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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