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When you Google something today, you’ll see a line drawing of Crown Hall.  Bravo, Google!

Crown Hall is the Architecture building at the Illinois Institute of Technology, designed in the mid 1950’s by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who was born on this day in 1886.  The building often houses architecture exhibits and art events.  It’s well worth the trip to just be in this building.

Gandhi, when asked what he thought of Western civilization, replied “I think it would be a great idea.”  He died a few years before Crown Hall went up.  Too bad.  He might have had an aha-moment in this exhilarating, optimistic space.  He would have noticed the clarity of its thought.

The Main Building of what was then the Armory Institute of Technology was built by Patton & Fisher in 1893, the year of the Columbian Exposition.  You see it every time you drive down the Dan Ryan.  It’s Romanesque Revival and was cut from the same fearful cloth as all the gloppy grandeur down at the Midway Plaisance that year.  The powers-that-were apparently trembled at the changes– social, political, cultural, technological, spiritual, the works– that were in the air and exploded in the early decades of the 20th century.  Louis Sullivan was part of that change and his Transportation Building at the Fair was the only progressive structure there.  Poor Louis, came to a tragic end.

The 20th century turned a corner, any way you think of corner, metaphorically or technologically.  No wonder, “how to turn a corner”  became a major topic of discussion among architects.

Mies turned a profound corner.

Gandhi might have been drawn to sit in meditation in Mies’s chapel, which looks inconspicuous, without grandeur, affectation or cowardly historical revivalism.  The chapel at IIT looks more like a factory, a little workshop, a cubicle even, a place where you go to work on your stuff.

(Above, my caricature of Mies, 1986, when I was a docent with the Chicago Architecture Foundation and gave the Loop tours and the Boat Tour with great passion and the occasional quip about the powers-that-be, but you already guessed that.  )

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