The Sullivan Center
January 21, 2011
“It was the spirit animating the mass and flowing from it, and it expressed the individuality of the building.” -Louis Sullivan
I have a love-hate relationship with shopping. While usually avoiding massive shopping crowds, recently, during my lunch break, I dashed to a shop to restock items for my vanity cabinet. As the holiday season was over, I hoped for a less-congested experience. I used my customary rapid footsteps to gather my shopping items. Then, after the mildly pleasant retail experience, I slowed my pace on the walk back to work.
It was a grey, chilly day. Certainly a typical winter day in Chicago; nothing to be envious of. To make my walk pleasant, I looked around at the surroundings and searched for some visual inspiration. I discovered this beautiful intricate metal works, which is so rare these days, on a surface of an empty department store building. So beautiful that I stopped and tried to figure out the pattern while taking snapshots. Perhaps, I looked like a typical tourist. Of course the building was the famous Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building, registered as the Sullivan Center. The legendary American architect Louis Sullivan designed it in 1899 and designed the intricacies of the beautiful metal works.
One has to see the designs of the building to appreciate the intricate metal lace. The metal structure isn’t just a part of the structure, but translated into the décor: lavishing laces of cast-iron surfaces. We rarely design and build like this anymore: organic and logical. The building is not only revolutionary for its steel structure, but also for its design in allowing more daylight to flow into the building interiors for an enhanced shopping experience, both inside and outside the store. In addition, the most memorable dramatic design is the lavish cast-iron work of the rounded tower at the corner of State and Madison Street. This corner entrance was a pioneering way for the retail building to be visible from both streets. The Sullivan Center was repeatedly exemplified as one of the classic structures of the Chicago school.
How I wish that the building were kept in its original capacity as a department store! Now it is empty and unoccupied, feeling grey and chilly. With revitalization in progress, I hope to see the Sullivan Center bloom again soon.