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Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Charnley House, Part 2

Rachel Freundt Leave a comment

Architectural Drawing of the James Charnley House [Historic Architecture and Landscape Image Collection]

In this three-part series, I will be examining the relationship between the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his mentor Louis Sullivan, specifically in the controversy surrounding one of the most important designs in early modern architecture: the James Charnley House, constructed between 1891-92, in Chicago’s Gold Coast. Although Adler & Sullivan were the architects of record at the time of construction, since the 1930s Frank Lloyd Wright has been routinely listed alongside them (or sometimes alone) since he wrote in An Autobiography in 1932 that he solely designed the home. No one challenged this assertion, especially Adler & Sullivan, as both were long dead by the time Wright’s memoir was published. Although the commission was widely published in architectural journals of the time, like the August 1891 issue of Inland Architect and the January 1892 issue of Architectural Record as one of Sullivan’s most important works, Sullivan’s name was mostly omitted from discussions of the Charnley House for the next half century. Even Hugh Sullivan’s 1935 monograph on Louis Sullivan, the first detailed assessment of the architect’s work, validated Wright’s claims first made in An Autobiography. No sketches, no plans, no furnished interior photos survive of the home. Because of this lack of concrete contemporary evidence and the fact that scholars never conducted a detailed investigation over the years, one can see how easy it was for Wright to claim this ground-breaking design as his own.

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Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Charnley House, Part 1

Rachel Freundt 9 comments

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[Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]

The James Charnley House, constructed between 1891-92, in Chicago’s Gold Coast is an important design in the development of modern architecture. Charnley was the first house anywhere in the world to embrace modernism in its complete elimination of historical detail and emphasis on abstract forms and geometric simplicity, anticipating the architecture of the 1920s and 30s. Yet 125 years later there is still controversy surrounding Charnley’s authorship. Adler & Sullivan are the architects of record. The commission was widely published in architectural journals of the time, like the August 1891 issue of Inland Architect and the January 1892 issue of Architectural Record. The design actually received more publicity than some of the firm’s larger commercial works. However, Frank Lloyd Wright’s name is forever attached to the Charnley House. Although chief draftsman at the time of the construction, Wright’s name was not officially linked to Charnley until 1932 when he claimed in An Autobiography that he solely designed it. Sullivan could not refute this bold statement by his former assistant as he had been dead for eight years. For the next fifty years, historians accepted Wright’s words without question and Sullivan’s contributions were minimized at best. Of course a single person does not design a building. Architecture is a collaborative process. There are many hands in the pie, so to speak. But that doesn’t take away from the facts.

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1547 N. Dearborn Parkway

Chicago Patterns Staff Leave a comment
1547 N. Dearborn Parkway

Frederick Nachman

The 18,590 square-foot, 12-bedroom mansion, owned by Ann Lurie, was put on the market for $18.75 million but is now listed at $11 million (not including the side yard) plus $1 million for interior updates. It was constructed in 1891.

Frederick Nachman