Saturday, March 21, 2015

Mies van der Rohe in Chicago: Connections -- March 21

Connections . . . originally that was the subject of this blog.  I try to remain true to the original premise, and today that is amazingly easy.

It was on this date, March 21, in 1943 that The Chicago Tribune printed a glowing piece on Mies van der Rohe, who for five years had served as the Director of the School of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology.  “In his new studio here, on the ground floor of the Art Institute, the real Van der Rohe feels himself again,” the feature reported.

When he first came to Chicago in1 1937, the piece continued, “. . . students addressed him as Mr. van der Rohe, but that long ago gave way to ‘Mies’.”  And those who study under him call him that with a familiar and affectionate respect.” [Chicago Tribune, March 22, 1943]

Elizabeth Wright Ingram
Appearing in the feature was an anecdote involving the granddaughter of Frank Lloyd Wright, Elizabeth Wright, a student at I.I.T.  She apparently asked the director why students were allowed so little freedom during their course of study.  Mies told her to return the next day for her answer.

She returned the following day, and Mies gave her a piece of paper and a pencil and told her to write her name.  “There,” he said, “is a matter of self-expression.  First you learned the ABC’s.  Then you learned to write.  The way you write you learned last of all.  So it is with architecture.  First you learned the fundamentals, then how to build.  The way you chose to build comes last.  That is self-expression.”  (The lesson must have had an effect.  Wright went on to design more the 130 buildings in the Colorado Springs area.  She died at the age of 91 several years ago.)

At the end of the feature, the paper disclosed that the architect “who is medium of height, dark, and somewhat stocky in build” had applied for American citizenship even as he was finishing plans for the new campus at I.I.T. 

“I like America,” the paper quoted Mies as saying.  “I like its people; and I particularly like Chicago.”

Now you will have to wait a bit for the connection, but on this same day in 1955 a very lucky ironworker survived a six-story fall in an elevator cage at an apartment building under construction at 2933 North Sheridan Road.

 In order to stay warm while he worked on the building, 28-year-old Norbert Gackowski, had dressed himself in “a coat, a sweater, overalls, a shirt, two pairs of pants, three undershirts, two pairs of shorts, and three pairs of socks.”  [Chicago Tribune, March 21, 1955]

Just down the street at Columbus Hospital an examination failed to turn up any injuries for Grackowski although he was kept at the hospital for observation.  The theory was that all of the clothes he was wearing had protected him from the violence of the elevator cage’s fall.

And the connection?  Wait for it . . .

The apartment building at 2933 North Sheridan Road is today called – The van der Rohe.

Sheridan Road entrance of The van der Rohe (

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