"Ah, that supreme, erotic, high adventure of the mind that was his ornament!"
Frank Lloyd Wright on Louis Sullivan (1924)
While he coined the phrase "form follows function" and is heralded as the father of modernism, Louis Sullivan's trademark was the lush, intensely creative works of ornamental fantasy which punctuated (or in some cases completely covered) his buildings. Usually made of cast iron or terra cotta, these masterful explosions could find their inspiration from the organic or the geometric as well as traditional Celtic imagery (surely inspired by Sullivan's Irish heritage).
Sullivan's signature ornamental work was evident throughout the St. Nicholas hotel which was erected in 1893 at the corner of Locust and Eighth Streets in St. Louis, Missouri. Lauded by the New York Architectural critic Montgomery Schuyler in Architectural Record, the St. Nicholas was the last hotel designed by the eminent firm of Dankmar & Adler and, with its sumptuously ornate ballroom and elaborate terra cotta paneling and plasterwork, a first class establishment.
The present spandrel was one of the terracotta panels situated under each of the windows on the three sided oriel bays which spanned four flights of the hotel's facade. Referred to as the "snowflake" spandrel, the design relies heavily upon geometry for its form.
The St. Nicholas, later known as the Victoria, was demolished in 1974.
R. Twombly, Louis Sullivan: His Life and Work, Chicago, 1986, pp. 276-277 for information on the St. Nicholas Hotel and an image of the hotel with the spandrels visible.