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Through these posts, I would like to give you some thoughts about American Design history.  The Gothic Revival Movement took place in the period after the Civil War. It was the start of a renewal in the Arts, Architecture and Design. The Revival of Gothic influence was largely initiated by John Ruskin and William Morris, two Englishmen whose influence went way beyond the British Islands.

In America, these influences were absorbed in the Arts and Crafts Movements, and was most influential in the architecture seen of the period between 1860 and 1890’s. We are not debating here if a building or style is attributable to this or that “movement”, but rather how widely ideas circulated among the entrepreneurs, builders, and architects of that particular and later periods.

All of the larger cities underwent a change in structure, usually resulting in a more urbanized environment. Today, every once in a while, a few houses on a street or a bank building can be clearly identified to a style corresponding largely to either the education received by architects at the time, or to the personal whimsy of the owners. This is not necessarily so in  larger inner cities, like New York or Chicago, where a select few architects were responsible for the aesthetics of entire city blocks or areas. The great Chicago style of architecture was initiated almost entirely by Adler and Sullivan Architects, in particular Louis Sullivan.

Design and architectural history must include preservation because without it there would be no history. Those efforts must be channeled to be effective and supported by the community at large. This was not always the case in the past, as the book below shows, and in many instances it still is not obvious.

img215The absolute best book on this topic, especially if you live in the Chicago area, is the book titled They All Fall Down (shown here) by author Richard Cahan published in 1994. It chronicles the struggle by one man, photographer Richard Nickel to save the various landmarks in the Chicago area and throughout the Midwest designed by Louis Sullivan. A more than heroic effort ultimately cost Nickel’s life. The 261 page book is a treasure trove of unknown facts, a superb read, almost like a detective story. The photographs in this post are from the book, and if you love architecture and the work of Louis Sullivan you could almost take this on a walking tour and “see what disappeared” over the years.

img216At times it takes years for sound reflection on a topic or a cause. Around us, samples and examples of design objects are disappearing from everyday life into private or public collections. Perhaps they will be stored away from the public for many years, if the funding is lacking to do a large exhibition or show. A whole generation will again grow up without having seen fabulous transistor radios, vacuum cleaners that looked like they came from the moon, handmade craft objects to embellish our homes, samplers made by Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants, real handcrafted and designed book bindings, marble tables manufactured by Knoll, and whatever else one can think possible. Before you know it, it will be gone!

img218img235img236img238img239The author Richard Cahan should have received an award for his contribution to our understanding of what preservation means to all of us. I am sure Richard Nickel’s family would approve.

If you would like to know more about Chicago’s architecture, preservation, Louis Sullivan and anything related to the design of fine architecture in the past, go to the link on our Blogroll sidebar at the left, Chicago’s only gallery devoted for many many years to Architecture: the Architech Gallery. You will not be disappointed.

Please visit our posts on America’s Design History Part One here and America’s Design History Part Three here.

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