May 10-16, 2002
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Off the Shelf -- recently published books by U.Va. faculty and staff

Book puts architect’s work in focus
McGann receives first national award for digital humanities
Notable -- awards and achievements of faculty and staff
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In Memoriam
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Book puts architect’s work in focus

The Early Louis Sullivan Building Photographs By Jane Ford

Jeffrey Plank knows the satisfaction of seeing a research project come to fruition.

“In my day job, I help other researchers and research groups achieve their heart’s desire,” said Plank, assistant vice president for research and public service.

When he’s not working for the University, Plank pursues his own research interests. Plank’s 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 Sullivan’s architectural legacy. The book reveals as much about the lost or renovated buildings of Sullivan as it does about the history of architecture photography.

Sullivan, known as the father of the modern steel skyscraper and one of America’s 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.

The 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 ornamentation.

The 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 Sullivan’s 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 shadow.

“What 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.”

Architectural historians have paid more attention to Sullivan’s theoretical writings than to his buildings or photographs, Plank said. The progressive style of Sullivan’s buildings fell out of favor later in his life, around the time of the Columbian Exposition of 1893 that embraced the traditional neoclassical style.

“This book makes available evidence for architectural history that represents the whole of Sullivan’s architecture as he would have wanted it seen,” he said.

Taylor discovered and used the photographs in the 1950s to restore the banquet hall and ladies parlor in Chicago’s Auditorium Building and other Sullivan structures. Plank’s 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 Sullivan’s buildings.

Plank 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.

“The 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.”


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