Aug, 5, 2011,
12:51 PM

Mies and Modern Music

Lollapalooza is in Chicago this weekend, and that got us thinking: Which 20th century rock band is most Miesian?

We’d say Kraftwerk, and here’s why.

1. They’re from Germany too.

2. They pioneered electronic music and Mies pioneered modern architecture—products of the mid-century that are undeniably influential.

3. The aesthetic of Kraftwerk and Mies relies on deliberate minimalist approaches.

So, before the 41-year-old band officially retires, we propose they play S. R. Crown Hall. Think about it: What better venue for the sparse but engaging quality of Kraftwerk’s music than this simple but magnificent Mies landmark? Somehow, we need to let Kraftwerk know about this opportunity.

The founders Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider (who left the band a few years ago) are famously elusive. And those who know where Kraftwerk’s studio is located in Düsseldorf, Germany are protective of its location. It’s been a challenge to get their attention.

While we didn’t sneak off to Düsseldorf (we need those Mies Society funds to restore his buildings here at IIT!), we did spend significant time trying to contact the band, and we’re one of many to fail. (Read this amusing British journalist’s account of his pursuit.)

Our close call came when Jim DeRogatis, Chicago-based pop music critic, gave us the phone and fax numbers to their studio. He suggested we try fax first—Kraftwerk does have a fondness for machines.

After drafting the perfect cover letter and invitation and translating it to German, we sent the fax with great anticipation, picturing Ralf pulling it off a pile of papers on a concrete floor following a night at the bar. But as far as we know, that didn’t happen. We received no response.

Whether the failed connection was the product of our fax machines’ limitations or a wrong number, it was disappointing. The phone number didn’t go through, and we were left to attend a Kraftwerk Crown Hall concert only in our imaginations. In there, at least, it looks REALLY cool. And the sound? Suberb.

So, Ralf Hütter, if you’re out there, consider S. R. Crown Hall as a venue. Take a look at pictures of it online. Visit Chicago. The Mies Society fax number is (country code) 312.567.5001.

PHOTO: The Man Machine album cover, 1978, Kraftwerk

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Aug, 4, 2011,
3:50 PM

Hushed Developments

In true fashion, which is to say quietly, the library has been one of the great inheritors of modernism. Many libraries built through the 1950s had the misfortune of being dark and cramped—great for storing books, but not so much for enjoying the space. With the Internet making traditional library resources (i.e. actual printed literature) less sought after, libraries have become valued as community  meeting spaces with computer access. We take the plentiful natural light and open floor plans of recent buildings for granted, not appreciating how modern architecture helps ensure the library doesn’t become a thing of the past.

Photo from PBCChicago

  The new Richard M. Daley branch library that opened about three weeks ago in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood is the opposite of an old forbidding library. In a New York Times article, Chicago writer James Warren muses, “This one is as inviting as the long-shuttered firehouse across the street is forbidding. It signals to those on the street, ‘This is your space.’” The Daley branch is in part designed by Mies’ grandson and prominent architect in his own right Dirk Lohan. Libraries have had something of a renaissance in Chicago during Daley’s time, and he was responsible for 59 new ones during his 22-year reign.

Photo from CBCChicago

The new Daley library calls to mind the Paul V. Galvin Library on IIT’s campus—not designed by Mies, but rather by his successor Walter Netsch (who worked for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill). Galvin Library gets a lot of flak for its design, as Netsch placed steel beams on the roof, presumably in tribute to Mies’ masterpiece, S.R. Crown Hall. However, unlike Crown Hall’s beams, Galvin’s provide no structural support, and only add unsightly weight to the building.

Design flaws aside, Galvin’s interior is an incredibly inviting space, with plenty of seating and floor-to-ceiling windows. Recently-added amenities include “Fatboys,” which are enormous bean bags popular with sleep-deprived students (who use the space 24/5). It’s not the prettiest building on campus, but it’s definitely one of the most-used, which is the ultimate mark of success for a library. 

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Jul, 28, 2011,
4:55 PM

"Man on a Bench": a campus fixture

The “Man on a Bench” just outside Perlstein Hall looks badly in need of a shower, or at least a good hose-down. The University commissioned George Segal to make IIT’s first permanent outdoor sculpture in honor of the 1986 centennial of Mies’ birth. The Man has been relaxing here ever since, except for a brief break in 2000 when the senior class prank involved sitting him on then-President Lew Collen’s desk chair.

Segal, known for his lifelike human models in pieces like Chance Meeting, cast this one in bronze and then coated him with white acrylic resin. Paid for in part by the B.F. Ferguson Fund of the Art Institute of Chicago, which only covers projects on public lands, the statues actually comprises the tiniest park in the city of Chicago. Nine by six feet, Park 474 is known as a friendly zone for weary students and snowmen alike.

See all this and more on the Mies Society’s daily tour of IIT’s campus. 

Photos courtesy of Darius Norvilas and Steve Silverman. 

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