Friday, August 6, 2010

Louis Sullivan’s architectural color, texture and pattern in Algona, Iowa

The front elevation of Sullivan’s building shows the recessed entrance that offers sturdy protection and a sheltering alcove from the street. On the right is a detail from the east elevation. Photography by Versluis.

Just 100 miles east of Sioux Center, in downtown Algona, Iowa is the Henry Adams Building, which was designed by Louis H. Sullivan in 1913. The building, which originally was a land and loan office but now holds the Chamber of Commerce, is regarded as one of Sullivan’s renowned “Jewel Boxes.” Sullivan was one of the most influential, modern architects at the turn of the twentieth century and advocated for a “modest, truthful, and sincere” architectural design. (1)

While not as impressive as some of the other “Jewel Boxes” the Algona building is still considered progressive and expresses the geometric, straight-edged, machine-like efficiency that is characteristic of Sullivan designs. Situated on a corner lot the building is solid construction and forthright. The building appears as a restrained rectangular box, which relies on thoughtful proportions and scale for visual impact. The slightly rough and reddish brown earthy brick surface is complemented by lichen/moss green terracotta tiles, which accent and yet draws out the horizontal lines of the building.

Sullivan appreciated the plasticity of terracotta reliefs as an expressive medium for defining the three-dimensional geometry of his buildings. By looking carefully one can discover Sullivan’s symbolic statements about the natural organic pattern and the underlying geometric structure of fauna motifs such as stems, buds, seeds, and leaves. All this seems particularly suited for an office building in a small prairie town.

  1. “What is architecture? A Study of the America People of Today,” Craftsman 10, 3 (June 1906), p 357; reprinted in Twombly, Robert C., ed., “Louis Sullivan: The Public Papers,” Chicago, 1988. 188. Quote is cited from Mary Woolever, Prairie School Works in the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago in the Prairie School: Design Vision for the Midwest. ©1995.


  1. I am a graphic designer working on an annual report for the Algona Chamber of Commerce. I was wondering if I could have permission to use the photos you have posted of the Sullivan building? If so, could I have the high resolution images? I would be happy to source/compensate. Thank you.

  2. please send me your contact information:


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