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Louis Sullivan and the Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building

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Art Nouveau is a very renowned style of art, applied art, and architecture. It is an influential design movement and an international philosophy. The name “Art Nouveau” itself means “new art” in the French language, and is also known as “Jugendstil” in German, which shows an encapsulation of vitality and youth, literally translated as “youth style”. The name “Jugendstil” derives from the Munich magazine ‘Jugend’, first published in the year 1896, which soon became a big promoter of the movement. Other countries, such as Fig. 1 Russia knew the movement as “Modern”, which could well have come from the famous Parisian gallery “La Maison Moderne”, however this is not fully known. “Secession” was its name in Austria-Hungary and its state successors, aptly named after the “Viennese Secession”; a group of Austrian artists, sculptors and architects, who had broken away from the ‘Association of Austrian Artists’. It was known in Italy as “Stile Liberty”; the name taken from the London department store ‘Liberty & Co.’, in which the style was largely popularised. Art Nouveau is beautifully inspired by structure and form through the natural world; not only in flora such as plants and flowers, but also by curvature in line work (examples fig. 1, 2 top, left). Architects attempted to incorporate these styles and principles into their work, trying to harmonise with the natural environment. Art Nouveau is also considered a philosophy in the design of furniture, which means that furniture itself, should be designed based upon the whole building and made part of ordinary life – form and function working together in harmony.

“The last third of the 19 century saw the development of a fundamentally new approach to architecture and interior design. All over Europe there was a need for a liberating change of direction, a desire to break away from set formulas based on a pastiche of historical styles and a search for original ideas, all of which resulted at the beginning of the 1890’s in the birth of Art Nouveau.” The origins of this large and influential movement can be traced back to the 19 th century, when Czechoslovakian born printer Alphonse Mucha (seen in fig. 3 left) developed lithographic posters depicting large colourful, floral motifs, that were put out on the streets of Paris in an advertising campaign, addressing the merits and beauty of natural living. This movement quickly spread to Glasgow via Munich and eventually to Moscow, as more lithographic posters (example poster fig. 4 left) were displayed across big name high street department stores like Fortnum & Masons, Fenwicks and Carneges.

During the same era, America and Europe were witnessing very large and drastic changes within society, mainly around the dramatic spread of industrialisation. This resulted in substantial wealth being created and then concentrated on commercial and industrial cities. Factories began to heavily incorporate mass production methods into their manufacture, which created a new class of workers and made goods of vast ranges more widely available than had previously been seen. It was this industrial boom, and the major changes in production and manufacture, that influenced and spurred Mucha to create his stylistic posters how he did. From then on, the initial aim was to reintroduce craftsmanship, a variety of creative skills, and art through natural form back into manufacture, as the art of manual craft was quickly dying out;

Art Nouveau reached its zenith within the 20 century, spreading rapidly through Europe into a wide range of cities, such as Paris and Nancy in France, Berlin, Munich & Darmstadt in Germany, Brussels, Barcelona, Glasgow, Vienna and England (which was in fact the country where curved forms first appeared).

Each city had its own interpretation on Art Nouveau, which led the way to the movement itself becoming universal within Europe; however they all stayed true to the base ideals of the style – the essence of sinuous, extended curvature through line, which was found in every design of the style, albeit artwork, furniture or architecture. The rigid order of straight lines and right angles were strongly rejected in favour of natural movement. Whether it was realistic natural forms or abstract shapes of organic vitality, emphasis was always on decorative pattern and flat features.

There was a unanimous feeling of diversity, and an airy lightness within works of Art Nouveau, which brought with it freedom in the style itself. It was this freedom which the activists of the movement were striving for to begin with. They wanted this artistic and natural beauty brought back into society; and subsequently was successful, due to its effectiveness, impact upon society, and the fact that the skills involved were very easily transferrable from master to pupil.

Outside of Europe, America also embraced the ever growing Art Nouveau style, mainly in its larger cities like New York, and more importantly, Chicago. Chicago took a huge liking to Art Nouveau within the 20 century, being a city which had seen extensive financial, commercial and industrial growth at the turn of the century. This was down to a number of key Fig. 5 figurehead architects and designers. This burst of prosperity had surprisingly emerged from a devastating fire, later known as “The Great Chicago Fire” (depicted in fig. 5, 6 top, left). The disaster was a conflagration, which burned from the 8 th th largest U.S. disasters of the 19th century, with the second star upon the Municipal flag of Chicago, commemorating the tragedy.

Much like a sapling sprouting from the burned ashes of a forest fire, the city of Chicago began to rebuild; creating a bigger and better city than before. A man called Joseph Medill, truly captured the sense of the city in a ‘Tribune’ editorial he wrote on the 11 October (fig. 7 left): “In the midst of a calamity without parallel in the world’s history, looking upon the ashes of thirty years’ accumulations, the people of this once beautiful city have resolved that Chicago Shall Rise Again”. A message such as that is what the populace needed to boost their spirits; to drive them on to build a Fig. 7 more prosperous future for Chicago. Alot of the city, including stockyards and railroads, luckily survived the fire intact, so from the charred remains of the previous timber structures, constructions of more modern origins arose; comprised of stone and steel. These modern methods of construction proved to be so successful that they went on to set the precedent for future worldwide construction. Improvements to the current mass transit systems (such as trams – fig. 8 left) were being created throughout the city and radical new innovations were being implemented; alongside a collection of new railway stations being built, subsequently making the railroads central to the life of the city. From this, horizontal city expansion began to greatly Fig. 8 accelerate, boosting people’s faith in the revival. The city also began to grow upwards, with the rise of new buildings, such as skyscrapers, which promoted the vertical growth of Chicago.

Architects and structural engineers flocked to the city around this time; taking full advantage of the ever growing prosperity. It was these people, along with resident Chicagoan architects and engineers, which developed the new forms of design and construction as they rebuilt. As mentioned earlier, there were a number of figureheads who introduced Chicago to Art Nouveau on a large scale. One of these principal figureheads (arguably the most influential) was the late, great architect Louis Sullivan (fig. 9 left); one of the few American architects to find a place in the international Art Nouveau movement. He was nothing less than an amazing man and a brilliant architect. Sullivan perceived design and architecture from a different angle than most; standing strongly by his most famous saying “life is recognisable in its expression, that form ever follows function.

This is the law” (eventually shortened to “form follows function”), which not surprisingly, became the ‘battle-cry’ of thousands of architects Fig. 9 within the modernist movement; still widely being used today. The phrase is essentially a belief, placing the demands of aesthetics below practicality. Influential architects and designers literally took the phrase to imply that ornamentation upon the more modern buildings was ultimately considered excessive and deemed unnecessary. Contrary to this belief, Sullivan himself never designed, let alone thought along those kinds of dogmatic avenues during the more successful years of his career. His buildings had every possibility, in their principle masses, to be simple and minimalistic, however he often chose to punctuate their bare surfaces with eruptions of elegant Art Nouveau Fig. 10 ornaments and decorations extracted from the Celtic Revival (example left). The designs ranged from natural organic forms such as ivy and vines, to more geometric, interlaced designs, inspired by his heritage of Irish design. He had them cast in terra cotta (and in some cases iron), due to Terra cotta being easier to work with than stone masonry; not to mention that is considerably lighter.

Aside from his phrases, beliefs and design methodology, he is more commonly known as the “father of skyscrapers”, due to the majority of the architectural world considering him as the creator of the modern skyscraper. They consider him the creator because he was on the ‘modern construction’ bandwagon sweeping Chicago; being practically the first architect to construct his skyscrapers using steel frames. In times previous, the strength of skyscrapers and high rises came from the strength of the load-bearing walls.

Obviously, the taller the building, the more strain there would be upon the lower sections of the building. This restricted how high they could build before it became unstable and dangerous. The only way around this was to make the lower load bearing walls ridiculously thick, which was a waste of materials and space; however, the steel construction methods Sullivan used, changed those rules completely (fig.11 left). The steel frame lattice designs supported the loads as opposed to the walls, and distributed the weight throughout the buildings more evenly. It actually proved to be so effective that it was used in a bounty of other tall buildings which were quickly being erected at the time. Their exteriors were also subject to his Art Nouveau/Celtic decorated ornaments.

With these designs, Sullivan successfully brought elements of nature into the urban landscape, much like Alphonse Mucha in Paris, and achieving what the Art Nouveau movement set out to achieve in the first place. Fig. 11 His great influence within architecture allowed him to position as a critic of the Chicago School, and become an inspiration of the Prairie School (a group of Chicagoan architects). More interesting is the fact that he happened to be a mentor to none other than Frank Lloyd Wright; sharing many of his abilities, influencing Wright to also inform his designs around the natural world, despite him developing a very different aesthetic. Along with Frank Lloyd Wright and another architect by the name of Henry Hobson Richardson, Sullivan is one of the ‘recognised trinity’ of American architecture.

Louis Sullivan designed a menagerie of buildings in his career, most of which were constructed in Chicago – Selz, Schwab and Company Factory, Standard Club of Chicago, Hebrew Manual Training School and James H. Walker Warehouse and Company Store, to name just a few. However, there is one building which Sullivan designed and constructed towards the end of his career, which is arguably the most influential building he had ever created and indeed the most influential building Chicago had ever seen to Fig. 12 date (in terms of construction and Art Nouveau ornamentation).

In 1872, two men called Leopold Schlesinger and David Mayer formed a business partnership, which began after they immigrated to Chicago from the state of Bavaria, beginning on the long road to the development and production of the Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building (fig. 12 left) – Sullivan’s influential building and contribution to Chicago. The building was to be commercial, built on the corner of East Madison Street; with the address – 1

South State Street, and was first called the ‘Schlesinger and Mayer Department Store’, which saw completion in 1899, however it was expanded and sold to Carson Pirie Scott and Company in 1904. Chicago also happened to have just emerged from a depression in the 1870’s and with it came the resurgence of State Street. It made perfect sense to make this the central location for the building, as it had become a desirable area of the city.

Staying true to his construction methodology, Sullivan designed the building around a remarkable steel-framed structure (fig. 13 left), which allowed for a dramatically increased window area. This area was shown physically by the use of by bay-wide windows (fig. 14 bottom left), which in turn, allowed for the highest percentage of daylight entering into the large interiors of the building. This then allowed for the creation and presentation of larger retail displays, visible to outside pedestrian traffic walking by. This design feature created the idea of the ‘sidewalk showcase’, with the aim of attracting Fig. 13 more potential customers – an effective move to make, in order to rival the other department stores in the city. In between the large windows were extravagant bands of lavish terra cotta, to further attract the eye towards the building and the windows. The initial plan was for Sullivan to use white Georgia quarries; but he reverted to using terra cotta (as he did many times on his previous buildings) Another reason for the Fig. 14 material change, was that stonecutters in 1898 were striking through the duration of construction; so material choice was limited.

To compliment the terra-cotta decoration, highly detailed, cast-iron, Bronze-plated, ornamental work was added above the rounded tower at the top of the building. Both the use of terra cotta and bronze was important to ensuring the building was unique, due to the fact that not only was it beautiful ornamentation, but it essentially made the exterior fire resistant; the bronze was as resistant as copper sheets and the terra cotta was a clay-based ceramic. It subsequently created a strong sense of monumentality.

Sullivan truly thought that the building would be a great asset to Chicago for a long time, and so took extra precaution against the dangers of fire, by installing a 40 foot water tower upon the roof, so the sprinkler system would be supplied with enough water (despite the exterior already being substantially fire resistant). The famous corner entry of the department store (north-east entrance, fig. 15 left) is what made the building so famous and influential, and is why it is still to this day. It was meant to be seen both from State Street and Madison Street, hence the curvature, as opposed to a typical angled corner.

The amazing green ironwork ornamentation (fig. 16 bottom left) that covers the entrance writhes around its canopies, giving the entire store an elegant Fig. 14 unique persona, which was of paramount importance to the competitiveness of the neighbouring retail stores. It proved to be an effective and successful Fig. 15 representation of Art Nouveau and Celtic art. In the first few years of development there was a small addition added to the building that soon grew to be highly valuable in spotting the building from a distance. The pedestrian bridge was this addition, and connected the train station (located behind the department store on Wabash Avenue), to the buildings second floor. This feature was also covered in elaborate metalwork, much like the rest of the exterior, providing a special Fig. 16 sense of entry into the building.

The building is part of the Chicago school, being one of its classic structures. The ornate decorative panels on the lower stories of the building were eventually accredited to being a design creation of George Grant Elmslie, who was the chief draftsman of Sullivan’s after Frank Lloyd Wright ended up leaving the firm. Elmslie also left the firm himself after a while, taking with him the same distinct scrollwork panel designs, which were later seen creeping back into the public eye in his own designs; with Sullivan’s style proceeding elsewhere. Despite their differences in design, both Sullivan and Elmslie extracted their designs and techniques from very similar sources, that being the influence of Celtic art and Celtic metalwork. The way Elmslie used this particular technique on the lower floors of the building was so intricate and elaborate that it utilised shadows and natural light, to create an illusion where the lower floors appeared to be floating above the ground.

On the opposite end of the building, the top floors of the 1899 and 1904 sections of the building had been recessed in order to make way for the creation of a narrow loggia (gallery or corridor which is open to the outside), finalised by an intricately detailed cornice, which projected outwards and beyond the building façade. This feature ended up being completely removed towards the year of 1948 (approximately), with the 12th floor then being redesigned, so the designs then matched that of the lower floors. As the years passed, the building became more popular and successful, with subsequent expansions being added and completed by Daniel Burnham in 1906 and Holabird and Root in 1961. In 2007, the department store finally closed its doors once and for all, ceasing to be the Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company building. Today, the 56,000 m building is now known as building grow and evolve into what it is today. Both the interior and exterior saw many design changes, however the one feature which always stayed the same was of course, the building’s magnificent Art Nouveau entrance.

There were few places in the world between the 19 and 20 centuries which presented so much of an insistent statement of modern design and construction than that of State Street, Chicago. Louis Sullivan gave architecture a vivid definition, most prominently in the Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company building. It is nothing less than a work of art. I honestly think that the modernity of the building is deeply rooted into the historical process of industrial transformation in society.

This time had revealed the department store paradigm as a characteristic institution. Sullivan at this time observed and studied society very closely, often giving his own opinions, until he eventually contributed himself; taking into consideration everything he’d studied to create architecture that that showed extreme progress and near perfection for the era. Sullivan’s architectural methodology was based around perceiving a building as an organic form, having a visible outward form as the characterisation of its internal life. It seems that he wanted to realise the concept of continuity and wholeness of form; showing a building as an expression of a living thing. The Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company building is an ideal example of this idea, as the artistic Art Nouveau exterior works with the function of the building i.e. the ornamental enrichment was closely linked to the techniques used in the building’s window displays.

The ornamentation intentionally attracted the outside world by emphasising the large windows and their displays. Here we have form working together with function in a perfect agreement. You cannot deny that at the turn of the century, his work was seen as definite proof of the vitality of a regional school of architecture and could also be compared to European Art Nouveau, as an effort to free architecture from the dependence it had on historical styles. He created architecture that was of his own design and his own ideas. This is definitely evident with the Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company building. It was the culmination of Sullivan’s work; his tribute to the Art Nouveau movement, and one of his final contributions to the rapid development of Chicago. In many senses, I’d say the building is also the culmination of Art Nouveau (due to Art Nouveau mostly disappearing throughout the First World War) and the pinnacle of the growth in the city. He gave the world modern construction techniques and opened us up to whole new side of architecture of which the world had never seen before.


1. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. (Last Modified: 21 July 2012) Art Nouveau [Online] Available at: nd http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_nouveau [Accessed 22 July 2012] 2. Quoted (by Keiichi Tahara) from: Tahara, K, 2000, Art Nouveau Architecture, London: Thames & Hudson, pg. 10 ISBN: 0-50028-259-5 3. JVJ Publishing – Illustrators (Last Modified: 2011) Mucha, by Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. [Online] rd Available at: http://www.bpib.com/illustrat/mucha.htm [Accessed 23 July 2012] 4. Kingsley, R, 1998, Art Nouveau Architecture and Furniture, London: Grange Books, pg. 7 ISBN: 1-84013-123-3 5. Tahara, K, 2000, Art Nouveau Architecture London: Thames & Hudson, pg. 11 ISBN: 0-50028-259-5 6. Kingsley, R, 1998, Art Nouveau Architecture and Furniture, London: Grange Books, pg. 7 ISBN: 1-84013-123-3 7. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. (Last Modified: 1 August 2012) The Great Chicago Fire [Online] th Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Chicago_Fire [Accessed 4 August 2012] 8. Quoted (by Joseph Medill) from: Harold, M, 1969, Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis, Chicago: London: University of Chicago, pg. 117 ISBN: 0-22651-273-8 9. Harold, M, 1969, Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis, Chicago: London: University of Chicago Press, pg. 124 – 128 ISBN: 0-22651-273-8 10. Quoted (by Louis Sullivan) from: Siry, J, 1988, Carson, Pirie, Scott: Louis Sullivan and the Chicago Department Store, Chicago: London: University of Chicago Press, pg. 235 ISBN: 0-22676-136-3 11. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. (Last Modified: 24 July 2012) Louis Sullivan [Online] Available at: th http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Sullivan [Accessed 24 July 2012] 12. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. (Last Modified: 24 July 2012) Louis Sullivan [Online] Available at: th http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Sullivan
[Accessed 24 July 2012] 13. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. (Last Modified: 24 July 2012) Louis Sullivan [Online] Available at: th http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Sullivan [Accessed 24 July 2012] 14. O’Gorman, James F, 1991, Three American Architects: Richardson, Sullivan and Wright, Chicago: London: University of Chicago Press ISBN: 0-22662-071-9 15. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. (Last Modified: 24 July 2012) Louis Sullivan [Online] Available at: th http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Sullivan [Accessed 25 July 2012] 16. Siry, J, 1988, Carson, Pirie, Scott: Louis Sullivan and the Chicago Department Store, Chicago: London: University of Chicago Press, pg. 65,66 ISBN: 0-22676-136-3 17. Siry, J, 1988, Carson, Pirie, Scott: Louis Sullivan and the Chicago Department Store, Chicago: London: University of Chicago Press, pg. 225 – 226 ISBN: 0-22676-136-3 18. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. (Last Modified: 22 June 2012) Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building [Online] Available at: th http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carson,_Pirie,_Scott_and_Company_Building [Accessed 26 July 2012] 19. Siry, J, 1988, Carson, Pirie, Scott: Louis Sullivan and the Chicago Department Store, Chicago: London: University of Chicago Press, pg. 93 – 158 ISBN: 0-22676-136-3 nd th th th th st

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