Form follows function is an architectural mantra that has been repeated so often that it’s become white noise. It’s something someone says when they’re talking about architecture, especially when they’re talking about architecture in Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But for one architect, form ever follows function was a plea for the belief that each structure should be designed for its specific use. One building should not be interchangeable with another, especially when what happens within a building differs based on its occupants.
To Louis Sullivan, a building was not a building was not a building.
Louis Sullivan was by all accounts a genius and by most an arrogant misanthrope with an ego to rival that of his protegé, Frank Lloyd Wright. He suffered no fools, and to him, fools were those who relied on the tired influence of Greek and Roman classicism. Just because you slapped neo on the front didn’t make it new. What Louis wanted, what he felt architecture needed, was an entirely new design language that was utilitarian without being boring, and artistic without being frivolous. He wanted a distinct, and democratic, American architecture—and he created it.
What is now known as Sullivan Center is considered the most significant example of Louis’ design ethos.
Read more about this landmark in Living Landmarks of Chicago.
Completed: 1899; 1906
Architects: Louis Sullivan; D. H. Burnham & Co. (using Sullivan’s design)
Address: 9 E. Madison St.
Sources for Schlesinger & Mayer (Sullivan Center)
This is a selection of specific sources used to provide details while researching this landmark. Additional sources, including books and websites, can be found on the Resources page.
- Architectural Record. New York City: The Record and Guide, 1891.
- City of Chicago Landmark Designation Report
- Descriptive inventory for the Carson Pirie Scott records, ca. 1869-1988, bulk 1925-1977. Source: Finding Aids Collection at the Chicago History Museum.
- “Henry Siegel Buys a Half Interest in Schlesinger & Mayer’s Big Department Store in Chicago.” New York Times, 14 Jun 1902
- Leonard, John W. The Book of Chicagoans. Chicago: A. N. Marquis & Co., 1905.
- Merchants And Manufacturers Illustrated Chicago Guide for 1880. Chicago: Fox, Cole & Co, 1880.
- Miller, Hugh C, and United States. National Park Service. The Chicago School of Architecture: a Plan for Preserving a Significant Remnant of America’s Architectural Heritage. Washington: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service [For sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. Govt. Print. Off.], 1973.
- National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form
- Randall, John D. Guide to Significant Chicago Architecture of 1872 to 1922. [Limited ed.] Glencoe, Ill., 1958.
- Soucek, Gayle. Carson’s: The History of a Chicago Shopping Landmark. United States, Arcadia Publishing Incorporated, 2013.