Prudential Building

Prudential Building, Buffalo - United States, Louis Sullivan

Construction year:
Architect(s): Prudential Building
City/Town: Prudential Building

The Guaranty Building, now called the Prudential Building, is an early skyscraper in Buffalo, New York. It was completed in 1896 and was designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler.

Prudential Building, Buffalo - United States, Louis Sullivan Sullivan’s design for the building was based on his belief that “form follows function”. He and Adler divided the building into four zones. The basement was the mechanical and utility area. Since this level was below ground, it did not show on the face of the building. The next zone was the ground-floor zone which was the public areas for street-facing shops, public entrances and lobbies. The third zone was the office floors with identical office cells clustered around the central elevator shafts. The final zone was the terminating zone, consisting of elevator equipment, utilities and a few offices.

Prudential Building, Buffalo - United States, Louis Sullivan The supporting steel structure of the Prudential Building was embellished with terra cotta blocks. Different styles of block delineated the three visible zones of the building. Writing in his Kindergarten Chats, Sullivan said that a tall building “must be every inch a proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exultation that from bottom to top it is a unit without a single dissenting line.”

Prudential Building, Buffalo - United States, Louis Sullivan While the exterior skin of the Guaranty expresses a new form for the steel skyscraper, its plan indicates those hard realities of function necessary to construct such a building and to sell it. 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.”

Prudential Building, Buffalo - United States, Louis Sullivan The first and second floors are united both spatially and visually through additional staircases and the intention of retail occupation. 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. Above the “base” of the building a series of office floors of identical plan 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.

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