Sunday, May 10, 2009

Saving Mies

Having spent four years at The Illinois Institute of Technology, I must say that I have very mixed feelings about the work of Mies van der Rohe and specifically the IIT campus. I was originally drawn there by the dreams of Modernism and the radical design of the campus. But honestly, like choosing a good friend as a roommate, living with Mies is not the same as visiting him every once in a while.

Sometimes in my cynical, philistine moments I find myself saying: "tear down the whole campus", Crown Hall (where I spent most of my time) included.

But to hate Mies is really to hate all the inferior architecture that his work inspired. Go to the Federal Building complex down town and look at Mies' care and attention to proportion and detail, then walk a block east to the Modernist tower (currently occupied by Bank of America) at the south-east corner of State and Adams. This building is an obvious send-up to Mies, but only in the most superficial of ways.

In his proper context, Mies van der Rohe deserves his place in the pantheon of architects.

Edward Lifson continues to make a powerful and impassioned case for the preservation of a little corner of the IIT campus, a tiny building that would garner little attention save for its esteemed author.

Together with Lynn Becker's series of articles opposing the imminent demise of the Michael Reese Hospital campus, the case for historic preservation of less than easily lovable buildings is brought to the forefront.

Unfortunately at this moment anyway, both seem to be lost causes.

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