Louis Sullivan: The Search for American Architecture

It’s undoubtedly — and unfortunately — a niche audience that will be interested in the life and career of Louis Sullivan, the architect who created the skyscraper and coined the phrase “form follows every function” (shortened over time to “form follows function”). Born in 1856, Sullivan was a genius who enrolled at MIT at the age of 16, then dropped out a year later out of boredom. He made it his life’s work to create a distinctly American style of architecture that was aesthetically sophisticated while being rooted in his great love of nature. As director Mark Richard Smith spells out in this exquisite, moving documentary, that quest put Sullivan at odds with his times — the moneyed folk of America’s Gilded Age craved European-style architecture. That didn’t stop Sullivan from creating some of the most stunning and influential buildings in the modern world, including the Auditorium in Chicago. His life’s narrative, told briskly but in great detail by Smith, is depressingly familiar: the artist who’s ahead of his time, whose personality and bad choices lead him to die penniless, and who’s overshadowed by his protégé (in this case, Frank Lloyd Wright). Still, the film soars through Smith’s copious and loving footage of Sullivan’s buildings, which are pure art and will make you swoon.

Categories: Movies