Enduring Modernist Designs
from the Chicago Stock Exchange Building
As with the forces of nature that inspired him, architect Louis H. Sullivan's work is about all parts relating to the whole. Salvage of decorative elements of from his buildings elevators was erratic, with little consideration given to preserving entire assemblies to represent Sullivan's all-inclusive design concept. Some of the most sought-after elements come from the Chicago Stock Exchange Building, a significant Adler & Sullivan skyscraper completed in 1894 and tragically demolished after a heated preservation battle in 1972.
Delicate strap metal grilles are unique among Sullivan's designs, representing what has been described as a mechanistic interpretation suggesting bursting buds of nature. Vibrant horizontal iron lintels are a fluid ornamental pattern that are integral with metal surface itself and inseparably mends geometric and natural forms.
From a technological standpoint, the assembly represents the infancy of skyscraper elevators during a past era when cabs and corridor walls were openwork metal rather than enclosed boxes. Sullivan intended for the elevator screens to not only be experienced when walking in the corridors on foot, but also to be seen in rapid succession while riding in a fast-moving openwork elevator cab. Rapid vertical movement was a new sensation in architectural spatial perception, and Sullivan made it a powerful experience with this design.
All elements were manufactured to Sullivan's custom designs by the Winslow Brothers Company in Chicago. Winslow Brothers was Sullivan's longtime preferred fabricator for his ornamental metalwork, based on their ability to create art-grade elements in the mass production necessary for large-scale architectural projects.
Curiously, the openwork metal screens of the Chicago Stock Exchange elevators have in recent times come to be referred to as the "Atomic" pattern. In reality, the 1894 design has nothing to do with atomic technology, which was still a half-century in the future. But the informal popular reference still speaks to the power of a design that can still spark human imagination and contemporary reinterpretation after nearly 125 years.
The building's identity resides in the ornament.
Louis H. Sullivan