Louis Sullivan, The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered, 1896

Daria Dubois
2 min readMar 17, 2021

Summary and analysis by Daria Dubois

Link to the .pdf reading

by Alexander Dummer and Meriç Dağlı on Unsplash

Louis Sullivan looks at the tall office buildings as a new type of architecture that solves a specific problem. He defines aspects of social demand, the growing population of the cities, newly available technology, such as high-speed elevators, new construction techniques, and architectural expression that contributed to the creation of modern tall office buildings.

Sullivan takes an approach in the design of the skyscrapers from the perspective of a division of it into three main parts: the first and second story, the office-tiers, and the attic. Sullivan looks at the example of the three divisions of the classic column: base, shaft, and capital comparing it to the skyscraper’s vertical parts. He also looks at the examples of trinities in art, nature and greenery, a trinity of a time division during the day, and logical division of the beginning, middle, and the end.

The other perspective on the tall building design comes from the functional idea of a unit. The lower stories on his view, since more assessable, should be also more spacious and welcoming into the building. They followed by the office units, measurement of which compared to the window-opening. The very top of the building, the attic, does not necessarily require any windows, as being mostly functional space.

Sullivan in his analysis comes to the realization of the importance of function in any design aspect by nature and as life and form create wholeness, the form of the building should follow its function. “Where function does not change form does not change.”

A great example of a tall office building at the time of Louis Sulivan is Flatiron Building by Daniel Burnham. Flatiron building’s first stories have tall spacious inviting openings, followed by the repetitive office-unit stories, concluding it with the crown, the capital of the building, decorated with classical ornamentation, columns, and statues.

Louis Sullivan in his designs, would embrace the vertical rise of the building and decorate it with ornamentation in his unique style of natural shapes of greenery.