Book puts architects work
By Jane Ford
Plank knows the satisfaction of seeing a research project come
my day job, I help other researchers and research groups achieve
their hearts desire, said Plank, assistant vice
president for research and public service.
hes not working for the University, Plank pursues his own
research interests. Planks latest project, The Early Louis
Sullivan Building Photographs, is the result of a collaboration
with the late modern architect and preservationist Crombie Taylor,
who played an important role in leading a mid-20th century resurgence
of interest in Sullivans architectural legacy. The book
reveals as much about the lost or renovated buildings of Sullivan
as it does about the history of architecture photography.
known as the father of the modern steel skyscraper and one of
Americas most influential architects, practiced in Chicago
in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He designed architectural
landmarks such as the Carson Pirie Scott department store and
the now-demolished Chicago Stock Exchange.
large-format book focuses on the work of three photographers who
were at the forefront of modern architectural photography. Sullivan
wanted his buildings photographed in a series of images and hired
the photographers to document his buildings as they progressed.
That approach allowed him to expand the photographic medium he
used to market his buildings, to archive his architectural drawings
and to ensure quality control in the fabrication of architectural
photographers techniques challenged the flat, picture-postcard
representation of buildings common at the time. Sullivan formed
such close working relationships with his photographers that their
work might be said to constitute Sullivans visual description
of his own architecture. The essential features of a structure
are revealed by capturing the three-dimensional qualities of the
ornamentation and spaces in both the interiors and exteriors of
the buildings through an understanding of the use of light and
the photo is doing helps you focus on what the building is all
about, Plank said. The book provides a fresh look
at how they looked at and understood buildings, what was important
and valuable from their point of view.
historians have paid more attention to Sullivans theoretical
writings than to his buildings or photographs, Plank said. The
progressive style of Sullivans buildings fell out of favor
later in his life, around the time of the Columbian Exposition
of 1893 that embraced the traditional neoclassical style.
book makes available evidence for architectural history that represents
the whole of Sullivans architecture as he would have wanted
it seen, he said.
discovered and used the photographs in the 1950s to restore the
banquet hall and ladies parlor in Chicagos Auditorium Building
and other Sullivan structures. Planks research identified
the men who took the photographs and revealed their innovative
approach to recording these buildings. He also discovered the
creative ways the photographs were originally published to market
learned to take a comparative approach to history and research
looking at the changes in exploratory methods in one discipline
and the effects on research in another while studying for
his Ph.D. in English at U.Va. He credits Ralph Cohen, William
R. Kenan Professor of English and editor of New Literary History,
with opening the door for him and helping him view
research in a new way.
interrelationships of disciplines vary over time, Plank
said, and the relative status of visual as opposed to textual
evidence in modern architectural history has proved to be especially
important in Sullivan studies.