SULLIVAN, Louis Henry
(b. 1856, Boston, d. 1924, Chicago)

Wainwright Building: exterior view

1890-91
Photo
709 Chestnut Street, St. Louis, Missouri

The Wainwright Building in St. Louis is Sullivan's first steel-framed 'skyscraper'. Here he used the licence of Néo-Grec (Neoclassical Revival style) proportioning to treat the whole façade as a single order of attenuated piers with the bottom storeys forming a solid sandstone plinth and the top (service) storey an entablature. In an essay in 1896, Sullivan explained this articulation as the expression of interior function. The base contains the public commercial spaces, the entablature the mechanical plant and water tanks, and the intervening grill of piers and windows a honeycomb of offices 'all look[ing] alike because they all are alike'.

The ornamentation for the building includes a wide frieze below the deep cornice, which expresses the formalized, yet naturalistic celery-leaf foliage typical of Sullivan, decorated spandrels between the windows on the different floors, and an elaborate door surround at the main entrance. The frieze is pierced by unobtrusive bull's-eye windows that light the top-story floor, originally containing water tanks and elevator machinery. The building includes embellishments of terracotta, a building material gaining popularity at the time of construction.