School of Social Service Administration

 1962 - 1965

The Story

This low-rise, wholly symmetrical building sits on a raised plinth of travertine similar to Crown Hall. Built a decade after the completion of Crown, the Social Services Administration building merges many of the architectural solutions accomplished in both Crown and the Commons. However, the SSA is appreciably heavier, almost seeming to be stuck on the ground. Gene Summers was the project architect, and he was assisted by Dirk Lohan, Mies’ grandson.

"Summers’ predilection for bringing the enclosure to the ground was imprinted from the Commons Building at IIT," writes Phyllis Lambert. "The strength of his design and leadership, his ability, like Fujikawa, to bring projects in on time and on budget, and a practical bent similar to that of Mies himself, afforded Summers a major position in the office. Beginning with Seagram, from 1956 to 1966, he was Mies’ right hand man, directing all projects in the office other than housing schemes."

"Symmetry was a big part of Mies’ work," Summers recalled in 1996, "and it was also something that I really caught onto fast, and I loved these symmetrical plans. Now, Mies would take exception and not really call them symmetrical. Because to him a symmetrical on both axes, because that’s a static type of composition. But symmetrical about one axis was important to him. It was important to me...This was a kind of twist on something not modern. I mean that is not a modern concept. That’s a classical concept. And, you know, I loved the fact that you could make a classical composition with a modern building."

What people say.
"Gene Summers’ work is characterized by his interest in symmetry, substantive detailing, engaging enclosure, and conceiving of the building as sculpturally objectified. These tendencies characterized the work in Mies’ office after Seagram." Phyllis Lambert . 2001

While you are there.
Visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, the one building that Mies wanted to see on his first trip to Chicago in 1937. For a period of time, it served as University of Chicago’s Alumni House, but now is open for tours.