the entrance to the store, richly decorated with wrought iron.
From the third story, the situation looks different, however: the load-bearing metal framework of the building is clearly apparent, and the windows are set well back behind the steel framework. The extent of the stories as horizontal elements is as strongly emphasized as the vertical lines. This creates a cell-like structure on the surface of the building. Unlike many high-rise buildings, the Schlesinger & Mayer Store has a curved main corner above the main entrance.
Major Works of Louis Sullivan
Martin Ryerson Tomb, Graceland Cemetery, Chicago (1887)
Auditorium Building, Chicago (1889)
Carrie Eliza Getty Tomb, Graceland Cemetery, Chicago (1890)
Wainwright Building, St. Louis (1890)
Charlotte Dickson Wainwright Tomb, Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis (1892) which is lised on the National Register of Historic Places  is considered a major American architectural triumph, a model for ecclesiastical architecture, a “masterpiece”, and has been called “the Taj Mahal of St. Louis.” Interestingly, the family name appears nowhere on the tomb.
Union Trust Building (now 705 Olive), St. Louis (1893; street-level ornament heavily altered 1924)
Guaranty Building (formerly Prudential Building), Buffalo (1894)
Springer Block (later Bay State Building and Burnham Building) and Kranz Buildings, Chicago (1885–1887)
The Auditorium Building, Auditorium Hotel and Auditorium Theater (now Roosevelt University), Chicago (1886–1890)
Selz, Schwab & Company Factory, Chicago (1886–1887)
Commercial Loft for Wirt Dexter, Chicago (1887)
Standard Club of Chicago, Chicago (1887–1888)
Hebrew Manual Training School, Chicago (1889–1890)
James H. Walker Warehouse & Company Store, Chicago (1886–1889)
Warehouse for E. W. Blatchford, Chicago (1889)
Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv Synagogue (also known as the K.A.M. Temple, later known as the Pilgrim Baptist Church), Chicago (1890–1891)
James Charnley House (also known as the Charnley–Persky House Museum Foundation and the National Headquarters of the Society of Architectural Historians), Chicago (1891–1892)
Albert Sullivan Residence, Chicago (1891–1892)
Transportation Building, World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago (1891–1893)
McVicker’s Theater, second remodeling, Chicago (1890–1891)
Bayard Building, (now Bayard-Condict Building), 65–69 Bleecker Street, New York City (1898). Sullivan’s only building in New York, with a glazed terra cotta curtain wall expressing the steel structure behind it.
Commercial Loft of Gage Brothers & Company, Chicago (1898–1900)
Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church and Rectory, Chicago (1900–1903)
Carson Pirie Scott store, (originally known as the Schlesinger & Mayer Store, now known as “Sullivan Center”) Chicago (1899–1904)
Virginia Hall of Tusculum College, Greeneville, Tennessee, 1901
Van Allen Building, Clinton, Iowa (1914)
St. Paul’s Methodist Church, Cedar Rapids, Iowa (1910)
Krause Music Store, Chicago (final commission 1922; front façade only)