The texture of the stonework almost jumps off the page. Such is the quality of the photography and reproduction that the sensuous features of building materials appear tactile, almost hyperrealistic, when rendered in large-scale black-and-white prints. Page after page we encounter the architecture at varying scales: Detailed images of interlaced cast-iron or terra-cotta ornament pull the viewer in, while artful shots of surrounding neighborhoods, with real people, automobiles, and sunlight, from the 1950s and 1960s place the architecture in its urban milieu. We turn from whole to part to whole effortlessly, breathing in the massive city’s air — all prompted by the encyclopedic, loving rendition granted by this visual documentation that traces a firm’s trajectory.
At a time when many of us have declared the imminent death of the printed book, and when every firm in its infancy seems capable of launching a monograph, along comes a blockbuster that bowls us over. The book in question, The Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan, released this fall by the University of Chicago Press, revisits a powerful body of work and reminds us of architectural history’s ability to change our perspective.