Perlstein Hall

 1946 - 1947

The Story

In many ways, Perlstein is a culmination and amalgamation of many ideas Mies was developing on the IIT campus—in particular the expression of structure, modular organization, construction detailing.

This building conforms to the structural bay of 24’ square and 12’ high, which provides an easy measure of comparison for building volumes. For example, Perlstein measures 12 bays long, 5 bays wide, and 2 bays high, with the entrance of 3 bays located on the southern end. The modular grid continues inside. Interior columns are set into the 24’ square grid of the campus plan—with doors, windows, and walls placed into it as needed.

Mies uses the grid to organize the interior into three zones: outer, inner, and circulatory. Spaces requiring natural light, such as classrooms, are located within the bay along the outer periphery; while auditoria, toilets, and other functions not needing natural light are located in the middle. An interior courtyard garden, another Mies trademark and the first of its kind in the United States, provides natural light for offices and conference rooms within the interior zone. Circulation corridors, 12’ wide and 12’ high, wrap between these two zones.

"Mies felt that the module was a very important thing to determine," George Danforth recalled, "so that the buildings wouldn’t be positioned in a haphazard sort of way in the future, that it would be the guiding principle." The modularity also instilled uniformity, and thus economy, in building components. Yet its true genius lies in the way it underlies—not overbears—the logical organization of space.

Why it’s important.
One unique aspect of Perlstein is the juxtaposition of two different structural systems. Originally built for Metallurgical & Chemical Engineering, it housed a large two-story lab which is expressed on the northern facade. Structurally, the lab is a one-way, gothic-type system, whereas the rest of the building is a two-way, classically based system.

What people say.
"They could just run through and place the doors, in relationship to the module, of course, because they related to the spaces inside—laboratories or offices as the case might be. So all of this becomes a fabric, a kind of weaving that works together or hangs together." -George Danforth