The Harold C Bradley House stands tall with the quintessential Prairie features of an extended roof with its broad overhangs and its leaded-glass windows. This house is one of the two residential projects, Louis Sullivan has worked on during his career. The residence is located in Wisconsin and settles itself into a period when Sullivan was known to be the ‘Father of Skyscrapers’. With projects like Wainwright Building, Sullivan Centre, and Guaranty Building under his belt the Harold C Bradley house was a rather modest approach in his career which was at its peak. However, unbeknownst to many, Sullivan was having trouble in his firm and career.
The Bradley House was designed at a time when Sullivan’s architectural practice was starting to fail. His long-time partner, friend, and revered architect Frank Lloyd Wright was dismissed and Sullivan, whose legacy is that of revolutionizing skyscrapers, now struggled with commissions and often did not get along with his clients.
This residence, primarily designed for the family of Harold Cornelius Bradley who was a professor of Biotechnology at the University of Wisconsin, is often noted as a partnership between Sullivan and Architect Elmslie whose role in the firm grew of prominence after the ousting of Wright. Critics have been making deductions concerning the level of contribution of both architects. However, conclusive characteristics state the personality and style of both architects shining through.
Sullivan now trying to expand his portfolio with more horizontal establishments with a more ‘theatre-like’ spatial arrangement designed the Bradley house in accordance. The plan is “T” Shaped and the entryway, leading to a corridor is the stem of the plan. The stem projects northward and terminates as a semicircle in the south. The stem is a linear arrangement of a dining room, a reading nook, and a living room. The corridor also offers branches with staircases and porches. The two wings break off from the living room into the bedrooms. Space and circulation were idiosyncratic as Bradley failed as a family dwelling. The spaces are disjointed and very formal. The residence was unable to express “domesticity” in room size, scale, or relationship of functions due to its impersonal rooms. The house was concluded by many critics as a structure that did not work efficiently as a family dwelling.
Although the functionality has been dismissed, the house offers an excellent relationship between the exterior and the interior. The expansive land has been manipulated very efficiently with multiple porches and terraces overlooking the lush gardens. The porches have visually striking overhangs that form an enclosure with prominent brick bonds. These brick bonds rest on a masonry reddish-brown base that appears to be married with the ground creating a seamless transition.
Sullivan has used lightweight wood to rest above the masonry to relieve the visual weight. They culminate at the top with heavy steel reinforcements creating strong horizontal lines that seem to float over the structure. It also establishes a vivid contrast and counterpoint. The overhang also extends to the large cantilevered bedroom over the entrance porch.
The cantilever ends are terminated by signature Sullivan’s ornamentation. By lifting the second story of the house onto columns and a high brick basement it creates a ‘sleeping cantilever’ with an enfilade squeezed between the basement and the cantilever. This is indisputably the most prominent feature of the Bradley house. This is the essence of the experience of the house – a sequence of spaces defined by layered walls-within-walls.
The entire house is roofed by a simple gable structure. One roof spanning from east to west covers the wings while the stem is roofed by a ‘W’ gable. All the small overhangs and cantilevers are covered by a hip roof. These gables also reinforce the strong horizontal lines and tie the whole building together visually.
Sullivan’s early training of the Beaux-Arts system lends its influence in the ornamentation and interiors of the residence. The heavily ornate cantilevers and porch offers a dynamic relationship with the masonry in the elevation. The wood is beautifully engraved with skilled craftsmanship with classic Sullivan patterns of 5-point stars and timeless lines varying in thickness. The interiors too, are rich and warm the room visually with tones of gold and wood. The furniture pieces were carefully designed taking inspiration from Wright’s older pieces. The furniture allows for Sullivan’s work to be seen spatially and as the architectural cusp of experience towards a goal owing to the theme of movement proclaimed in his ornament.
The Bradley house shows growth in Sullivan’s expertise in terms of form and ornamentation from his previous residential project – the Babson house. The residence also offers significant historical relevance as it served as Sullivan’s home during a period of turbulence in his career. It establishes itself as a historical landmark as a rare Sullivan Residence. But more importantly, the Bradley house is the culmination of the prairie style and sets the ball rolling for the Chicago school of architecture. The Chicago style is characterized by ornate piers, bold horizontal lines, and natural use of materials – all features seen in the Bradley House.
The Harold C. Bradley House endured a fire in 1972 and it destroyed most of its roofing structure. However, the restoration took place and it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Today it is occupied and maintained by the Sigma Phi Society, Wisconsin University.