March 27, 2012
Mies van der Rohe's 126th Birthday
Mies van der Rohe's architecture was the backdrop of my childhood. I grew up in downtown Chicago in the 1970s and 80s, and several friends lived in apartment buildings designed by Mies. In addition, Myron Goldsmith (one of Mies' students and associates), his wife and kids, were close friends of my family. For me, Mies wasn't precious or intellectual or challenging or even "modern;" his buildings were just places where people raised kids, worked at interesting jobs, and taught. As I grew older, I wondered why he lacked the public awareness and embrace of an architect like Frank Lloyd Wright.
Now, even though I have a more sophisticated knowledge of Mies' designs, I am a fan because of what his designs engage and inspire. Moving through them takes me past industrial materials and spare forms, and yields color, a relationship with nature, and vibrant interaction in the universal spaces.
Mies built S. R. Crown Hall, featured in today's Google Doodle, as a "home for ideas and adventures." Since its completion in 1956, it has been home to IIT's College of Architecture and has inspired students, lectures, dances, art exhibitions, and more. It is a lab for creation, which is fitting because the structure itself was a lab for Mies' breakthrough in the use of glass and steel-he defied expectations and proved his genius by using steel frames to hang a ceiling, rather than using supportive columns. The result was a revolutionary clear-span structure, 120 by 220 by 18 feet high, the premiere enclosed universal space.
Since assuming my role as Director of the Mies van der Rohe Society, I am in awe of what this space provokes. In 2006, we hosted an exhibition of mid-century Marimekko textiles and products. Visitors thought the building and the fabrics were so fresh and so now, they couldn't believe it had all been designed decades earlier. Four years later, we showed the largest-ever exhibition of Andy Warhol's Silver Clouds, a light-filled room for 1,000 helium-filled reflective balloons to interact with people of all ages. And every summer we host a day for hundreds of families to sprawl on the floor and use Legos to build their own creations.
The skyscrapers, wide-open lobbies, exterior plazas, and spare-but-useful living plans that define today's major cities are possible because of Mies and his "less is more" philosophy. Come visit S. R. Crown Hall, take a tour of the campus he designed for Illinois Institute of Technology, and have your own adventure in Mies' space.
Posted by Justine Jentes, Director of the Mies van der Rohe Society