Louis Sullivan, one of the great architects of the last half of the 19th century, was a brilliant artist with both practical office experience and a year at the famed cole des Beaux-Arts in Paris before entering a partnership with Dankmar Adler in 1879. Credited with being the first to give an appropriate form to the steel skyscraper, he was a precursor of American modernism and managed to produce the only forward-looking design of the 1893 World's Colombian Exposition in Chicago.1 Unfortunately and unfairly, this designer of dozens of lauded buildings, who helped reshape the manner of building structure and aesthetics, is primarily known today for one thing-his role as Frank Lloyd Wright's
Sullivan's famous motto of "form follows function" influenced Wright immensely and was a major reason why Wright considered Sullivan his only influence. That the relationship was mutual is demonstrated by the events of 1889. In that year Wright married Catherine Lee Clark Tobin, and Sullivan loaned him the enormous sum of $5,000 to buy property in Oak Park, Illinois and build a house.4 His willingness to help Wright illustrates the mutual respect between the employer and employee at this time.
Although one of his early works, the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park can be considered a workshop, used by the architect to begin developing some intriguing concepts. The initial construction phase of 1889 "exhibits features that portend the mature Wright's philosophy of architecture: the emphasis on pure geometric forms, the broad, sheltering roof, the use of natural materials and the unity of building and site".5
These features blurred the distinctions between inside and outside, and marked a growing integration of landscape and construction. In addition, the interior was focused around the fireplace and astonishingly open in design, with none of the Victorian hierarchy of divided spaces evident.
Wright continued designing houses in Oak Park on the side, and this conflict of interest led to Sullivan firing him in 1893.6 Never one to stop working, Wright simply opened his own office and specialized in domestic architecture. By 1902 he designed his first Prairie house, a style defined by horizontal orientation, rows of small windows, low-pitched roofs featuring overhanging eaves and an open interior plan with a central fireplace.7 With its definitive wood and stucco exterior, it also works in conjunction with the suburban setting. Its cruciform plan is designed so that the movement from one wing to the next is diagonal, and these 45 degree angles are featured in other parts of the house.8 This epoch construction, completely distinct from Sullivan's verticality, would not have been possible had he not been fired.
Decades of both personal and professional trouble followed, but Wright weathered the strenuous difficulties and re-emerged in the 1950's. His most famous project from this final stage is undoubtedly the Wright, Frank Lloyd, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of 1956-1959. Completed after his death and considered Wright's "great swansong",9 it is an exercise in pushing concrete to the limits of plasticity. After entering the inverted swirl, visitors move to the top via elevators and proceed "downward at a leisurely pace on the gentle slope of a continuous ramp".10 This final monument vividly illustrates how far Wright progressed from the early stages of his career.
However, the first Wright building to feature an internal spiral ramp was the V. C. Morris Gift Shop of 1949, designed concurrently to the Guggenheim project.11 Inside are display cases and shelves that follow