Wishnick Hall1945 - 1946
“We’ve got to expand our idea of what constitutes beauty from a technical point of view.” —Peter Land, IIT Professor of Architecture, in regard to the importance of restoring Wishnick Hall
Wishnick Hall, originally called Chemistry Building, was Mies' fifth structure on the IIT campus. According to Franz Schulze, Mies' biographer, it established the “stylistic consistency of Mies’ IIT classroom buildings." Like Alumni Memorial and Perlstein Halls, Mies used repeated modular bays as the basic building blocks of his Chemistry Building. Each bay is divided by an exposed steel I-beam, meant to demonstrate the distinction between structure and enclosure. However, Wishnick differs from previous classroom buildings with its three-story rise, acknowledging a move toward the second phase of Mies’ master plan for the IIT campus.
Chemistry Building was completed in 1946, and then renamed and dedicated as Wishnick Hall on October 17, 1966 in honor of Robert Isidore Wishnick. Since its completion in the mid-40s, almost every IIT graduate has taken chemistry in Wishnick’s main lecture hall. As such, the building is both a significant point on the campus and in Mies’ career.
Robert Wishnick graduated from Armour Institute of Technology in 1914 with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. He later received a LL.B. from the Chicago-Kent College of Law. He founded Witco Chemical Company in 1920, and donated $1 million to “Investment in Tomorrow—The IIT Campus" after making a small fortune. As an active member of the alumni community, Wishnick was elected to IIT’s Board of Trustees in 1936. In 1953, he won the Alumni Service Award, and a decade later, the Outstanding Alumnus Award.
“In recognition of his leadership and support of the University, and the institutional development program,” IIT chose the much-traversed Chemistry Building to be named in Wishnick's honor. He attended the dedication ceremony with his wife, Freda, and the youngest of his three children, William. News reports of the ceremony describe how Mr. Wishnick was “visibly moved to tears” by the honor of having such a building named after him.
Wishnick Hall's position as a main hub on campus made its dedication a great honor. Even still, heavy use over nearly half a century meant that by the early 2000s, the building had suffered a good deal of wear and tear. With the help of the Mies van der Rohe Society, funding for the renovation and restoration of both S. R. Crown and Wishnick Halls was raised in 2004. Following the restoration of Crown Hall, work on Wishnick began in 2006. For Crown Hall, efforts were focused on reviving Mies’ vision. Work on Wishnick was complicated by needing to balance preserving Mies’ design with the need for state-of-the-art laboratories, especially for IIT’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. Ultimately, that balance was achieved by renovating lab spaces on an individual basis, while restoring the lobby, auditorium, and hallways to their original state, along with a full restoration of the building’s envelope.
Restoration efforts were overseen by Greg Grunloh, an IIT alumnus and employee of the historic Chicago architectural firm, Holabird & Root, with the assistance of Sandra Bishnoi, Rong Wang, and LCM Architects. Preserving the building’s character was the top priority, and any updates were kept hidden in order to return the building as closely as possible to its original design. Particular efforts were made to match the original ceiling tiles, which are no longer produced. These provided good cover for some of the new mechanical and electrical work. Additionally, the building’s authentic air returns, near the doors, were salvaged and then fitted with air conditioning units, an improvement which has preserved the building’s original appearance almost seamlessly.
The final phase of the restoration, replacing the concrete porch, was completed in summer 2008. The building continues to serve as IIT’s home for chemistry, with facilities for everything from introductory classes to innovative and advanced research. Its successful restoration also means that Mies’ vision has been preserved, paying due tribute to the building’s historical significance in defining the campus’s architectural theme.