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Auditorium Building Skylight

From Chicago's Auditorium Building:

Auditorium Building Skylight

Louis Sullivan 

Auditorium Building Skylight


  • Opalescent glass

  • No painting

  • Single Layer

  • 1890


Architects Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler designed Chicago’s Auditorium Building, a feat of engineering and design. It was completed in 1889 at which time it was the tallest, largest, and heaviest building in the city. An early mixed-use structure, the building incorporated the still existing theater, a hotel, and business offices. The immense structure has a Romanesque façade and an organic ornamental interior design. Civic leaders conceived it as a place where fine arts would be accessible to all citizens of Chicago regardless of income level.

This geometric and floral leaded glass skylight was one of four installed in the ceiling of the building’s tenth floor dining room. The four panels that comprised each skylight are decorated with stylized flowers and repeating ring designs. Sullivan used repetition of streamlined patterns to give the large building a unified look.

The building fell into disuse starting in 1929. During World War II, portions of the building were used by the United Service Organization. In 1946, Roosevelt University bought the structure and began converting the hotel and office spaces into classrooms and school offices. The magnificent theater was renovated in 1967, and it is still in operation today.

Before becoming part of this collection, the skylight belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Gutnayer. In the 1970s, architect J. Marion Gutnayer helped Roosevelt University convert parts of the building. He and his wife likely acquired the skylight at that time.

Auditorium Skylight

Louis Sullivan (1856–1924)

Louis Sullivan was the first truly American architect. Unlike those who imitated historic styles, Sullivan based his designs on the functional requirements of the building. He famously said, “Form follows function.”

A restless Sullivan left high school in 1872 at age sixteen to enroll in the architecture program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He moved to Philadelphia a year later and then to Chicago, finding work with architectural firms. In Chicago, he worked for William LeBaron Jenney, who is considered the Father of the modern skyscraper. By the summer of 1874, Sullivan had enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris to study European art and architecture.

In 1879, Sullivan joined the Chicago firm of engineer Dankmar Adler; by 1883, the firm was renamed Adler & Sullivan. During a fourteen-year partnership, they designed nearly 200 residential, commercial, religious, and mixed-use buildings. Their work contributed to the development of the uniquely American building type, the skyscraper. Their combined talents contributed to their success. Sullivan had exceptional and innovative designs, while Adler was skilled in technical matters, especially acoustics, an area in which he did inventive work.

Early skyscraper styles were clumsy and had the appearance of several two- or three-story buildings stacked on top of each other. Sullivan’s new skyscraper designs emphasized vertical rise instead of horizontal layers. His buildings soared dramatically into the sky.

Chicago’s Auditorium Building was one of Adler & Sullivan’s masterpieces. Known for its lavish ornamental interiors, the building was filled with marble, mosaics, stained glass, fine woods, terracotta, and brick. The decoration of the building highlighted Sullivan’s mature design skills. His ornamentation was suggestive of Art Nouveau, combining geometric shapes and stylized forms of nature. But his stunning style was uniquely his own. Our Collection includes a Sullivan-designed skylight from the ceiling of the dining room of the Auditorium Building. It consists of a geometric and floral design.

Sullivan’s protégés included George Grant Elmslie and Frank Lloyd Wright. They carried on his functional theories and philosophy of architectural ornament in their Prairie School designs.

After the dissolution of the Sullivan and Adler partnership, Sullivan worked on fewer and fewer projects. After 1901, he primarily designed banks, stores, and churches in small Midwestern towns. Sullivan died in Chicago in 1924. In 1944, the American Institute of Architects posthumously awarded him its Gold Medal.

Louis J. Millet (1853–1923)

Although some of his associates like Louis Sullivan have greater name recognition, Louis J. Millet did not live his life in quiet obscurity. He was one of the most notable decorative designers in Chicago in his day.

Millet moved to Chicago in 1879 following his education in Paris. Chicago had become known for innovative architecture as it rebuilt after the Chicago Fire of 1871. Millet established an interior design practice with George Healy whom he had befriended while studying in Paris. Their goal was to celebrate beauty and science. Healy and Millet collaborated for most of their professional careers and were known for their work in stained glass for domestic interiors and public buildings. One of their most well-known projects is a stunning stained glass dome at the Chicago Cultural Center. The building was constructed in 1892 as the city’s first central public library. The Healy and Millet dome is in an intricate Renaissance pattern. The other impressive glass dome in the building was produced by the Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company.

Desiring to build a bridge between engineering and art, in 1893, Millet founded the Chicago School of Architecture, a collaboration between the Armour Institute of Technology (now Illinois Institute of Technology) and the Art Institute of Chicago. Millet held teaching posts at both institutions. He was also Director of the Department of Decorative Design at the School of the Art Institute. Design schools in Chicago at the time sought to create harmony between handcraftsmanship and machinery.

As a professor of decorative design, Millet helped galvanize the Arts and Crafts Movement in America. Along with some 500 former students, he formed an alumni association, which hosted a prestigious annual Arts and Crafts exhibit. Attendees included Louis C. Tiffany and Gustav Stickley. The annual exhibit ran from 1902 until 1923.

Millet worked closely on many projects with Louis Sullivan whom he had met in 1874 when they both attended the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. Healy and Millet designed and produced the art glass in the Sullivan-designed Auditorium Building in Chicago. Millet also collaborated with George Maher for whom he executed the thistle triptych in our Collection.

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