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Taking Momentum of a Whole Civilization

David Van Zanten received his Ph.D. from Harvard (1970). His writings are based on the nineteenth century architecture of Louis Sullivan. Currently, he’s the Mary Jane Crowe Professor in Art and Art History at Northwestern University.

Albert Bush-Brown (1926-1994) was an architectural historian and American university president of Long Island University. Before passing, Bush-Brown wrote a book dedicated to the works of Louis Sullivan.

Newly proclaimed architect “Louis Sullivan set out to shape society with his architecture and dreamed to take momentum of a whole civilization.”1 Leaving a deeply imprinted hand print embedded within the world of architecture, Louis Sullivan, a famous architect of the 1890’s, captivated the thoughts of two professors, both intelligent and authors of two famous books written about Louis Sullivan. Inspired by the meaning behind Louis Sullivan’s architectural influence on society, Albert Bush-Brown poetically wrote a book based on Chicago’s architecture during the 1890’s. The book Louis Sullivan is strongly centered around the talented styles of Louis Sullivan. Bush-Brown embraces the metaphoric styles and basic laws Sullivan uses in his theories of the relationship between architecture and society. In contrast to the poetic side of Louis Sullivan comes a broader sophisticated viewpoint on the struggles and uniqueness in detail of structure. “Metaphorically, his career, as well as his architectural spaces, is an unrelenting struggle outwards toward light.”2  In David Van Zanten’s book Sullivan’s City: The Meaning of Ornament for Louis Sullivan, Van Zanten explores the idea that ornament was increasingly central to Sullivan’s whole architectural enterprise. He deepens his theory of ornament with fact based upon Sullivan’s professional business life and architectural mind set, which was based on transcendental ideas. Although inspired through the same works of the talented Louis Sullivan, Albert Bush-Brown and David Van Zanten take different views on why Sullivan’s architectural designs where so powerful in shaping and advancing the exterior, interior, and society in Chicago during the 1890’s and early 1900’s.

Bush-Brown passionately opens up his book with a devoted speech about the power of creativity and how it shaped the mind set of Sullivan when he created beautiful structures. The beginning half of the book describes Sullivan’s first influence on architecture as a child and the origin of his parents, who were both immigrants. Skipping a few years, Bush-Brown takes a closer look on Chicago and the points of view of the citizens, which, during the 1890’s was based on taking sides to form their identity by choosing one of the following: “archaeology or science, heritage or progress, foreign orientation or indigenous resoursefulness.”3 This section thus leads to his early life as an architect. Bush-Brown vividly talks about the partnership of “Alder and Sullivan in 1880.”4 Although only a young adult Sullivan and his partnership became  a successful move in his career. Adler and he were able to astonish audience with their teamwork in construction. Adler had a strength in the construction outline and Sullivan excelled creatively adding and creating fine details to make the structures stand out. Together became strong successful business partners. Sullivan’s creativity sprang early, he began creating principles and theories for his work as he strived to create a new style in order to shape society and the momentum.

By 1890, “Sullivan was seeking a principle of composition with grammar expressive of his society.”5 Bush-Brown ties in Sullivan’s principles with his Theory of “Form Follows Sturcture.”6 Sullivan believed that a building must express the environment from which it develops, both physical and social aspects. For the time that passed, Sullivan became successful in his craftsmanship until the 1900s. The author touches upon the premisses of Sullivan’s work. And the hard times he faced due to the panic of 1893. Due to the low income Alder and Sullivan split. Although Alder and Sullivan split, new opportunity arose with the help of Burnham and the Colombian Exposition, where Sullivan was hired to assist Burnham with the write ups and designs for new buildings. Bush-Brown concluded his book with a sign of hope that Sullivan’s buildings and his talent were able to walk as he began his solo act as an architect.

David Van Zanten begins with an introduction of Sullivan’s method for buildings, in his book Sullivan’s City: The meaning of Ornament for Louis Sullivan. He concludes with a section of Sullivan’s early life and works with Adler and Sullivan and his transcendental thoughts, inspired by Waldo Emerson, as well as the architects he admired, such as Daniel Burnham. Van Zanten follows with descriptions and photographs of buildings first created by Sullivan, such as the Auditorium building which was “the largest ten story building of the decade (1886).”7 The building was the first attempt to a modern day skyscraper, it was the first of many of Sullivan’s tall buildings. Zanten continues with the world of the 1890’s and the Colombian exposition, ran by Daniel Burnham who had hired Sullivan after the panic of 1893 as a draft designer.

Attempting to take on further challenges, Sullivan attempted to create a much larger building filled with multiple floors and following his ever so famous honey comb structure. Van Zanten describes, in detail, the struggles in not only building a sky scrapper but he also writes about a personal moment is Sullivan’s life when in “1895, Sullivan lost his surrounding board and his team member.”8 Positively, Van Zanten explain the way Sullivan sub came the lost through his passion for architecture. Unfortunately, society began to change and he slowly became unemployed and fell to alcohol. To sum up the book, Van Zanten took the liberty to create a conclusion, tying in all the facts he could gather to prove his thesis of ornament about Louis Sullivan. His thesis and conclusion is followed by an endless gallery of photographs. The conclusion states that Sullivan’s unique style is what was remembered in the end, even though he maybe forgotten today.

The altiloquence of appeal through these two authors is constructed through proposals  of two opposing views. Bush-Brown proposes Louis Sullivan’s masterpieces where through poetic craftsmanship and thought. “He broadened the technology of his own day by making it poetic, and he brought it as a symbol to serve the institution of industrial society; his art arose from his organization of scientific ideas, technical means, ultitarian demands, and romantic beliefs of his age.”9 Albert Bush-Brown suggest Sullivan was able to create such magnificent structures because he took and embraces the culture of society around him, and carried his beliefs, allowing them to stem out through his imagination while creating his magnificent statues of artwork. Bush-Brown supports his thesis by including the amount of influence Sullivan had on other inspiring architects, such as the famous Frank Lloyd Wright, who in turn distantly admired Sullivan’s work with a bitter attitude. The author also uses the laws Sullivan used to base his structures on to support his thesis. Sullivan’s main law dealt with shaping things to there inner most nature. Shaping things to there inner most nature was through using organisms as a basic stand point position, by doing this he was able to use his raw materials and creativity create a detailed building. He continues with a quote by Louis Sullivan, “The function of a building must organize its form.”10 However, regardless Van Zanten believed footprint left by Sullivan, in the world of architecture, was through his detail and ornament. Even when he was forgotten, Sullivan still maintained his authority due to the influence he left on other architects. It was through his fine detail that he was able to bring his uniqueness and a new style to Chicago’s buildings. Van Zanten supports this throughout his book in elaborate photographs and in vivid descriptions of Sullivan’s famous building; such as his theaters which were based on a series of  rows and columns in order to leave more room for small detail.11  Although  Bush-Brow’s opinion is based on the mindset of the draftsman and Van Zanten’s in on free hand design, both have to do with the structure of the engineer’s process of creating a masterpiece.

The two bestsellers are written with sophistication and with a solid point of view. Bush-Brown elaborates on the idea that Sullivan’s organic style and his imagination lead him to be viewed on a heroic scale. “His theory for an Organic style, and his command of traditional principles of composition, should suggest that his genius made architecture grow by evolution from the past”12  The author of Louis Sullivan was inspired to write due to the refinement of Modernism and a move to an even more contemporary look. Skyscrapers created a distinctly American structural type. As Bush-Brown informs the reader in his book, Louis Sullivan was among the first to create tall buildings, now known as skyscrapers. It was also during this time that Bush-Brown was president at Rhode Island School of Design. The following year, still inspired by the structure and change in society, Bush-Brown published another book regarding architecture. Fast forward forty years and another book about the architectural strategies of Louis Sullivan is published by David Van Zanten. During the year 2000, Van Zanten viewed society as technology advanced, building grew taller, and replicas and theaters began to be built. The advances lead Van Zanten to think about the detail within each project, whether it be in technology or in buildings. Captivated by the works of Louis Sullivan and the new detail being added to office buildings and sky scrappers, Van Zanten was inspired to write a book on the ornament of his works; which were being revived through architecture during the year 2000.  Van Zanten’s book Sullivan’s City: The Meaning of Ornament for Louis Sullivan “is an attempt to understand the peculiar force of the ornamental carapace Sullivan increasingly laid over his work as his career unfolded.”13  Van Zanten follows with saying Sullivan’s  works just might of transformed Chicago from fertile chaos, into one of the exemplary cities of a suddenly urbanized world. In saying this he allows the reader to see his point of view, the buildings in which Sullivan created made an impact on Chicago’s society physically and ethically. His essay is structured on the ornament of Louis Sullivan’s buildings leading to his success through his rich and vivid detail and transforming the society through his new style of art work which many found so richly inspiring.

“Understanding Louis Sullivan has been made difficult... the impressive books illuminate not only a very important, complex and sophisticated body of work but also something of the context with in which it was created.”14 Duffy follows his review by admitting he disagrees with Van Zanten when he says “Sullivan’s work has been forgotten.”15 Instead he says Sullivan’s work is still living in today’s building and will continue through the inspiration he has left behind. Duffy critiques the language used and structure of the book to describe Sullivan and says some sections where not at clear as he would of liked them to be. He continues speaking about the confusion he felt due to some on the language within the essay. In contrast to what Duffy felt about the article, Martin Filler’s opinions were bit higher on the positive note. "One of the best-designed architecture books to appear in recent memory . . ., handsomely illustrated with a fuller selection of historical views of Sullivan's work than can be found in any other book now in print, and supplemented by a fine new set of color photographs of Sullivan's most important surviving buildings."16  Filler does not complain about any confusion within the text and follows talking about the clarity of the text. In comparison to the review of Dufffy, Filler’s thought’s on Van Zanten’s Sulllivan’s City: The meaning of Ornament for Lewis Sullivan, raves about the book as a whole, while Duffy’s opinion contrast in almost every way. The two opposing reviews do not clarify or give a solid review/ impression of the book.

Unlike the critique for Van Zanten’s Sullivan’s City, Louis Sullivan, by David Ash-Brown critiques have positive words to say regarding his work.  “Most of only B&W illustrations are photos of a good quality, well balanced, crisp and legible. Like all from the Masters of World Architecture/Makers of Contemporary Architecture series, it is solid among architectural monographs.”17 Tenebaum focus more on the critique of the artwork within the essay rather the the words itself. Bush-Brown’s work seems to be portrayed as a good  informational picture book then a book capable of sharing valid information on the life and constructions of Louis Sullivan.

Both Bush-Brown and Van Zanten were captivated to write about Sullivan’s beautiful buildings. Ash-Brown’s book was written poetically and expressed with more creativity than Van Zanten. Ash-Brown’s book was more easy to follow and filled with colorful vocabulary as well as with an inside look on Sullivan’s thought process in creating a building. On the other hand, however, Van Zanten’s book was filed on a soothing professional tone. His book is packed with an abundant amount of information of Louis Sullivan’s business life, as well as the buildings he had constructed through out his life in Chicago. Van Zanten’s book focuses mainly on the building Sullivan contributed to society and his business life as well as photographs of Sullivan’s great structures.

The artwork described within the books, reflected american values in such a way that gave a great amount of structure in society. As Bush-Brown stated in his report “Structural realism and rational building.”18  Buildings we created with a modest architectural style, in hopes to keep the mind set of citizens modest,until Louis Sullivan began his architectural work. Bush-Brown also states in his article, “Gothic, Colonial conditions, and Christian architect lead to the promotion of moral behavior.”19 Sullivan’s art work influenced new architects to break away from change, add detail and to embrace their imagination through their artwork. Although Sullivan’s art work was mainly focused in the united states, his works were able to travel internationally to influence architects across seas.20 His work influenced the creation of theaters and high skyscrapers. His works stretched across the world to france. Still today his work is mimicked in building.

In conclusion, the mastermind of detail, theaters, and skyscrapers was colorfully written about in Albert Bush-Brown’s book Louis Sullivan, and boldly presented professionally through David Van Zanten in his thesis Sullivan’s City: A book of Ornament for Louis Sullivan. Though the inspiration of a world advancing through technology and changes in society both authors dedicated themselves to the study of Louis Sullivan and the impact he left on the world before and after his death. In the end, Louis Sullivan finally accomplished his dream, not only was he able to break the mold of modest architecture and create a new style that would influence society for the years that followed after his death, but he was able to take momentum of a whole civilization through his alluring edifices.

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2. Van Zanten, David. 154.
3. Bush-Brown, Albert. 13.
4. Bush-Brown, Albert.14.
5. Bush-Brown,Albert.18.
6. Bush-Brown, Albert .19.
7. Van Zanten,David.22.
8. Van Zanten, David.64.
9. Bush-Brown, Albert.7.
10. Bush-Brown, Albert. 8.
11. Van Zanten, David. 32.
12. Bush-Brown,Albert 7.
13. Van Zanten, David. IX
14. Duffy, Francis.2.
15. Van Zanten, David.153.
16. Filler, Martin.1
17. Tenebaum, Eugene.1
18. Bush-Brown, Albert.13
19. Bush-Brown, Albert. 12
20. Van Zanten, David.54