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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Jul, 27, 2011,
9:53 AM

The Rise and Fall of LEGO City

Rome may not have been built in a day, but they had to worry about things like “structural stability” and “providing shelter for real people.” Luckily for us, building with LEGOs requires no such considerations, and on Saturday, around 500 LEGO enthusiasts of all ages filed into Crown Hall and built a whole city in seven hours (although you’d be impressed by the stability and size of many of the structuresthere were a lot of architecture-savvy IIT alumni present). 

Monday, IIT staff undertook the daunting task of dismantling the city—unlike Rome, we didn’t have any Visigoths to do it for us. We started out orderly, breaking apart the pieces with our hands and sorting them by color. By mid-morning, we were throwing them on Mies’ sturdy concrete floor, and by the afternoon, we were aping Godzilla

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