S.R. Crown Hall

Address: South State Street 3360 | CHICAGO-ILLINOIS | United States
Latitude/Longitude: 41.8331, -87.6273

Crown Hall, IIT’s College of Architecture building, is the centerpiece of a master campus plan designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1940. It has a grace and elegance that the brick and glass buildings around it do not, perhaps because, as Kevin Harrington, in the AIA Guide to Chicago writes:

“Crown Hall departs from the module that Mies established for the campus in his master plan. As a result, it…becomes what Mies called representational…[which] must declare the highest purposes and ideals of the institution.”

The visitor ascends two thresholds to enter the building: low-rise stairs to a wide, uncovered, floating slab, and then a second stairway to the entrance doors. This entry procession helps “elevate” the building from its rather uninhabited and plain surroundings. There is a similar threshold procession to Mies’ Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois.

Of the structure of Crown Hall, Harrington writes: “During the day, Crown Hall seems a precisely defined, translucent, and transparent volume in perfect repose. At night it becomes a reliquary of light, as its interior illumination appears to make the building seem almost to float on a cushion of light.”

The IIT campus is of great recent architectural interest, as Rem Koolhaas of the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) was recently awarded the commission to build a new student center near Crown Hall and the train stop. His project wraps the length of the train stop in a hollow stainless steel tube to contain noise, and proposes a rather indescribable urban strategy–neither building nor city–to inhabit the space on either side of the train stop. Mies casts a long and devilish shadow over all architects; OMA’s gelatine models struck me as delectable filling injected into the spatially crisp master plan and low-slung exoskeletons of IIT.

⇒ Architecture Guide to CHICAGO-ILLINOIS