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Guaranty Building
The Modern Office Building

he invention of the electric elevator in 1889, as well as refinements of materials—such as iron and eventually steel—lighting, ventilation and construction equipment, changed the modern office building forever, and architects now had the freedom to design tall buildings and eventually skyscrapers. Once this new type of modern building was established, there were questions about what the style of tall buildings should be.

In an 1896 essay entitled “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered,” Chicago architect Louis Sullivan outlined his principles for designing tall buildings. Although he had put his own ideas into practice earlier that decade with the Wainwright building in St. Louis, in 1896 he completed one of the best examples of an early tall office building in the United States, the Guaranty Building in Buffalo, New York.

This thirteen story office building is one of the first tall buildings to use ornamentation to accentuate the vertical thrust of the facade. Sullivan instituted a tri-partite division of the building that reflects in form the three major functions of a tall urban office building: stores and display at ground level; “honeycomb” of offices in the upper stories; mechanics of building infrastructure at “attic” level.

Pictured: Guaranty Building, 1896, Buffalo, New York

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