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Twenty Something Sullivan

Architectural Ornament 1881 – 1885
by Tom Burtonwood and Tim Samuelson

Louis H. Sullivan is often celebrated as a father of modern architecture. But if given the choice, it’s not what he would have wanted to be remembered for.

His advocacy was for directing the human powers of thought, reason and creativity towards bringing buildings and their component parts to vital life. As in nature, all parts would relate to the whole. And each would reflect the interpretive powers of the individual, including emotion-stirring beauty uniquely of the work of the individual creator.

By this process, a vital, perpetual modern architecture would be a natural result – not a hollow artificial goal.

Often forgotten are Louis H. Sullivan’s earliest works where these powers are most visually evident. His earliest buildings created while he was in his twenties push upwards from the ground and blossom against the sky. The ornamental details pulse with living organic energy juxtaposed with the modular geometry that is the essence of architecture.

Most of the buildings Sullivan created while in this twenties are lost, but many salvaged pieces of the ornamentation survive. Things that are alive need three dimensions to thrive.

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