In the 1880s and '90s, architect Louis Sullivan rose to prominence, designing and building (together with his partner Dankmar Adler) some of the most innovative and important buildings of the era. As Benjamin Schwarz writes in the March 2011 Atlantic, "He arguably invented and indisputably defined the aesthetic and purpose of the skyscraper." But as the nineteenth century drew to a close, a faltering economy, changing aesthetic tastes, and the dissolution of his partnership with Adler hampered Sullivan's career. By the time he died in 1924—alcoholic, depressed, and impoverished—his work had fallen out of favor, and in the years to come, many of his buildings fell into disrepair and were demolished.
In the early 1950s, architectural photographer Richard Nickel set out to rescue Sullivan from obscurity by systematically finding and photographing all of Sullivan's extant buildings. Some of the buildings he documented were well maintained and still in use, but many were dilapidated and neglected. Nickel spent twenty years on the project and collected 15,000 photographs. In 1972 he was killed by a falling stairwell while photographing Adler & Sullivan's Chicago Stock Exchange, which was in the process of demolition.
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The non-profit Richard Nickel Committee was formed in 1973 to move forward with Nickel's project. In November 2010, the group published the culmination of their efforts, The Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan (University of Chicago Press), a catalogue raisonné of the works of Adler & Sullivan, featuring historic photographs, architectural plans, project descriptions, and essays. The images and text in this slideshow are drawn from that work and are reproduced here courtesy of the Richard Nickel Committee, Chicago, Illinois.