All posts by Josiah

People’s Savings Bank by Louis Sullivan

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In 1911, Louis Sullivan designed the building for the People’s Savings Bank in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The bank was renovated after World War II, including the addition of the larger secondary building; the interior of the building was later restored to its original condition. Today, it’s owned by Wells Fargo, although they share the building with an Italian restaurant.

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The exterior is all red brick ornamented with terra cotta, a characteristic style of Sullivan’s buildings. The building doesn’t have any slopes, arches, or curves, instead being delineated by right angles and some subtle decorations. The larger expansion, while it doesn’t look incongruous, nonetheless is obviously a separate section. The original building has the appearance of merely a front or introduction to the much larger, taller, rather blocky section behind. The second floor of the original building is smaller, and rises from the middle of the building along with four protruding pillars at each of its corners.

Cedar Rapids, city of. Historical Banks (Norwest Bank, Wells Fargo Bank). Peoples Savings Bank, 101 Third Avenue (3rd Ave.) SW, Cedar Rapids. The bank was completed in 1911 and restored in 1991. Photo circa 1911.

With the expansion, the building seems to have three heights: The two levels of the original, and the hulking addition behind. The three levels soften the impression of the building; although there are only right angles, it seems to rise slowly to its full height, rather than jumping from the sidewalk to the roof. As it was originally designed, the four projecting pillars made the building look stately, but with the larger section behind, I think they suggest the appearance of a temple. The windows are all recessed, and they’re taller than they are wide. The building now looks less personal and much larger than what Sullivan originally designed, but I don’t think the expansion spoiled the look of the building.

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Krause Music Store by Louis Sullivan

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Like many famous artists, Sullivan enjoyed a time of prosperity and success before falling into financial difficulties, decline in business, and a collapsing personal life. He struggled with alcoholism and accumulated debt, while his style lost popularity. He designed his last building, the Krause Music Store, in 1921, less than three years before his death. William Krause commissioned William Presto to design a building for both his music shop and personal residence; Presto, a former employee of Sullivan’s, asked him to design the terra cotta façade on the building.

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Sullivan gave the façade an organic, nature-inspired look. It’s laid out in rows of bricks, but it’s ornamented with curves and decorations. Unlike his other works that I’ve posted about, this is a very small, simple affair, and Sullivan wasn’t responsible for the design of the whole building. It has a very cozy, homely look; it’s welcoming and open. The large, rectangular arch that slopes inward to the entrance gives the shop an inviting appearance.

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The building shows Sullivan’s firm belief that “form follows function”. It’s decorated tastefully, rather than overflowing with carvings. The ornaments that are there are richly detailed and are based around natural images of branches, vines, and leaves. He blends geometric figures such as hexagons and triangles with organic curves and leaves. The building was designed both to be a comfortable living space and a welcoming business space.

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Guaranty Building by Louis Sullivan

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Now called the Prudential Building, the Guaranty Building was one of the first skyscrapers. It was designed by Sullivan and Adler and was built in the 1890s in Buffalo, New York. The Guaranty Building immediately recalls Sullivan’s earlier design of the Wainwright Building, which set the template for future skyscrapers. Sullivan believed that tall buildings should revel in their tallness, and accordingly, the building is completely vertical and rectangular; it rises from the sidewalk to the capital without sloping, and there are no curves or triangles in the design. He also held to the creed “form follows function”, so while the capital is ornately decorated, the shaft of the building is sharply delineated into a grid of windows and offices.

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As with the Wainwright Building, the exterior of Guaranty Building is divided into three sections: The first two floors form a firm base and contain retail stores, the shaft of the building soars vertically upwards and houses offices, and the decorative capital crowns the structure. While both buildings have a similar red color, the exterior of the Guaranty Building is covered in red terra cotta tiles, rather than red brick. It’s also several floors taller. The building is more square horizontally, and the steel skeleton is more prominent in its design.

Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral (Chicago) by Louis Sullivan

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Historically, the Orthodox Church has not been a popular denomination in America and the Western world, instead being prominent in eastern Europe and Central Asia, notably in Russia. Around 1901, in Chicago, Orthodox immigrants from these areas commissioned Louis Sullivan to design an Orthodox church for their community. (Only in 1923 would it be promoted to a cathedral.) The building was designed in the style of Orthodox churches in the immigrants’ homelands.

The building is quietly beautiful. While the church is not small, it is not like some of Louis Sullivan’s other buildings, which were massive, towering affairs. It’s elegant and classy, with a tasteful white and gold exterior and a dark grey roof. The design is purposefully reminiscent of rural, Eurasian churches. The building looks like a cluster of structures, each with different roof heights, angles, and projections, but they fit together harmoniously.

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The interior is spacious and ornately decorated. Unlike traditional Protestant churches, which are often simple, functional buildings, the Orthodox tradition involves artful church buildings, overflowing interior artwork, and resplendent altarpieces. Today, it’s used as the cathedral church for the Diocese of the Midwest, and Liturgy services are still held there. I’m glad that the building is still in use; I think it’s good that churchgoers can experience the building’s beauty, rather than it merely being a landmark or attraction.

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Wainwright Building by Louis Sullivan

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The Wainwright Building is a skyscraper in St. Louis; it was built in 1890–1891, and was designed by Sullivan and Adler. It was one of the first skyscrapers, and it defined the style of a modern skyscraper. The earlier skyscrapers were designed basically as smaller buildings stacked on top of each other. Louis Sullivan thought this looked ungainly, believing instead that skyscrapers should be elegant and should celebrate and their tallness. He designed a building that soars upward, reveling in its height.

The building is divided visually into three sections. The first few floors provide a firm base, topped by a ledge. Above, the remaining seven floors of the building are one continuously rising unit. The windows are arranged in a grid that hints at the skeleton frame inside the building. Between windows, uninterrupted vertical pillars draw the eye upwards, while the horizontal rows are recessed. The final section is the strong, decorated capital with an overhang that projects outward from the very top of the building.

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The Wainwright Building is built out of red brick, and it’s very rectangular-geometric. The building is rectangular and right angles define every feature; there are no curves or triangles. It also doesn’t slope at all: It rises directly from the sidewalk to the capital without deviation from the vertical. I like the confidence that the building exhibits. It knows what it is and it doesn’t apologize for that or pretend to be anything different. The continuity of the building is very important; it’s a single, solid block, rather than being broken into various tiers. The design is clean and elegant.

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Auditorium Building in Chicago by Louis Sullivan

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The Auditorium Building was built in Chicago in the late 1880s, and was designed by Louis Sullivan and his business partner Dankmar Adler. It was designed to house the largest, most beautiful, classiest theater in the world, specifically intended to rival New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. The Auditorium Building also housed a grand luxury hotel and a huge office space, which were intended to help pay for the theater.

The exterior of the building is simply massive; at the time, it was the largest building in the world. It’s not merely tall, it’s broad and wide, and an imposing rectangular tower rises from the front of the building. It’s covered in windows with a grid-like pattern similar to the Wainwright Building and other skyscrapers of the time. The sides of the building are set with a four-story tall column-and-arch façade, which make it look extra-classy. The outside is all right angles: The walls rise straight from the ground until they stop, and each corner and edge is sharply-defined with minimal ledges. The sharp, precise geometry enhances the impression of its size, I think; the building appears not just as a mountain, but as a solid, monolithic block. The outside is now a faded white, but I’m sure that it gleamed when it was first built, and I can only imagine the splendor it displayed.

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The inside of the Auditorium Building is simply grand. The builders spared no expense, and it’s covered with ornate designs and artwork. The theater is an unbelievably large, open room with no pillars. The ceiling is vaulted, arches abound, and the seats are organized into elegantly curving rows on various levels; the interior displays much more elegance and curvature than the angular, imposing exterior.

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University Greens Apartments

This year, now that I’m not a freshman, I’m living in an apartment at University Greens with two friends. I moved in about seven weeks ago. Actually, when I first arrived, they put me in the wrong apartment at first—so after I had moved in and had mostly unpacked all my stuff, I had to relocate to the floor above. When I first moved in, it was strange and new, and I thought the first room had been nicer. But now I’ve settled into it, and it feels cozy.

University Greens is organized into scattered, three-story buildings, each with four apartments on each floor. Mine has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room area, and a small kitchen. The outside looks rather like a large house, covered with tasteful siding (blue and dull yellow) and red brick. The buildings have gables and sloped rooves. The area around the buildings is grassy and interspersed with trees, giving it a neighborhood feel.

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Many other apartment complexes (e.g., Millenium) take the form of towering, broad buildings full of many suites. However, UGreens seems to avoid the concentrated structure, instead using noticeably house-like buildings.

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Although they’re apartments, the exterior looks just like a large house. I think it’s nice; it creates a homey atmosphere, and makes it feel a little more personal. The mere size of the dorms made them feel impersonal; because I was assigned one little compartment in this vast array of neatly organized compartments, it didn’t really feel like my own. The apartment feels more private, my own personal space.

Part of the feeling, I’m sure, derives merely from having my own room. I have a private living room, where I can relax with my close friends, and I also have my own room, to the side, which is totally mine. It’s not large, but I can take ownership of it, and it feels safe, secure, and set apart. That’s really important for college apartments. As students, our apartments are a huge part of the beginning of our adult lives. Far more than when I was in the dorms, I’m now independent and on my own. I think the house-like appearance is much better than the compartment-like arrangement of other complexes because it helps students to feel more independent and to be able to feel ownership of their living space.

Red Lion High School

I went to a medium-sized high school; for perspective, my graduating class had about 360 people in it. The building was rather large, and looked haphazardly thrown together. It was divided into four parallel sections, but one of them (the D Wing) was built after the others, and the style was very incongruous; the other three wings were built with brick and yellow paint, and analog clocks, while the D Wing was laid out with white paint and black imitation marble, had large windows, was more spacious, and was more modern (e.g., digital clocks and hands-free sinks.)

The D-Wing also only had two floors, while the other wings had three floors. The building had other appendages and additions latched onto it, so it looked like a disorganized amalgamation of buildings and halls with inconsistent styles and varying roof heights.

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Sometimes, the disorganization was interesting; there was a lot to explore, and because the cross-hallways and stairways were placed differently in every wing, the optimal route between classes took some planning. But it was also confusing and difficult to navigate at times. The main building was surrounded by a periphery of fields, parking lots, tennis courts, and basketball courts, every bit as random and incoherent.

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Living Word Community Church

Back home in Red Lion, Pennsylvania, I went to a very large church; it was attended regularly by four or five thousand people. The building was low—only one story tall—but vast and sprawling. The outside was beige brick with large windows, and the design was all right angles and straight edges, without curves or slopes. The roof is flat, without any steeple. The inside is a virtual labyrinth of hallways, rooms, and auditoriums, without an obvious layout.


Honestly, I didn’t like that it was so massive. It made the building interesting, because there were so many hallways and connections between rooms, but I didn’t like that I hardly knew anyone at all who went to my church. It doesn’t really look like a church; despite its size, it’s difficult to see from the road, because it’s a short building, it’s set far back from the road, and it’s most of the way down a large hill. The parking lot is simply massive (it’s where I practiced driving), and the building looks more like some company’s facility than a church.

I’ve been going to Living Word ever since I was very little, so I can’t remember my first impressions of the building. It’s funny, because everyone there is very friendly, but its size makes it somewhat impersonal. It’s easy to blend into the background, to not really interact with anyone; I suppose it’s easy to be anonymous in a crowd. The building, too, doesn’t give me the impression of having its own character, as other churches do; rather, it seems nondescript and impassive.

Chesapeake Boathouse

Last year, as a freshman, I wanted to try out something fun, and I also wanted to not get fat, so I decided to join the rowing team. There aren’t actually any rivers in Norman, so for practice, we would drive to Oklahoma City and row on the Oklahoma River. We used Chesapeake Boathouse.

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The outside of the building has a sweeping shape; there’s an overhang over a patio, which is lined by a moat and tall, freestanding pillars. The way that the roof sweeps, curves, and terminates at point gives an impression of elegance and cleanness, which fits with the white color scheme and the floor-to-ceiling windows. Inside the building is a hangar-like boat bay with racks of boats and various multipurpose rooms with high ceilings.

The boathouse was built mostly using money from Chesapeake Energy Corporation, and it’s right next to the equally sweeping, modern, white Devon Energy Boathouse. It has a classy, futuristic look because these petroleum companies are working on improving their image; the boathouses are built on a part of the river which wasn’t really in a nice part of the city. On the one hand, that’s nice of them, and I’m glad that they’re making improvements to the city. On the other hand, it means that we rowed on the river past sewage dumps, so there were certain sections that smelled just awful.

However, the facility itself was very nice. Since it’s an athletic facility, I appreciate the clean, voluminous look. Most of the time I spent at the building was in the very early morning, often before sunrise, so it was good to gradually wake up in the cool, clean atmosphere. Rowing is an especially painful, difficult sport, and the calm, elegant décor was relaxing.