Nature and Soul in America: Understanding the Roles of Style and Ornamentation in Louis Sullivan’s Design Philosophy (Essay)

American Architect Louis Sullivan (1856 – 1924) was a revolutionary force in design during the late 19th-century; a period of significant economic growth and architectural activity in America. His compositions are immediately recognizable, known for their capitalist grandeur and vast spectrum of detail, ranging from macro concerns such as size, material, and proportion to the minute, including intricate foliage and tracery motifs.

As a polymath of the industrial age, Sullivan earnestly studied topics concerning the built environment at large, the American zeitgeist, and the role of nature in American design practice. In keeping with professional tradition, he contributed essays and poetry as thoughtful commentary on the work of the age, including his own. In two of these essays, Sullivan’s beliefs pertaining to Style and Ornamentation are revealed.

Sullivan’s essays, Style (1888) and Ornament in Architecture (1892) will be summarized and dissected in order to distill the keys to his arguments, which will then be identified in important building examples, clarifying the impact of his written and constructed essays.

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