the original skyscrapers were made in a traditional classical proportion system

Transportation Building, Chicago 1893–94

Transportation Building, Chicago 1893–94 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Louis Sullivan famously coined the phrase 'for...

Louis Sullivan famously coined the phrase ‘form ever follows function’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Archival photograph of the Carson Pirie Scott ...

Archival photograph of the Carson Pirie Scott building, Chicago, Illinois. Louis Sullivan, architect. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SULLIVAN, LOUIS (1856–1924). One of the prominent members of
the Chicago School, Louis Sullivan was instrumental in establishing
what is considered the most innovative building type in the United
States: the skyscraper. Sullivan was born in Boston and trained at
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which housed the first
university-based architectural program; he settled in Chicago in
1875. In Chicago, he became acquainted with the technical innovations
in architecture, including the use of steel. Steel constructions
were first introduced in Chicago by the architect William Le Baron
Jenney, and subsequent architects favored this stronger, lighter material
because it allowed them to build taller structures in cities that
were increasingly crowded and therefore limited in space. With this
technical know-how, the first elevator was introduced in 1889, making
a tall skyscraper logistically feasible.
Sullivan’s Wainwright Building, constructed in St. Louis in 1890,
is one of the first buildings of this new type. This building reveals a
design introduced for these increasingly vertical structures: a threepart
division in emulation of the classical column with its base, shaft,
and ornate capital. The base is the shops, located at street level and
designed with tall windows for the display of merchandise. A mezzanine
level, also with tall windows, serves as an “attic” to the storefront
level. From there a thick entablature divides the building’s base
from its shaft, which is articulated with seven horizontal registers of
windows. The building is capped with a tall frieze and wide cornice,
both of which are carved out with a decorative pattern that can be
easily seen from street level. This frieze also serves as an attic level
to conceal the mechanics of the elevators. Thus, the original skyscrapers
were made in a traditional classical proportion system. A Ushaped
interior plan allowed light to the internal rooms. Sullivan
went on to apply the design principles he established for the early
skyscraper to his Carson Pirie Scott Department Store, built in
Chicago in 1899. In keeping with his famous motto “form follows
function,” these buildings reveal Sullivan’s careful balance between
technical aspects of construction and his more subtle use of historical

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