Day 212/365 of Steel – Ellis Wainwright

Ellis Wainwright (August 3, 1850 – November 6, 1924) was an American brewer, art collector and socialite from St. Louis, Missouri. He is best known for the Wainwright Building in downtown St. Louis, which was one of the first skyscrapers in the world and one of the most important office buildings of the period.

Wainwright Building
Fig 1: Wainwright Building
Photo: Marcus Qwertyus

Wainwright Building
Designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, the building was among the first skyscrapers in the world. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright called the Wainwright Building “the very first human expression of a tall steel office-building as Architecture.”

Wainwright Building
Fig 2: Wainwright Building
Photo: © Louis Sullivan / University of Missouri

Aesthetically, the Wainwright Building exemplifies Sullivan’s theories about the tall building, which included a tripartite composition (base-shaft-attic) based on the structure of the classical column, and his desire to emphasize the height of the building.

The ornamentation for the building includes a wide frieze below the deep cornice, which expresses the formalized yet naturalistic celery-leaf foliage typical of Sullivan, decorated spandrels between the windows on the different floors and an elaborate door surround at the main entrance.  

Wainwright Building
Fig 3: Wainwright Building
Photo: Carptrash

At this point in time, it is hard to imagine a 10-story building would have ever been classified as a skyscraper. However, the Wainwright Building was just that, and perhaps the first in the world.

Most importantly, the building provided the blue print for the modern office building and tall steel structures soon began to dot the landscape of urban America. Sullivan, often called “the father of skyscrapers,” had changed the rules of height and also found true articulation of his “form follows function” mantra.

About the Author:

Bruno Dursin – Managing Director at Believe in Steel. Bruno has more than 30 years of experience in promoting steel & steel solutions. His clients benefit from his extensive network within the building industry.

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