A Miesian Adventure

A Miesian Adventure

We think we know Modernism…and then you have the chance toexperience one of the ChicagoArchitecture Foundation’s great tours.  This one, focusing on Mies van der Rohe andhis masterpieces, including the incomparable Farnsworth House.  Read on for more on our experience.

A couple of weeks ago, while in the Windy City for the AAO conference, we headed out by bus withcolleagues to see some of the works that Mies is famous for.

Starting first downtown, we visited the apartments Miesdesigned on Lakeshore Drivein the 1950’s.  They remain classic andclean, with their black I-beams outside a glass curtain wall, the concealed ina later tower.  The recessed lobbiesleave generous terraces on the first floor, and there are countless angles toexplore and see something new. Here are ourphotos. Despite almost 60 years, the towers still seem revolutionary…onecan only imagine the ruckus they caused at the time of their construction.

Then back on the bus, past Millennium Parkand Soldier Field on our way out to the Illinois Institute of Technology.  Mies had the chance to completelytransform/create this campus—building everything from the school ofarchitecture to a chapel.  Crown Hall,still used by architecture students, is breathtaking—a simple glass and steelbox with wide expanses for students to work.  We wondered whether it was inspiring orintimidating to work in this space designed by the master.

Rem Koolhaas recently designed a new student center for thecampus and he paid respect to Mies in his own way.  Hereare our photos of that portion of the tour

Then, after lunch, it was the ultimate Miesian experience—a visitto the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois on the banks of the flood-prone Fox River. SiteDirector Whitney French led us on a brilliant tour, sharing all sorts of fascinatinginformation on the architect, the client, the House and the conservationchallenges (floods, trees, you name it) that continue.   We won’ttry to sum up the books we bought at the gift shop.  Suffice it to say that fans of architecturewould love an experience here…put it on your bucket list.  In the meantime, we’ll leave you with thesephotos.

The whole tour experience really makes you think aboutModernism. Mies’ ideas were so pure and remain quite powerful.  Unfortunately, his ideas were aped, copiedand, in some instances, watered down to an unfortunate result. (A great linefrom the day was a mention of the firm—nameless here—that was know as “ThreeBlind Mies.”) We talk a bit about Modernism on our two walking tours.  At our docent meeting next week, I’ll besharing these photos and hoping to open their eyes to Modernism in its firstand most pure form.

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