In 1952, a photography student named Richard Nickel began to document Adler & Sullivan's work within the context of aging neighborhoods, crude remodeling and outright demolition. Of the 256 buildings designed by Adler & Sullivan, both as a team and as individuals, only 30 still stand. Most were demolished in the 1950s and 1960s, and of these, the majority were in Chicago, where their firm was based. Nickel mounted an exhibition of Sullivan’s work in 1954, and began planning a book to document the process. Nickel's work continued until his accidental death in the Sullivan-designed Chicago Stock Exchange building in 1972. Upon his passing, the Richard Nickel Committee was formed to continue the research begun in his book. In late 2010, the University of Chicago Press published The Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan, a 12-inch square, 461-page book with 815 photographs, which includes most of Nickel’s photographs.
Architect Ward Miller is executive director of the committee that brought Nickel’s work to fruition. I talked to him recently about the significance and influence Adler and Sullivan's work, and why the documentary photography of Richard Nickel is something everyone ought to know about.
J. Michael Welton
Mike Welton writes about architecture, art and design. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Interior Design, Inform, Modern and Artworks. He also publishes an online design magazine at www.architectsandartisans.com.