Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Guaranty Building

The Guaranty Building, which is now called the Prudential Building, was designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler, and built in Buffalo, New York.
The supporting steel structure of the building was embellished with terra cotta blocks. Different styles of block delineated the three visible zones of the building. 
The building is essentially a U-shaped plan stacked upon a rectangular solid. The interstitial spaces between wings of the “U” create opportunities to introduce skylights to the lobby below, and to cover the ceilings with stained glass. The plan contained a single vertical circulation core with four elevators, a mail slot, and staircase. No fire-stair was provided or necessary. The internal portion of the “U” faces south so as to collect light for the interior recesses of the building- light being a necessary commodity to attract good tenants. Sullivan spared nothing to accomplish this end for: “In order to increase the amount of light to the interior, the stairwell and the light slit facing the inner courtyard were lined with white glazed terra-cotta that was more costly than normal tiles.”[4](Frei 1992)  Mechanical systems were relegated to the basement, including the motors for the elevators, boilers, and electrical “dynamos.” Entrances were provided on both Church and Pearl Streets. A concierge desk offered services to tenants and guests including mail delivery. A series of office floors of identical plan above the “base” of the building  were placed . These floors featured private lavatories in reconfigurable office spaces. The halls were defined by wood and glass partition walls, intended to give the interior a bright and “club” like feeling. The elevators and staircases were enclosed not by walls, but metal cages permitting southern light to penetrate through the circulatory systems and into the hallways. 
The only exception to the rise of offices was the seventh floor with lavatories and a barbershop, and the top floor with a US Weather Service Bureau office and spaces for building attendants.


Critical reception of the Guaranty Building was quite strong upon its opening. The critic Barr Ferree in 1895 opined: "though possibly the most richly decorated commercial building in America, the skill of the artist has produced a design of structural sobriety with great richness of effect.' This unity of structure and aesthetics 'has been attained' he diagnosed, 'by the long unbroken vertical lines of the superstructure.’ Montgomery Schuyler knew of 'no steel-framed building in which the metallic construction is more palpably felt through the envelope of baked clay.'" (Twombly 1986)

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