Jan, 17, 2012,
3:25 PM

Three Blind Mies at IIT

On the Mies-designed campus of Illinois Institute of Technology, Hermann Hall looks like it might have been designed by the famous architect. But it was actually built three years after Mies left IIT by Walter Netsch. Netsch worked for the iconic firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which Frank Lloyd Wright dubbed the “Three Blind Mies.” Wright criticized SOM for adopting Mies’s aesthetic but failed to execute it as well as the original—a common critique of Mies’ imitators.

An example of this is seen in the steel girders placed on top Hermann Hall. They appear to be in tribute to Crown Hall, but unlike Mies’s masterpiece, Hermann Hall’s provide no structural support (just as in another SOM building, Galvin Library).

Even so, Hermann Hall is a favorite on campus, containing the Bog (IIT’s own bar, grill, and bowling alley) and featuring lovely landscaping on the south wall. And while SOM may have earned itself an embarrassing nickname, the firm has also received great critical acclaim in its 75-year history (which you can read about, and look through, here).

Of course, if you’re craving original Mies campus buildings, taking one of our daily tours of IIT’s Main Campus is more likely to satisfy than frustrate a discerning mid-century palette. 

Hermann Hall by kid_goulache via Flickr

Hermann Hall by iitundergrad via Flickr

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Jan, 13, 2012,
11:33 AM

A question of possession

Here at the Mies Society, we’re in the habit of spelling the Miesian possessive Mies’—with just a single apostrophe at the end and no extra “s.”

                For example:

                Did you remember to pick up Mies’ suit from the drycleaners?

                I would love to take a ride in Mies’ convertible.

                Edith threw Mies’ martini glass to the ground.

However, as many grammar enthusiasts have pointed out to us, this is against the doctrine of the grammar enthusiast’s bible, Strunk & White’s Elements of Style . The very first two sentences in the section “Elementary Rules of Usage” reads “Form the possessive singular of nouns with ’s. Follow this rule whatever the final consonant.”

The masterpiece of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style (a re-edit of Strunk’s 1918 original by White) debuted in 1957—the year between the opening of Crown Hall and the Seagram Building. Coincidence? Almost certainly. In any case, Strunk and White’s emphasis on “cleanness, accuracy, and brevity” is something we know Mies would appreciate.

That’s why we’re feeling conflicted on this Mies’ vs. Mies’s issue. Mies’is clearly minimal compared to Mies’s, but the latter does have a structural purpose that justifies its extra “s.” Mies’s is more emphatically possessive and not easily lost in all other declensions of Mies’ name. But then again, Mies’ is the European standard (not to mention, the official spelling in the Illinois Institute of Technology Style Guide). And Mies’s just has so many s’s.

So, for now, we’ll stick with Mies’. What do the grammar (and architecture) enthusiasts out there think of our decision? Tell (or scold) us.


Strunk and White by Kate Bingaman-Burt


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Jan, 12, 2012,
11:13 AM

A Covert Architects’ Collective

Reality Cues is an online collective of architects, “offering delicious and nutritional architecture in a fast food format.” They’re best known for their two projects Graffiti Lab, a blog displaying architectural landmarks graffitied with even more architectural landmarks (including landmark architects like Mies) and Archistophanes, the voice of Reality Cues—as told through his Twitter account and blog on Architizer. We caught up with the Reality Cues Librarian, who was able to answer our questions and forward more specific ones through the collective’s network of contributors.

1.       For starters, what’s the mentality behind Archistophanes and Graffiti Lab? What are these two projects setting out to accomplish (in addition to being hilarious)?  How do they relate to each other?

Each project and even Reality Cues is about making and addressing architecture in a new digital and interactive/social medium. Take Tumblr, for instance, whose currency is popular culture. Professionally crafted imagery and crude Photoshop alike find a home. Graffiti Lab set out to learn this language - not just to publish photos of buildings or architectural renderings, but to actually create architecture in the medium of popular culture and collage. Similarly, Archistophanes is a character invented to address the role of the architect as a social being. One that takes on the traditional rule-maker/critic personage, but also the internet junkie who reblogs and refreshes 24-hours a day.

2.       Can you give some background about the people that contribute to Archistophanes and Graffiti Lab—are many of them architects? How did they find each other?

The real nucleus is Reality Cues, which was born out of the desire for a creative outlet for a few architects who had other jobs, hence the pseudonyms. Rather quickly we have gained a number of members who feel that same urge to create within the digital world. We only communicate online, so typically someone will have an idea and send out an email, others will comment or join the project if they have time. This is how Archistophanes and Graffiti Lab were created: by a loose architectural think tank.

3.       @Archistophanes says that “The Age of the Architects is coming.” Sounds ominous. What’s that going to be like? Combined with all the talk about the New Architecture, this seems like it might be a commentary on the past age of the modernists. Is it?

Modernists were masters of promoting the glory of architecture. Since then we have become more critical of the capacity and role of the architect, but in some ways may have bound our hands in the process. Archistophanes attempts to maintain the long-standing tradition of the Architectural Manifesto, while not letting the pendulum swing too far back toward over-glorification. Twitter and Facebook are a thrilling platform for this kind of manifesto, where “At the store buying socks” is considered news. Architects need to navigate this changing social landscape, although it is unclear what our role may be.

4.       Regarding Graffiti Lab, what do you think graffiti can do? What does an image like this or this say about the building it’s Photoshopped onto?

Dr. Junk on ‘Less is More?’:
In the sense that this is Graffiti Lab, the question ‘what can [it] do?’ strikes at the core of this pursuit. The immediate, glib sentiment of one against the painstaking consideration of the other is a situation all too familiar to anyone of us who has gone through the rigors of our profession. The social media platform is a flat infinite plane; it’s interesting to see who’s paying attention. In that, the question is less ‘what does this say about the building,’ and more of a cultural concept asking ‘what is the New Architecture?’ GraffitiLab is one of many Johnny Appleseeds of this new landscape, sewing our own species of delicious hybrid varieties.
Smokey Joe on ‘Flaming Mies’: 
In the beginning, Graffiti Lab was quite literal: tagging our names on the work of our favorite architects. We’ve become more critical of what we make, but it’s still 50% Arch History 101 and 50% US Weekly. The real hope is to get architecture to a broader audience.  Whether or not combining MVDR and a classic flaming skull tattoo and putting it on the Getty Mausoleum is doing this, I can’t say, but I like to think that a few more kids will Google ‘Mies’ at the end of the day.

5.       And a question for both this graphic artist in particular and everybody: Do you really not want to be friends with Mies? How do you feel about him and his legacy?

Geraldine LaM.:
Ha! Well, this particular image is more of a personal response than a critical one. The feeling is that of wanting to actually be more than friends with Mies, in the Lady Gaga “Bad Romance” sense. While studying abroad I missed a late night connection in Barcelona and wandered around the city during the hours that I spent waiting for the subway to re-open. It began to rain and I found shelter under the roof of the Barcelona Pavillion. I ended up spending the night there and have since have felt a deep connection with the building and in some sense, with Mies as a public figure.


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Jan, 11, 2012,
2:32 PM

Furniture for the fabulous

Barcelona chairs are sleek, modern, and, to some, uncomfortable—all words commonly attributed to sexiness. But would you actually consider this classic Mies design sexy?

A posting on PRWeb, an online service that distributes press releases, would like you to. With the provocative headline, “Swanky Rooms’ Sales Figures Show Singletons are Buying Sexy Furniture on a Budget,” the proclamation relies on the fact that the UK retailer Swanky Rooms saw a 66% rise in sales of their Barcelona-style chair in the first six months of 2011 among “single professionals between 22 and 34.”

I don’t think I buy the story—but then again, it’s clear that the story is more interested in me buying the chairs. I’m in the demographic targeted by Swanky Rooms—apparently a “singleton,” although I try my hardest to fight off any Bridget Jones tendencies, primarily by lip-synching to Madonna instead of Celine Dion.

However, as a recent college grad, I can’t afford Swanky Room’s Barcelona chair knockoff, which costs around $500 (and I definitely can’t afford the $5,000 Knoll-produced original). If I was going to impress a fellow singleton by bringing him back to my “contemporary love nest,” I’d have to rely on my excellent DVD collection, to be watched on my laptop because I can’t afford a television either. 

All this to say… maybe PRWeb is on to something after all, because if I visited a gentleman’s apartment and he had a Barcelona chair, I’d be incredibly impressed by his financial solubility.

Whatever Swanky Room’s sales pitch is, it’s interesting that young people who aren’t me are indeed buying cheap—but not that cheap—versions of classic furniture. This kind of furniture is both an investment and a temporary fix (not unlike, say, Ikea, which offers $300 bookshelves that need to be secured to the wall for stability).

This blog entry was contributed by the Mies Society’s summer 2011 intern, Alison Howard, a University of Chicago alum who recently landed a job in advertising (and might now buy a television).

Photo: I can’t believe this is real by Style de Vie Los Angeles

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