Sunday, July 21, 2013

Touring: Mo' Mustang And Mies (And Koolhaas)

Having another occasion to be downtown and to kill some time with friends, I put together a mini Mies van der Rohe tour of only two stops: 860-880 North Lakeshore Drive and the Illinois Institute of Technology campus.  The weather forecast was for low 80's with reduced humidity, so I put the top down on the Mustang.  It turned out to be 89 with high humidity.  We broiled, or broasted, or whatever you do in that weather, sitting in traffic on leather seats.  New Rule: never when the forecast is above the low 80's and/or the humidity is above 50%.

Modernism, especially in its most minimalist interpretations, is apparently a "love it or hate it" thing.  I love it.  Here's a link to the Wikipedia discussion of 860-880 North Lakeshore:–880_Lake_Shore_Drive_Apartments

Lobby, 860 North Lakeshore Drive.  860-880 are two condo buildings put up 1949-1951, the earliest skyscrapers after
World War Two in Chicago.  A real-estate developer interested in architecture and looking to make a splash hired Mies
to do them.  They were his first cut at minimalism for a large, tall building.  Although their exterior appearance and
height is identical, their shapes in plan view are slightly different to accommodate the trapezoidal lot. 

When Mies left Nazi Germany, he needed a job.  He was able to generate several offers in the U.K. and the States, although the top architecture and civil engineering departments were not beating down his door.  The Ivy League schools said "...meh..." and Purdue failed to make him an offer too.  He ultimately chose the Illinois Institute of Technology (formerly the Armour Institute, a trade school) because he was not only hired to chair the architecture department but also invited to design an entirely new campus covering about 3 city blocks.  It went up in the early 1950's.  The iconic building of that project is Crown Hall.  (The best biography of Mies, in my opinion, is Mies van der Rohe by Franz Schulze, University of Chicago Press, 1985, ISBN 0-226-74060-9.  He didn't have to leave Germany because he was Jewish, or persecuted.  The Nazis simply saw to it that his commissions dried up.  To understand their beef with Mies, consider those faux Romanesque concrete clunkers designed by Albert Speer, Hitler's favorite architect.)

South Entrance, Crown Hall.  This is a very large 3-storey building (about half a block wide).  The exterior girders seen
here permit an entirely clear span on the main floor.  There are no load-bearing walls, and few interior walls period on
the main floor.  This building houses the Architecture Department at I.I.T. and was where Mies taught.  The north face
of the building is identical.  The stairs reprise the way he handled them in the Farnsworth House.

In the early 2000's, I.I.T.'s building program crept east, across State Street (formerly parking lots).  Rem Koolhaus, a Dutch Modernist, won the competition for a new Student Center (formally called the McCormick Tribune Campus Center), which partially encloses an El station.  Since then a dormitory south of this building has gone up, designed by Helmut Jahn, a famous post-Modernist practicing in Chicago.  (I didn't take pictures of it...because I didn't like it...)

The floors in a good part of the Student Center are brushed stainless steel.  This works quite well, aesthetically and
practically.  This is a diagram of the building embossed into the floor.  While there are some rectangular rooms, and
some rooflines parallel to grade, the building features many acute and obtuse angles in the floor plan and also some

South face of the Student Center.  The corrugated stainless steel tube (with sound-deadening materials) encloses the El
tracks and 35th Street Station.  We had an enjoyable lunch in the student dining room; trains passing overhead are
barely heard as a distant, muffled, rumble.  They passed unnoticed by the students.

Student Center, interior, looking toward the Welcome Center and State Street doors.  The orange is pretty intense when
you're in the corner.  That aside, most features of the building follow Mies's dictum: "Less is more."

Exterior, looking north on State Street toward the interior pictured above.  Overall, I like this building: no Frank Geary
flights-of-fancy, or Helmut Jahn beating you to death with a thematic interpretation.  It's definitely "post-modern," but
respectful and in many cases referential to Mies's brand of Modernist minimalism.

1 comment:

Kate said...

I like it, too. Glad there's no brick. A lot of knock-offs use stainless steel, glass and then mess it up with brick. You hired that kid in the orange shirt, right? And the other one on the interior? They look like those little figures architects put on their models to show people happily using the space...

Broasting is what bros do in convertibles on hot days ;-)

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