A Short Essay About The Guaranty/Prudential Building, Buffalo, New York, This Website and Louis Sullivan

Our society is of a culture immersed in logo, brand, symbol. From the mightiest corporation to the most rural tattooed teenager, all seek a way to distinguish themselves from the other. This can be through a series of signs known, or signs adopted. For triskaidekaphobia, we have adopted a structure familiar and modern: the skyscraper. In particular, we have adopted the Guaranty Building (also known as the Prudential Building), designed by Louis Sullivan and located in downtown Buffalo, NY, as our logo. Its inverted form graces most pages within the site, and serves not only as navigation, but as definition.

The Guaranty Building was designed by Louis Sullivan, and built in 1894. One of the first modern skyscrapers, its metal skeleton allowed it to soar above the skyline of the growing metropolis. Should it be viewed as strange coincidence or ominous portent that this structure has 13 floors inside its terra cotta skin? Whether you believe the former or the latter, it's of no matter: the building still stands. Now nearly vacant, with promise of resurrection, it is a symbol of a city, and a reminder that within the most obscure corners can lie neglected masterworks, whose life cannot be sustained by worth alone.

Designed, as said, by Louis Sullivan. One of the first great modern architects, Louis Sullivan was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1856. He studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for one year. He then worked as a draughtsman for Furness and Hewitt in Philadelphia and for William Le Baron Jenney in Chicago. In July 1874 Sullivan travelled to Europe where he studied in the Vaudremer studio at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He returned to Chicago a year later.

In 1879, he joined the office of Dankmar Adler (1844-1900), who had emigrated from Germany in 1854 and was established as an architect in Chicago by 1869. Sullivan was the design partner, while Dankmar Adler was the engineer. Their first major building, and no doubt the most spectacular in Chicago up to that time, was the Auditorium (1886-90), which was strongly influenced by Henry Hobson Richardson. Sullivan's interior decoration is exceedingly interesting, of a feathery vegetable character, derived perhaps partly from the Renaissance in an arts and crafts spirit but at the same time pointing forward to the license of art nouveau. The firm became Adler and Sullivan in 1881.

In 1888 Frank Lloyd Wright joined the firm to become its chief draftsman, the "pencil in Sullivan's hand." But in 1893 Wright left the firm under a cloud‹he had been designing houses on the side, under his own name, albeit while still in the employ of Adler and Sullivan. "This bad end to a glorious relationship has been a dark shadow to stay with me the days of my life," Wright would reflect. Sullivan was a difficult man, uncompromising and erratic, but his brilliance in undeniable - Wright was never shy about crediting Sullivan's influence on him.

Louis Sullivan's famous phrase was "Form Follows Function". Sullivan believed in a harmony between form and function. Form should express function. In this sense both are related to each other, because in his works: whatever the form is, it is describing the function of the building; whatever the function is; it is a reflection of the form of the building.

Sullivan's buildings were usually decorated with tasteful ornamentation, stamped in terra cotta or steel, which became a stylistic trademark of his work. These designs were highly detailed works, based on simple geometric forms that were then embellished with organic symbolism. This detailed designs, based in nature, gave a feeling of flow and life to Sullivan's buildings.

The origin of Sullivan's desire for a new style was a belief that the "fittest" buildings for any age should be the product of the spirit of that age. It was wrong to borrow the forms and details of buildings that had been created as expressions of the mystical spirit of now-extinct cultures. Sullivan demanded instead that architects develop new styles for the industrial age--styles that did not take the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome or the Middle Ages as the point of departure.

Sullivan's career started to fall apart around the turn of the century, when he suffered a psychological collapse. The breakup of his marriage deeply upset him, his partnership had dissolved, and to top it all off, his Chicago School-Style of architecture had fallen out of favor to a neo-classical style. He started to drink heavily and only designed a few small town banks in the next twenty years. However, these buildings (such as the People's Savings and Loan Association Bank in Sidney, Iowa (1917-8) and the National Farmer's Bank in Owatanna, Minnesota (1908) are beautiful.

In this later phase of his career, Sullivan wrote books - Kindergarten Chats (1902) and The Autobiography of an Idea (1922) - on what came to be called organic architecture. Sullivan insisted that architecture had to embody the human connection with nature and to democracy, while still accepting the most modern functional needs and materials. He railed against the prevailing architectural practitioners for failing to take these principles into account.

Sullivan designed some of the nation's boldest buildings, and later received an AIA gold medal and was considered the "Dean of American Architects". Yet he died in obscurity and poverty in a low class hotel in Chicago in 1924.

So let form always follow function, let ornamentation grow along the geometric. Let difficult ideas and persons be celebrated, and realize that behind the most severe form can grow work of unparalleled beauty. Its true nature will be discovered, even if all must be turned on its ear. Even the most celebrated person can die in obscurity, the grandest city can fall, and the noble idea be given over to rot.

In this structure, bad luck is built in ­ and if not bad luck, then its mark is imbued throughout. This structure, then, becomes a harbinger of a man's downfall, a city's decline, and so we delight in the symbolism of it all. Inversion? Inversion is always the symbol of distress, and what times may these be if not one of upheaval, chaos, neglect? For all these reason and more, do we salute Sullivan, the Guaranty Building, and the City of Buffalo in our choice of the inverted skyscraper.

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