Quintessential of modern architecture, particularly in the International Style, the S.R. Crown Hall in Chicago is one Mies van der Rohe himself identified as “the clearest structure we have done, the best to express our philosophy.” Mies van der Rohe, commonly acknowledged as one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, designed this hall along with the master plan of the campus a whole and several other specific buildings of the Illinois Institute for Technology (ITT). Its rectangular shape and clear glass and steel construction creates an open, multi-functional space.
Constructed from 1950-1956, the hall is home to ITT’s Industrial Design and Architecture department. It stands a 120 feet wide by 220 feet long structure with an upper floor of predominantly open area with study space, and classrooms and offices tucked throughout the perimeter. Below is a basement of primarily concrete with tile and terrazzo floors. The openness of the upper level typifies a “universal space,” embodying the functional simplicity and flexibility of Mies’ minimalist vision. Oak partitions can section off the parts of the open area without obstructing the natural light and sense of spaciousness.
The exterior also embodies this elegant, modern simplicity. Approaching the building from the south, a floating platform of stairs leads you from the ground to the main, light-filled level. The National Register of Historic Places describes, “Framed in steel and supported only at four points by steel columns, the terrace is paved with white travertine marble. These travertine steps lead up to the terrace and then to a smaller landing before the doors. The steps have open risers, giving the appearance that the steps are floating.”
Even the landscaping reflects Mies’ influence. Alfred Caldwell, a former student of Mies and a landscape architect, selected the Honey Locust trees planted outside the east, west and south sides of the building and climbing Boston Ivy.
A building Mies pointed to as an embodiment of his philosophy, its status as National Historic Landmark and its endurance as a functional, expertly-designed space make the S.R. Crown Hall a building with an impressive legacy.