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PRINT October 1977

Louis Sullivan’s Ornament

WHEN THE AUDITORIUM BUILDING OPENED in Chicago on December 9, 1889, Louis H. Sullivan, at the age of 34, had already become a master of his art and a popular success. The Auditorium Building provided Chicago with an architectural masterpiece—a fully realized plexus of form, expressive structure and ornament. It fused into a dynamic whole the sense of abstract form latent in the work of H.H. Richardson, the facts and techniques of an emerging technological era, and the sentiments of an age of romance, rhetoric and representation. Sullivan’s genius in 1889 was his ability to provide this synthesis. Yet despite his resolution of the conflict between structural expression and representative style, and of the split between ornament and pure form, his achievement was a singular one, unwanted either by his contemporaries or by the new men of 20th-century architecture.

The 20th century particularly

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