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The Idea of Louis Sullivan

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By John Szarkowski. Thames & Hudson, 2000. 162pp. £39.95

This re-issue and redesign of a book first published in 1956 comes with a quote from Frank Lloyd Wright on the back jacket: 'The best photographs of Sullivan's buildings that I have ever seen.' Who would argue? writes Andrew Mead . Beautifully reproduced here, John Szarkowski's images have a double appeal, because as well as presenting Sullivan's architecture to such advantage - including buildings that have since been demolished, such as the Schiller Theatre and Chicago Stock Exchange - they provide an evocative portrait of Mid-West America in the 1950s.

Szarkowski later became an illustrious curator/critic, and a colleague of his from New York's Museum of Modern Art, architecture curator Terence Riley, supplies the introduction, suggesting that it is not just a book of photographs but 'an immensely sensitive portrait of the architect as a thinker'. It becomes this by incorporating quotations from a variety of sources, primarily Sullivan's own Kindergarten Chats , and attempting to link image with idea.

But however pertinent the quotations, the photographs overwhelm them. With an ability to exploit overcast conditions as much as sunlight and shadow, Szarkowski conveys the power and rigour of Sullivan's overall conceptions but also his humanising detail - the organic complexity of his ornament. And telling vignettes of passers-by recur: two businessmen ambiguously face-to-face outside the Stock Exchange, or the figure beside the Chicago Auditorium whose blurred movement makes the rockface masonry seem still more enduring.

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