The Rise Of The Skyscraper And The Fall Of Louis Sullivan


As his personal fortunes diminished, Sullivan became steadily more reclusive, moving to humble quarters in a Chicago hotel. His marriage, in 1899 at the age of fortytwo, had never taken hold and ended officially in 1916, when his wife, from whom he had been separated for years, formally divorced him. A brief resurgence of the old energy brought some young architects into his office, but the work did not sustain them, and they were forced to move on, leaving Sullivan—always quick to take a departure as a betrayal—even more embittered. Before long he was reduced to having his meals at his club paid for by friends; his once-extensive library of architectural works had shrunk to a few volumes, which he stored in his bathroom. A special indignity was visited upon him when the owners of the Carson Pirie Scott store decided to add to the building and hired Daniel Burnham to do the job. Sullivan could take cold comfort in the fact that Burnham decided to leash his enthusiasm for the classical and virtually copy the original (extending it by several bays and thus, ironically, amplifying the building’s later appeal to modernists).

In 1920 Sullivan was evicted from the two-room office in the Auditorium to which he had already been forced to retreat from his once-grand quarters on the top floor of the tower. His health declined with his fortunes, and on April 14, 1924, at the age of sixty-seven, he died of kidney and heart problems.

Widespread recognition of Sullivan’s contributions to architecture would have to wait until the arrival of modernism in the 1930s and 1940s, when it became increasingly clear that Sullivan, as no other architect—European or American—had been the first to bring art and technology into something approaching a union.