Today's archidose #290

Construction of the Wainright Building in St. Louis, Missouri by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, 1890-1891.

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  1. Thanks for posting this historic photo of the Wainwright Building revealing its steel frame construction.

    It's not difficult to image the same sort of steel frame supporting a more recent skyscraper. However, Sullivan did not simply accept the structural engineer's geometry and simply mimic or represent it on the facade.

    Instead, the steel columns are coordinated with the overall geometry fo the building such that every other masonry pier contains a steel column (and is therefore structural). Therefore the alternate piers are non-structural.

    Some might believe this to be an example contradicting Sullivan's famous dictum that "Form follows function." From Sullivan's viewpoint, I don't think he saw any conflict whatsoever.

    I believe his understanding of a building's "function" to be much more than the technical realities hidden within the construction.

    The so-called Functionalists have completely misunderstood and misinterpreted Sullivan's concept regarding the function of architecture. Rather than some form of materialism, truth to materials, or the representation of a building's internal functions, Sullivan conceived of the function of architecture to be among the highest expressions of a culture.

    So a building is meant to satisfy deeper, more fundamental needs of a spiritual and psychological nature rather than an expression of mere matter.

    I believe Sullivan's ideas of "Organic Architecture" have been similarly misunderstood and misinterpreted by generations of architects attempting to follow his principles.

  2. To see additional images including completed images of the building by the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) from the early 20th century, click here.

    Links from these images also provide access to a rendering by Adler & Sullivan's office showing the proposal design (from the Western Manuscripts Collection at the University of Missouri Saint Louis).


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