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Function and ornament: the modern of Louis Sullivan and Eliel Saarinen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionScientificpeer-review


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAesthetics - The Uneasy Dimension in Architecture
EditorsAnne Elisabeth Toft, Magnus Rönn
PublisherNordic Academic Press of Architectural Research
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)978-91-983797-0-9
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2016
Publication typeA4 Article in a conference publication
EventAesthetics - The Uneasy Dimension in Architecture -
Duration: 2 Jan 2017 → …


ConferenceAesthetics - The Uneasy Dimension in Architecture
Period2/01/17 → …


This article explores the search for modern architectural expression in the
texts of Louis Sullivan and Eliel Saarinen. The latter was influenced by the
former’s architecture, but the main focus of the study is the comparison of
their texts on architectural design process, or search for form. The similarities
found in the texts tell of a like-minded design philosophy, which was
based on observation and appreciation of nature. Nature contained ornaments;
therefore architecture could do so as well. The applications of the
ideas prompted by the common source differed in the work of these two architects, but the premise that ornaments could be a useful part of a modern
architect’s design vocabulary remained the same. The understanding of both
architects’ versions of contemporary form language has suffered from a strict
modernist interpretation. The canonical image of functional architecture has
resulted in the dismissal of many divergent interpretations of modern architectural language, including that of Sullivan and Saarinen. Although current
use of architectural ornamentation stems from various sources and not necessarily nature, a look at the aesthetic search of these two architects at the
turn of the previous century may lend some historical perspective to the use
of architectural ornament today.

Publication forum classification

Field of science, Statistics Finland