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Name:  Wainwright Building
Address:  705 Chestnut Street
Year:  1892
Architectural Firm/Architect:  Adler & Sullivan, Chicago
Standard Architectural Styles:  Sullivanesque
Property Type Codes:  Tall Office building, Sullivanesque
Alterations:  Lobby remodeled, new elevators.
Designation: City Landmark, National Historic Landmark, National Register of Historic Places,
Ward:  7
Neighborhood:  35
An architectural landmark of international significance is the Wainwright Building, Louis SullivanĀ“s masterpiece, which marked the beginning of modern skyscraper design. Its architects were Adler and Sullivan of Chicago, associated with C.K. Ramsey of St. Louis. The building represented a revolt against American dependence on European antecedents in architecture, as expressed in tall steel frame buildings.

This structure was erected for Ellis Wainwright, a wealthy St. Louis brewer. Previously, architects had struggled to find some way to treat the newly developed skyscraper. Their answers were either to simply repeat the ornamentation and design of one floor over and over, much like a wedding cake or else to stretch the Richardsonian Romanesque style with its unifying arches to cover a high rise building. While both approaches resulted in the creation of some handsome buildings, they remained unacceptable in that they forced the use of architectural styles and ornament on buildings for which they were never intended. Louis Sullivan solved the problem by treating the building like a column. The lower two floors form the base, floors I through 9 a fluted shaft, and the ornate frieze and cornice the capital. All of this is tied together with a wealth of ornamentation to form a style so personal that it could only be called Sullivanesque.

The Wainwright Building is of crucial importance in that it demonstrates how an architect, by casting aside historic styles as the inspiration for his designs, might use an original or modern style to give visual unity to a tall building. Sullivan unified the facades of the Wainwright by treating them as grids of vertical and horizontal members. He emphasized the vertical members by broadening the corner piers and allowing them to rise freely to the cornice. Between the windows Sullivan introduced thin vertically-oriented piers that serve as visual connections between the base and cornice. Below these piers are ornamental spandrels which also become unifying features. It is through this method of knitting the facade together with vertical lines played against a counterpoint of horizontal lines that Sullivan managed to do what no one else had accomplished: provide a paradign for attaining visual unity in the tall building.

After falling victim to poor economic times, the building was rescued from demolition when the National Trust for Historic Preservation took an option on the structure. It was eventually acquired by Missouri as part of a state office complex.

Adler, Dankmar
Adler and Sullivan,
Ramsey, Charles K.
Sullivan, Louis Henri
Wainwright, Ellis

Wainwright Building Completed

Wainwright Building
Wainwright Building



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This site was funded in part by Federal funds administered by the Missouri State Historical Preservation Office, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, The National Park Service, and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

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