Mies arrived in Chicago in 1938 to become the Director of Architecture at the Armour Institute (now Illinois Institute of Technology) with the understanding that he would redevelop the curriculum. Soon after, he was awarded the commission to redesign the campus and its buildings, an unexpected opportunity to shape a university that no other modern architect was given.
The campus excels in defining the relationships of campus to city, buildings to campus, and voids to buildings. The first scheme of 1939 required the removal of State Street to allow for a central open plaza with perimeter buildings raised on steel columns. In the realized plan, clusters of buildings placed on a grade create a series of informal open spaces through a playful shifting of solid (i.e. buildings) and void (i.e. green space). A 24-foot square grid invisibly overlays the campus to guide its order. Then, by sliding the building volumes beyond one another rather than aligning them, Mies created expanding and contracting views, which offer a variety of unexpected experiences, reflecting the spatial concepts in the Barcelona pavilion on a much larger scale. Buildings define plazas without enclosing them, combining the intimacy of a Harvard quad with the openness of Jefferson’s U.Va.
Mies was dismissed as campus architect in 1958. Afterward, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill added buildings based on Mies’s plan, most notably the Paul V. Galvin Library and Hermann Hall, which served as the student union until the opening of the McCormick Tribune Campus Center in 2003.
Why it’s important.
The campus plan stands as the first instance in which Mies used the grid as an organizing principle. According to Phyllis Lambert, it was “perhaps an idea derived from the 5-acre Chicago city block, an American urban grid distinctly different from the winding streets, enclosed squares and axial alignment of European planning.”
What people say.
“It is the beautiful ambiguity of the IIT campus that the status of its built substance oscillates between object and tissue, that its modules imply potential extension yet end emphatically, that its structures hover between recessive foreground and prominent background.” Rem Koolhaas, 2001