Alumni Hall

 1945 - 1946

The Story

Alumni Hall was Mies’ first academic building on the IIT campus. As such, it framed the
architectural language that guided the majority of other academic buildings. To align with the
campus grid, Mies established a modular bay 24’ long, 24’ wide, and 12’ tall, which proved
ideal for flexibility and efficiency, allocating space for classrooms, labs, and offices.

This module is delineated in steel on facades of most campus buildings. But unlike the
earlier Minerals & Metals Research Building (4), in which Mies was able to expose true
structure on the end, the steel grid of Alumni Hall only suggests the actual steel structure
within, an adaptation in response to a city mandate to fireproof classrooms, which forced
Mies to encase the structural steel in concrete. Thus, the columns you see are actually
mullions that hold the brick and glass panels. The fireproofing also instigated Mies’
tireless effort to resolve the corner detail, a solution which would reappear in modified
versions in almost all later buildings.

You may also notice that the steel mullions stop short of the ground. Why? Some believe
that Mies wanted to express their true non-bearing role; though rust, a more practical reason, has also been cited.

Philosophy behind it.
Beinahe nichts—almost nothing. Mies didn’t want these buildings to be self-consciously
architectural. Rather, he moves toward the absence of architecture—architecture as a
function of life. These buildings may seem forcibly barren until seen
as one unit within the campus context. Only then does the beauty of the full experience emerge.

Why it’s important.
Mies first developed his trademark corner in response to challenges created by fireproofing.
The skin’s corner bricks are stripped away revealing, at last, the true structural column.
At the same time, he reinforces the distinction between structure and skin while avoiding an
awkward junction of brick and steel at the corners.

What people say.
"Sometimes something has such a logic that it is a necessary form, although maybe in your
heart of hearts you would like to make it simpler." Myron Goldsmith, on the corner detail.