Aug, 11, 2011,
10:21 AM

A Wartime Effort

The Minerals and Metals building, known around campus as M&M, was both Mies’ first design constructed at IIT and his first in the United States. It was built in 1943, a bad time to make anything other than a tank or battleship, as most construction materials were redirected to the war effort. The situation was so dire the government was even collecting scrap metal (to this end, IIT donated the steel fence around its athletic field). In fact, M&M was originally used to inspect said scrap metal, and many of the workers were graduates of IIT’s wartime tuition-free program to train women as inspectors.

As for the building itself, many people assumed its wall of windows was in homage to the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian.

Mies soon set them straight: he was using window bays to illustrate the internal divisions within the building. Nobody had seen anything like it—a building expressing its own structure—but Mies soon perfected and popularized the form. See many such buildings on IIT’s Mies-designed Main Campus on one of our daily tours

The inside of M&M (photo courtesy of Garrett Rock)

› Read more
Aug, 9, 2011,
2:09 PM

A Restoration Solution

Mies’ last Chicago residential building is getting all 20 of its columns restored. The 2400 North Lakeview building was completed in 1963.

The column’s bases were corroded over time, and patches only worked so well. But the building’s dwellers came up with an answer; the new aluminum cladding on the columns accompanies an easy-to-access apron at each base that may be removed to clear debris and prevent deterioration.

Check out resident Patricia Joseph’s blog for photos and details, and let us know your tips for restoring modern buildings.

› Read more
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

› Read more
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. 

› Read more