Use the following learning
objectives to focus your study while reading this month’s
ARCHITECTURAL RECORD / AIA Continuing Education article.
After reading this article, you will be able to:
the challenges of restoring a Modernist building.
2. Discuss the material substitutions
made to Miess design concept in order to preserve
the design aesthetic.
3. Explain the problems with the
original glass used in the building.
Formal ceremonies celebrating architecture
are usually reserved for ground breakings, openings, or reopenings,
rarely for closings. But on May 17, 2005, S.R. Crown Hall
at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), designed by
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and completed in 1956, was closed
for restoration and renovation amid much fanfare. A hundred
or so admirers of the school and the architect convened to
witness a symbolic demolitionthe inverse of a ribbon
cuttingto launch the restoration. Miess grandson,
Chicago architect Dirk Lohan, won the opportunity to smash
one of the 10-foot-tall windows at an online auction on eBay,
sponsored by the Mies van der Rohe Society (mies.iit.edu).
In the audience at the ceremony was Mark
Sexton, AIA, principal of Krueck & Sexton Architects,
the local firm charged with this phase of an ongoing restoration
of Crown Hall and other Mies structures. Sexton admits that
after the sledge hammer shattered the glass and the university
president announced that the reopening would take place in
15 weeks, reality set in, and his heart began to race. Although
an opportunity of a lifetime for any firm, performing reconstructive
surgery on what Time magazine called one of the worlds
most inspiring and astonishing structures is an undertaking
fraught with danger, suggesting that a tight schedule might
have been the least of Sextons worries. Crown Hall is
the home of IITs College of Architecture, where Mies
was director from 1938 until 1958. Thirty-six years after
his death, the faculty still consists of Mies disciples, who,
with a student body of 600, consider themselves conservators
of the masterpiece, which received Chicago landmark status
in 1997 and became a National Landmark in 2001.
|Ludwig Mies van der
Rohe circa 1956 standing in S.R. Crown Hall,
the architecture school he designed at the
Illinois Institute of Technology.
Images: Courtesy Krueck & Sexton, except
as noted; Hedrich-Blessing (this page)
The weight of almost nothing
Unlike earlier Crown Hall renovations
in which the travertine and steel of the South Porch were
replaced and womens bathrooms were added in the basement,
this phase was more complex and intricate. Crown Hall contains
the architectural DNA of Miess entire aesthetic. The
beauty exists paradoxically in the metaphorical nothingness
of it. The building is a big box, a one-room school
house, as Dean Donna Robertson, AIA, has called it.
The 120-foot-by-220-foot floor plate seems to hover 6 feet
above grade. Meanwhile, the roof hangs 18 feet above the floor
from an exoskeleton made of four, 6-foot-deep steel girders.
From the inside, the resulting clear-span, universal
space experience is that of being in a structure with
no visible means of support. Furthermore, the curtain wall
had enormous expanses of glass held in place by the slimmest