Film Night: Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture

  • Date

    Friday, July 24 2020

  • Time


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In person, architecture can move us, but it can also touch us through storytelling and the medium of film. Remember when you first saw the 1927 science-fiction film Metropolis? Or The Fountainhead with Howard Roark, the ambitious and uncompromising young architect? This summer, we’ll recommend an architecture film each Friday to jumpstart your weekend. You can watch the film on your own time by accessing it through Kanopy, YouTube, or another shared platform. Share your thoughts about the film using #aiadcSummerNights. Grab some popcorn, get comfy, and enjoy the film!

Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture

Louis H. Sullivan (1856-1924) was one of the most celebrated architects to come out of the Chicago School of architecture in the late 1800s. He is often called the "father of the skyscraper" and the "prophet of modern architecture." Sullivan also coined the most famous phrase ever to come out of his profession, "form ever follows function."

This award-winning documentary is not simply the first film on Sullivan, but the first time a filmmaker has presented architecture in the broader context of American social, political and cultural history. It combines stunning photography, insightful commentary from Sullivan scholars and experts, and a brisk narrative that will guide the viewer through the life of an artist who, for a brief moment in his thirties, was among the most celebrated builders in the United States. His works that survive are recognized by architects and critics as among the most beautiful buildings in the world.

Despite his early success, Sullivan was bitterly opposed to the fashionable imitation of European styles of architecture that was all the rage between 1890 and 1930. This opposition eventually consigned him to the margins of his profession, and he was barely able to scratch out of a living for most of his life. Yet he exerted an enormous influence on younger architects, in particular Frank Lloyd Wright, who worked for Sullivan for seven years. Even after their bitter split in the 1890s, Wright ever after referred to Sullivan as the "beloved master."

"Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture" places Sullivan's career at a pivotal period in American cultural history when agrarian society was receding in the face of the rising industrial city, where man made nature his servant instead of his partner. Sullivan was deeply aware of this change, and tried to preserve that historic connection with nature in buildings that also looked to the future. The result was an ingenious combination of geometric, undisguised massing that predicted the coming age of modernism, and lyrical, intricate ornamentation that captured the essence of the Victorian age.

Running Time: 98 mins

Year: 2010

Filmmaker: Mark Richard Smith

Organized by: Washington Architectural Foundation