December 22, 1886
Dankmar Adler and Louis H. Sullivan's Auditorium
A choice commission launches Louis Sullivan on the path to architectural greatness.
The heart of the Auditorium building is the 4,200-seat concert hall, where engineer Dankmar Adler and his partner architect Louis H. Sullivan's talents combined to produce a space with excellent acoustics and dramatic ornamentation, notable for its pioneering use of electrical lighting. In 1946 Roosevelt University took over the building. (Tribune photo by John Bartley)
When the building opened three years later, President Benjamin Harrison was on hand for a concert by operatic idol Adelina Patti, who sang "Home Sweet Home." Ever so humble the Auditorium was not. The building, which combined offices, a 4,200-seat concert hall and a 400-room hotel under one roof, was a massive, commanding presence along Congress Street between Wabash and Michigan Avenues.Adler solved daunting problems in designing the structure's foundation, and the interior gave free play to Sullivan's intricate ornamentation and dramatic lighting. In the spirit of Henry Hobson Richardson's since-demolished Marshall Field warehouse, its exterior had a rugged base and rounded, Romanesque arches.
The Auditorium made Sullivan's reputation. Important commissions in Chicago and elsewhere came his way. His skyscrapers, including the demolished Chicago Stock Exchange and Garrick Theater, gave physical shape to his belief that the tall office building "must be every inch a proud and soaring thing." Above all other architects of the "Chicago School," he turned the skyscraper into a new work of art, while also creating a highly individual, densely detailed style of ornamentation, preserved in one stunning instance in the Stock Exchange trading room, reconstructed at the Art Institute.
The crowning achievement of his career was the department store that he designed in 1899 for Schlesinger and Mayer, which was later bought by Carson Pirie Scott & Co. The ornate, cast-iron ornamentation around the windows on the first two floors serves as a richly flowing picture frame meant to accentuate the merchandise on display. Above, the facade is a spare but precisely proportioned expression of the building's steel frame, illustrating Sullivan's now-famous dictum that "form follows function."
Adler had left the partnership in 1895. Work dried up for Sullivan, a situation that can be blamed on changing taste as well as on his often abrupt manner with clients. Sullivan died penniless, at age 67, in 1924.