The Tender Detail tells a story about the repression of sentimentality through architectural ornament. The protagonists are Louis H. Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, two of the most important architects and designers of ornament in American history.
Exploring how both men worked to solve the problem of late nineteenth-century ornamentation, the book interweaves close readings of their buildings and writings with wide ranging discussions across the fields of architecture, sexuality, gender, and philosophy. It suggests that their solutions, while widely different, were both intimately rooted in the tender emotions of sentimentality. Viewing ornament in this way reveals much, not only about Sullivan and Wright's artistic intentions, but also about the role of affect, the value of beauty, and the agency and ontology of objects.
Illuminated by personal stories from their respective autobiographies, which add a level of human interest unusual in an academic work, The Tender Detail is a readable, scholarly study which sheds fresh light on Sullivan and Wright's relationship, their work, and on the nature of ornament itself.