Wainwright Building - St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Posted by: Groundspeak Charter Member BruceS
N 38° 37.608 W 090° 11.518
15S E 744446 N 4279104
Quick Description: Historic building is viewed as the "father" of today's skyscrapers. The Wainwright Building was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.
Location: Missouri, United States
Date Posted: 5/7/2011 1:14:27 PM
Waymark Code: WMBCWJ
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member razalas
Views: 7

Long Description:

"The Wainwright Building is a ten-story office building constructed 1890-91 and designed by Louis Sullivan. The first two floors are faced in brown sandstone, severely plain; the next seven stories rise in continuous red brick piers, those on the corners three times the width of those between the windows. The set-back windows are alternated with spandrel panels of red terra cotta decorated with ornate foliage reliefs, varied at each floor in design and scale. The tenth story is a frieze of intertwined leaf scrolls framing circular windows, and is capped with Sullivan's characteristic overhanging roof slab, its edge also decorated...

All the technical elements that had become standard features of Chicago office buildings in the late 1880 T s are present for the first time in Sullivan's designs with the Wainwright: raft footings of reinforced concrete, the braced and rivetted steel frame, the wall bays carried on spandrel shelf angles, the fireproof-tile covering of all structural members, and movable interior partitions. Above the skylighted ground floor, the U-shaped plan provides an outer exposure for each office.

The quality of height in the Wainwright is emphasized through the use of a system of closely ranked pierlike bands that give the street elevations their forceful vertical thrust. False piers between each pair of true piers reinforce the image of a powerful upward movement...

The Wainwright Building was the first Adler and Sullivan commission involving the use of completely iron and steel framing. The structure was built between 1890 and 1891 for Ellis Wainwright, a wealthy St. Louis brewer with a wide range of aesthetic interests. The resulting design represents Sullivan's most thorough attempt to create a special form appropriate to the multi-story office block.

Sullivan explained in an essay, "The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered," that the appearance of an office building should reflect the activities within. First, the entrance should be obvious. The main floor shops need large windows for advertising their wares. Above, the identical office floors are designed to be subdivided in many different ways; thus, their windows should be identical, none more important than any other. Finally, the attic story terminates the building visually and houses mechanical equipment and service spaces. This internal arrangement is clearly expressed in the exterior of the Wainwright Building.

"Why is this building probably the greatest work of architecture of the Nineteenth Century? How does it differ from one of the neighboring buildings of the same time? Architecture is not decoration; it is far more. It is essential not to mistake surface for substance. Prior to the Wainwright Building, steel frame structures had been covered with architectural cliches and trappings which bore no relation to the revolutionary new frame-work type of construction. They were covered with ill-fitting clothes borrowed from load-bearing types of construction. Sullivan not only conceived an original solution to the new problem of the steel frame, but an architectural expression hardly surpassed since. The Wainwright Building was not the first steel frame skyscraper; rather it is the first architectural solution, the first architectural expression of the high rise skeleton construction office building as such. It is architecturally the father of all contemporary office buildings. It in great because all elements, light and shadow, solids and voids, color, texture, materials, decoration, proportion and rhythm, work in concert expressing Sullivan's IDEA of a modern high rise office building. The neighboring buildings may or may not be pleasant, but they lack the unity, the internal harmony the coherence present in this great work of art."  ....from an essay by W. Philip Cotton, Jr., AIA, St. Louis Architect and Preservationist, discussing the architectural significance of the Wainwright Building.

"When he brought the drawing board with the motive for the Wainwright outlined in profile and elevation upon it and threw the board down on my table, I was perfectly aware of what had happened. This was a great Louis H. Sullivan moment. The tall building was born tall. His greatest effort? No. But here was the 'skyscraper': a new thing beneath the sun, entity imperfect, but with virtue, individuality, beauty and all its own. Until Louis Sullivan showed the way, high buildings lacked unity. They were built-up in layers. All were fighting height instead of gracefully and honestly accepting it. What unity those false masonry masses have that now pile up toward the big city skies is due to the master mind that first per ceived the high building as an harmonious unit its height triumphant." ....Frank Lloyd Wright was working in the office of Adler and Sullivan and apparently was the chief draftsman when Sullivan conceived the Wainwright Building. Later Wright wrote of the birth of the Wainwright Building in Genius & the Mobocracy which is the source of the above quotation."

Information above from the National Register Nomination Form

The Wainwright Building was threatened with demolition in the early 1970's.   The National Trust for Historic Preservation purchased the lease to save the building and then sold it to the State of Missouri.  The State of Missouri renovated the Wainwright Building and it is now used for state offices.

Architect: Louis Henri Sullivan

Prize received: AIA Gold Medal

In what year: 1944

Website about the Architect: [Web Link]

Website about the building: [Web Link]

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