Jewel Box

View Exhibit map

Louis Sullivan was the father of the modern skyscraper, being one of the very first architects to embrace steel framing and to design buildings that took advantage of that framing technique. Some of the most beautiful buildings in Chicago came from the fertile mind of Louis Sullivan.

He moved to Paris about 1872 and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts for a year where Renaissance art influenced his ideas of design. He returned to Chicago, wishing to emulate Michelangelo's creations and by 1880, Sullivan became a partner in the firm of Adler and Sullivan.

Adler and Sullivan achieved wide fame, but an economic downturn in 1893 spelled doom for the firm of Adler and Sullivan. Adler left the firm and once again, Louis Sullivan was alone and he did not do well. The Carson Pririe Scott & Co. department store was his last large commission.

In the twilight of his career, Sullivan designed several small office buildings and a department store in Clinton, Iowa.

But his farewell gift to architecture was comprised of eight bank buildings commissioned from around the Midwest. He dubbed the designs "Jewel Boxes" for their simple but strong external appearance, with the security shown for the gems locked firmly inside.

When asked why the bank should buy his design, far more expensive than other architect's building designs, Sullivan replied, "A thousand architects could design those buildings. Only I can design this one."

These eight Jewel Boxes still exist and some still house banking operations. Sullivan once said "It is the pervading law…that form always follows function. This is the law." The fact that his 100 year old bank designs still function as banks proves his point - form always follows function.

Farmers and Merchants Union Bank (Columbia County, Wisconsin)
Home Building Association Bank (Licking County, Ohio)
Land and Loan Office Building (Kossuth County, Iowa)
Merchants' National Bank (Poweshiek County, Iowa)
One of Louis Sullivan's "Jewel Box" banks and one of the best preserved.
National Farmers' Bank (Steele County, Minnesota)
The most beautiful of Louis Sullivan's "Jewel Box" bank designs.
People's Savings Bank (Linn County, Iowa)
A Louis Sullivan "Jewel Box" bank, severely damaged in the Flood of 2008, undergoing renovation
Purdue State Bank (Tippecanoe County, Indiana)
Smallest of the Louis Sullivan "Jewel Box" banks