Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Moves to Chicago

In 1938 the Armour Institute of Technology, a modest technical training school on Chicago's near south side, engaged German- born architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886- 1969) as the director of the Department of Architecture.

The school strove to transform its traditional architecture program into one of international stature and innovation; Mies was a logical choice for achieving this goal. He had achieved international recognition at the forefront of modern architecture and established a reputation in the field of architectural education while serving as director of the Bauhaus school of design in Germany from 1930 through 1933.

After relocating to Chicago in 1938, Mies reshaped the architectural education of the Armour Institute and developed a disciplined curriculum to be carried out in a cooperative environment. Interaction was encouraged between students and a faculty comprised of professionals from a wide range of design disciplines. The curriculum encompassed progressive, Bauhaus- inspired courses on the visual and tactile characteristics of materials as well as fundamental classes on drawing and construction techniques. Students began their education with the methods and materials of architecture to provide them a sound foundation for future studies. Only when students fully grasped the basic concepts were they gradually advanced to applying these principles to building design.

Mies viewed architecture as embodying multiple levels of value, extending from the entirely functional to the realm of pure art. He also believed, through his interpretation of history, that the aim of architecture is to truly represent its epoch, and that the architect must search out and articulate the significance of the time.

In 1938 he settled in Chicago, IL, where he became Director of the Architecture Department of the Armour Institute (later Illinois Institute of Technology). From 1940 he redesigned the campus and buildings, placing rectangular blocks on an overall grid, exposing the steel frames, and designing all the junctions with his customary meticulous care (he claimed ‘God is in the detail’). He invented a sophisticated language of metal-and-glass architecture, shown to best effect at the Farnsworth House, Fox River, Plano, IL (1946–50), in which the terrace-slab, floor-slab, and roof-slabs were all raised from the ground and carried on steel stanchions of I section. This open glass-sided pavilion idea with impeccable detailing was used by Mies on several occasions, e.g. Crown Hall, IIT, Chicago (1952–6), and the National Gallery, Tiergarten, Berlin (1962–8). The Lake Shore Drive Apartments, Chicago (1950–1) had steel frames, while the huge Seagram Skyscraper, NYC (1954–8—with Philip Johnson (who did much to promote the Authorized Version of Mies's careeer) and Kahn & Jacobs), was clad in bronze and glass. Mies's influence cannot be overstated, and, with Le Corbusier and Gropius, he completed what might be regarded as the Trinity of Modernism. His impact worldwide is clear, and his metal-and-glass fronted buildings have been extensively (and often unintelligently) copied.