One IBM Plaza

 1966 - 1970

The Story

It’s hard to resist the sublime and symbolic liaison between the iconic 20th-century American corporation and the iconic modern architect. The resulting building—the structure formerly known as One IBM Plaza—has became synonymous with corporate power.

In September 2013, the building will reflect the changing face of capitalism with a new tenant, the American Medical Association. Just as much a behemoth as its predecessor, the physician’s trade group will take over a significant portion of the building, which will be renamed the AMA Plaza.

With black anodized aluminum to gray-tinted glass, Mies and his colleagues crafted a uniform skin that lends the building an air of a single imposing and impressive volume. It exerts its presence in Chicago's distinguished skyline through strength and clarity of form—the culmination of a meticulous lifelong study in structural expression, material simplicity, proportion, constructive detail, and organizational scale.

As one of Mies’ few projects consisting of only a single building, IBM is positioned on the riverside to capture views of the lake. Set on an elevated plaza on the north bank of the Chicago River, its presence is striking particularly as one crosses the River on Michigan Avenue or Lake Shore Drive. Not unlike the corporation for which it was built, it projects a contrasting personality—black monolith in day, luminous beacon at night.

Why it’s important.
One of Mies’ last American buildings (and his tallest at 52 stories or 670 feet), it was completed in 1970, a year after his death. As such, his participation was more that of an overseer. As Phyllis Lambert said, "Architecture is a collaborative building art, and the contribution of Mies’ office colleagues is indisputable; but it was ultimately his own sober and magnetic guidance that sustained the oeuvre."

While you are there.
Turn west to see the "corncob buildings," officially known as Marina City, built in 1964 and designed by Bertrand Goldberg, who studied under Mies in Germany at the Bauhaus. A comparison of the two buildings illustrates Mies’ words, "Form is not the aim of our work, but only the result." While Goldberg’s and Mies’ buildings take wildly different forms, both are representative of "structure follows space" modernism, with the aesthetic exposure of structure.