About the Charnley-Persky House
Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright are major figures in American architecture. Sullivan, Wright's architectural mentor, hired the younger man in 1887 as a draftsman to assist with producing construction drawings for the Auditorium Building (1887-1889) in Chicago. As a junior draftsman, Wright also assisted with residential commissions such as the James Charnley House (1891-1892). The Charnley House, which has long been recognized internationally as a pivotal work of modern architecture, stands as evidence of the extraordinary power of Sullivan and Wright's creativity in collaboration.In Charnley House, as well as his other works, Sullivan rejected the historical details common to Victorian architecture in favor of abstract forms that later became the hallmarks of modern architecture. It is a sign of Sullivan's admiration for Wright, and a testament to their friendship and working relationship, that the senior architect allowed his draftsman to become involved in the design process at all. The exterior of Charnley House is a virtually unadorned brick and limestone facade that commands its corner location. The dramatic interior of the house is dominated by an atrium that soars from the first floor hall to a skylight two floors above. The house is symmetrical in plan, with one room located on either side of the central atrium on each floor. The ornament found throughout the interior and exterior of the building is evidence of both Sullivan's love of sinuous plant forms intertwined with underlying geometric forms, and Wright's variations of these themes.
The Architects Louis Henry Sullivan (1856-1924)
Louis Henry Sullivan was born in Boston and came to Chicago after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 to join in the rebuilding effort. 6 months later, Sullivan left for Paris to study architecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, which was at that time the leading school of architecture in the world.
In 1879, Sullivan joined the respected engineer Dankmar Adler (1844-1900), who had been practicing in Chicago since 1866. For fourteen years this relationship produced buildings that were distinguished by both their design and engineering innovations. Their work contributed in a significant way to the development of the uniquely American building type, the skyscraper. The Adler and Sullivan partnership produced such remarkable structures as the Auditorium Building (1886-1889) in Chicago, the Wainwright Building (1890-1891) in St. Louis, the Chicago Stock Exchange (1893-1894, demolished), and the Guaranty Building (1894-1895) in Buffalo, New York. Their most renowned residential design was the commission for James Charnley on Astor Street in Chicago, completed in 1892.
Sullivan is well known for his belief that a building's function should be clearly expressed in its form and structure. Discontented with designing in the historical styles taught at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Sullivan set out to create an architectural vocabulary that would reflect contemporary American culture.
Adler withdrew from the partnership in 1895 and both he and Sullivan continued to practice independently. Among Sullivan's most renowned projects from this later period are the Schlesinger and Mayer Store (now Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co., 1898-1899 and 1902-1903) in Chicago, the Bayard-Condict Building (1897) in New York, and the facade of the Gage Building (1898-1899) also in Chicago. After 1900, Sullivan's work consisted mainly of exquisitely designed banks, stores and churches located in small towns throughout the Midwest. Sullivan's proteges, including George Grant Elmslie and Frank Lloyd Wright, most directly carried on his functional theories and his philosophy of architectural ornament in their Prairie School designs.
Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)
A native of Wisconsin, Frank Lloyd Wright attended college at the University of Wisconsin at Madison from 1885-1886. Like his mentor, Sullivan, Wright was restless with the formal education process, and in 1887 Wright moved to Chicago where he worked for Joseph Lyman Silsbee, an architect known for his mastery of Shingle-style residences. Later that year, Wright left Silsbee's office to become a draftsman in the office of Adler and Sullivan, where he worked on the firm's largest project to date, the massive Auditorium Building (1886-1889). Over the next few years, Wright became their principle draftsman and, in that capacity, indirectly had a hand in the design of projects including the James Charnley House (1891-1892). Although Wright was fired from the firm in 1893 for taking independent commissions, the six years he spent in the Adler and Sullivan office were the most influential years of his training. Sullivan's philosophy that the form of a building should derive from the use of the space was to become incorporated into Wright's own work. Also like Sullivan,Wright had a reverence for nature which he expressed in his preference for organic architecture whose materials and shapes could be adapted to specific sites and uses. Wright's independent career, which lasted from 1893 until his death in 1959, is one of the longest and most distinguished of any architect in America.
The Charnley-Persky House is located at 1365 N. Astor Street in the Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago, within the Astor Street Historic District. The neighborhood developed in the late 1880s, largely through the efforts of Potter Palmer, who built an imposing "castle" on Lake Shore Drive, designed by Cobb & Frost. He purchased large tracts of land in the area and built dozens of houses which were then sold to Chicago's wealthy class. The neighborhood has retained its stature as Chicago's premier neighborhood to the present day.