Archive for the ‘IIT’ Category

Seed your Head. In the High Temple o’ Modernism



On Friday, June the 6th 2008 in Chicago.

I’ll be there (just back from Tokyo, Beijing and Shanghai to look at buildings) to give a lunchtime talk on Crown Hall, Mies, and the IIT Campus with works by Mies, Helmut Jahn and Rem Koolhaas.

Be there! The first two SEEDs were fab. You will:

Learn about taking control of your own work by seeking out methods to inspire new thinking and adopt unconventional ideas about collaboration and business via six presentations and discussions led by 37signals, Segura Inc, Coudal Partners and friends.


will fill your head with knowledge you can use. This isn’t about theory, it’s about practice

You should attend if you’re a designer (print, web or video) or a business-minded soul who is looking to take creative ideas and turn them into something SATISFYING & BANKABLE. Anyone creative with an open mind will take away something useful. This is a day of active learning, not just idle listening. Only 270 seats available. REGISTER NOW

The venue will inform the discussion too, SEED will be held in the “Cathedral of Modernism”

CROWN HALL by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Painstakingly renovated in 2005, Crown Hall stands as one of the most important buildings of the modern age and it was also held in the highest regard by Mies himself who said it best represented his “architecture of almost nothing.”


CARLOS SEGURA is the founder of Segura, Inc. an internationally recognized visual communications company and the creator of T.26 the web’s original digital type foundry as well as the 5″ retail brand and the Cartype weblog.

JASON FRIED is the founder of 37signals, influential creators of web-based communication and collaboration tools Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack & Campfire and authors of the book Getting Real and the popular weblog Signal vs. Noise.

JAKE NICKELL is the Founder and JEFFREY KALMIKOFF is the Creative Director of skinnyCorp, the force behind the unstoppable community-based tee shirt design concept Threadless and a steady stream of other great ideas.

EDWARD LIFSON reports on architecture for National Public Radio, architecture critic, blogger and Loeb Fellow at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. He’ll talk during lunch about the Crown Hall, Mies, and the IIT Campus, with buildings by Mies, Helmut Jahn and Rem Koolhaas.

JIM COUDAL is the founder of Coudal Partners, a design and advertising consultancy that has created numerous brands and concepts such as The Deck Advertising Network, Jewelboxing, Layer Tennis and Field Notes.

GARY VAYNERCHUK is the proprietor of Wine Library TV and a perfect example of someone who has used the web and his own ingenuity to harness the power of his passion. Check him on Conan, Nightline and Ellen.

An OPEN PANEL DISCUSSION will follow the presentations and the day will conclude with a

RECEPTION on the LAWN of CROWN HALL featuring wines selected by Mr. Vaynerchuk.



An amazing setting, great food all day catered by Big Delicious Planet and a reception on the lawn afterwards. SEED promises to be an amazing Friday, which will leave you with an entire summer weekend in Chicago & take our word for it, a summer weekend in Chicago is pretty tough to beat. Regarding SEED, you can take other people’s word for it too. Here are a few reviews of SEEDS 1 & 2: Mike Rohde, Jameson Watts, Anthony Zinni, Bud Caddell, Chad Udell

DK Design, Andy Sernovitz, Scott Dierdorf, Larry Wright, Wake Interactive, Matt Jankowski, plus search a lot more

Register for SEED Today

$499/person, attendance is limited to 270.

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VARIOUS DETAILS: Registration opens at 8a and the conference will conclude around 5p, followed by the reception. Breakfast, a buffet lunch, including vegetarian options, and appetizers at the reception will be served. WIFI is free. Parking is included and IIT is easily accessible by public transportation. In fact, the CTA Green Line runs right through the Campus Center. From downtown a taxi should be around $10. Directions. Google Map. We don’t have any hotel affiliations but we dig The Burnham, The Amalfi and The James. The Sox host the Twins SEED weekend. REM is at The UC, Blues Fest is on, as is The Printer’s Row Book Fair. Peace.

Copyright 2008, Seed Chicago Conference. All rights reserved.

New Directions at SOM. Aren’t they still going up?


Robert Irwin, Mies, Jasper Johns, and the flag


Robert Irwin (from the recent exhibition in San Diego.)

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe 1942
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. (American, born Germany. 1886-1969).
Concert Hall Project, Interior perspective.
Graphite, cut-and-pasted photoreproduction, cut-and-pasted papers, cut-and-pasted painted paper, and gouache on gelatin silver photograph mounted on board, 29 1/2 x 62″ (75 x 157.5 cm). Mies van der Rohe Archive, gift of Mrs. Mary Callery.
© 2008 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

The comparison is not so far-fetched. We know Mies, like Robert Irwin, was above all avant-garde. Mies’ use of collage to present his architecture, in 1942 and earlier, is radical. Mies was friends with Dada artists and worked with the progressive design magazine “G” whose contributors included El Lissitzky, Walter Benjamin, Man Ray, Georg Grosz, Kurt Schwitters, Piet Mondrian, Constantin Brancusi and Fernand Léger.

And, as Architecture Historian Neil Levine tells us about another famous Mies collage, the one for a convention hall,

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe 1954
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. (American, born Germany. 1886-1969).
Convention Hall, project, Chicago, Illinois,
Preliminary version: interior perspective. 1954. Collage of cut-and-pasted reproductions, photograph, and paper on composition board. Mies van der Rohe Archive, gift of the architect. © 2008 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

….The design is a montage of sepia prints made from a Life magazine color photograph of the 1952 Republican Convention… (Notice) the signs for (Republicans) Ike and Taft. Somewhat more ominous are the posters, like the one in the foreground just to the left of center, that say “Impeach Earl Warren,” the nemesis of conservatives in the McCarthy era.

The most prominent, and perhaps most curious, element of the design is the lone vertical one to the left. It is an applique of a small American flag, made of fabric and hanging from the roof truss between two of the state seals. It is the kind of miniature flag attached to tiny sticks that are waved by children in July Fourth parades and bought in five-and-dime stores. The readymade, pop imagery recalls Jasper Johns’ series of painted Flags, begun the same year the collage was finished

Jasper Johns, 1954-55
Jasper Johns. (American, born 1930).
Flag. 1954-55 (dated on reverse 1954).
Encaustic, oil, and collage on fabric mounted on plywood, three panels,
42 1/4 x 60 5/8″ (107.3 x 153.8 cm).
Gift of Philip Johnson in honor of Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
© 2008 Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA, New York

and which, as much as anything else, returned the question of representation to the forefront of contemporary critical discourse while seemingly leaving the issue of politics up in the air.

The choice of a Republican imagery for a city controlled by Democrats, for a project sponsored by a municipal authority, in the same year that the Democratic party itself nominated Illinois’s own governor Adlai Stevenson as its party’s presidential candidate – for whom Mies, a naturalized American citizen since 1944, himself voted – renders the issue of interpretation complicated indeed. For sure, Mies did not intend the work to have a specific, literal meaning in the context of contemporary affairs.

It is neither pro-Republican nor anti-Republican, on the surface of things. But there is, as (Franz) Schulze noted, a “poetically representational” layer of meaning, one that Arthur Drexler earlier on described as “bring[ing] architecture into the realm of heroic enterprise” to create “the most monumental image twentieth-century architecture has yet produced.”” Clearly signifying something beyond mere space or structure, the collaged imagery of the Chicago Convention Hall condenses, into what is arguably the most powerful political statement of architecture conceived in the Cold War era, a visual representation of the core symbolic moment of the American democratic political process, at the scale of modern technology and in the terms of modern mass culture. Neither explicitly celebratory nor overtly critical, the collage blurs the boundaries between those two poles – as it submerges the crowd of people beneath the deep walls and roof structure – to work across the entire spectrum as a stringent diagnostic.

The frontispiece of the catalog that the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego published for their Robert Irwin exhibition shows two quotes

Less is more.
-Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Less is more when less is the sum total of more.
-Robert Irwin

In 2006 Robert Irwin gave a talk called “Less is More Only When Less Is the Sum Total of More.” In April of that year he gave the talk in Crown Hall – the Architecture school that Mies van der Rohe designed at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Mies standing over a model of Crown Hall.


Koolhaas hearts Melnikov and Rusakov


A few years ago (1998!) I heard Rem Koolhaas lecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He spoke at length of his appreciation for the Soviet Constructivist architects of the 1920’s and ’30’s.

I knew when Koolhaas/OMA’s Casa da Musica opened in Porto, Portugal about three years ago

that its form reminded me of something. It just came to me what.

Konstantin Melnikov’s Rusakov Club for Transport Workers (1927 – 1929). A building of the sort Rem lauded in his talk.

And inside both buildings are auditoria.

More on Melnikov worth reading.

Mies vs. Rem!

The showdown at

SEED – A One Day Conference in Chicago
on design, entrepreneurship and inspiration.

Friday, January 18. The first one sold out and reservations for this one are going quickly.

Jim Coudal is at it again, along with Jason Fried of 37signals and Carlos Segura of Segura Inc. and T.26; again presenting a one-day conference on design, entrepreneurship and inspiration on Chicago’s IIT Campus. For more on what it’s all about, check Mike Rohde’s illustrated notes from the first Seed and a couple reviews too.

And I’ll be there during lunch to talk about Mies and his great IIT campus, vs. Rem Koolhaas’ student center at IIT.

Be there! The first SEED Conference was a blast. The folks were jazzed.

Crown Hall in the Summer Solstice.

The sun rising in the east.

You see how straight and perfect are the reflections today.

North at noon.


And the sun, due west, just after noon.

Che bella. More to follow. Farnsworth too.

The Starchitect vs. the homeless?


I used to think “Starchitect” was a pejorative word. Now it’s used in marketing! Seen in a Chicago Tribune ad like this, to me it seems provincial and unfortunate.

But I’m glad to see Helmut Jahn’s name restored in Chicago. He was much-criticized here after his bathroom-colored, post-modern State of Illinois building opened in 1985. After that, and partly due to heating and cooling problems, Jahn’s talents were under-used here in his adopted hometown. Instead he designed fine, well-made, interesting structures mostly in Asia and Europe, for example Bayer AG’s new Group headquarters in Germany.

All of the work abroad by Helmut Jahn that I’ve seen is more daring, more exciting than

this new tower, 600 N. Fairbanks, that he’s designed for Chicago near the lake, near the river.

Why is Jahn’s work abroad even more interesting than it is in his adopted home town of Chicago, supposedly the world’s center of Modernism?


1980’s work at O’Hare airport, the terminal connecting tunnel, the airport subway stop and the United Terminal are all very nice and display his design flair.

And he has a fine recent building in Chicago –

his train-shaped steel, glass and concrete dorm at the Illinois Institute of Technology, across the street from Mies’ Crown Hall.

And very soon a similar steel, glass and concrete train-shaped form,

Near North Apartments, 96-units for homeless people, will open very near to where Chicago’s notorious public housing project Cabrini-Green recently stood.

I’d love to write the following story, I hope I’ll have time. I did a few interviews for it last night. Many of the homeless people Jahn’s SRO is meant to serve, well, when you talk to them, and ask them what kind of a house they’d like to live in, they describe a typical suburban dwelling, with pitched roof and fireplace, a few windows; when you show them Jahn’s building they don’t really “get” it. “It’s not really what I dreamed of” is what I heard, along with, “why did he use concrete on the inside?” The argument reprises society’s battles against Modernism! Stay tuned for more.

Buildings and trees


Yesterday was a glorious blue sky kind of day. I woke up to the view above, from my WC at the magical artist’s colony Ragdale.
I drove down that path to end my residency, about which I’ll write more.

Downtown I drove, a few of us architecture types were to gather at Mies’ IBM building for a meeting. Many of the views from IBM are blocked by the new Trump Chicago,

that’s it looming on the left, with crazy, glossy windows. With the views blocked, some law firms, architects and other businesses have moved out of IBM and much of it will probably go condo. Not all of course. Eg, Perkins+Will architects just renewed their lease there. As for IBM, they’re long gone and the owners have redubbed the place, 330 North Wabash.

The good news is, not all of IBM’s views are completely blocked by the new Trump Chicago. Here’s a view up the river, from a southeast IBM corner office.

From a south IBM window, looking straight down,

(since it’s not blocked by Mr. Trump) one can still feel the relationship Mies gave the building to water, and ice! Not unlike his early houses in Potsdam, the Farnsworth by the Fox River, the Lake Shore Drive apartments, the fountains by Seagram, etc.

Look a little northeast,

and you see the concrete Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist; by Harry Weese (1968).

Looking west from inside IBM,

Marina City
. Looks great! (What a city, Chicago!) And Bertand Goldberg, who did Marina, knew Mies in Germany at the Bauhaus. Here they are in exciting manner, side-by-side, risen tall.

Alas, Chicago Trump Tower looks worse than feared.

One architect at the meeting, saw it through the glass and muttered, “Vegas.” Another disagreed. She said the buildings in Vegas are better. I thought, “bad Houston.” The glass is cheap, thin and warbly. And the darn thing will still grow a heck of a lot taller.

Trump Chicago – a bad building – and Rem Koolhaas’ IIT Student Center – a good building — each make the Mies they stand next to ever more elegant.

No one ever accused Donald Trump of elegance. But cities need elegance to raise them up. Remember, as I realized again this morning, cities are where we’ve cut down the trees.


All aboard the Helmut Jahn Express


Pardon me boys, but Helmut Jahn’s SRO on the north side of Chicago is looking good.
Like a train running through the neighborhood.
Nice romantic imagery.
And Chicago has a lot of history with trains. Both as the freight and passenger hub and for the Illinois Central and the Great Migration of people riding the train up here from the south.

Helmut’s work is a knock – off of

his own fine dorms at the Illinois Institute of Technology, across the street from Crown Hall. There he said the train imagery is because these dorms run alongside the tracks and when he studied at IIT he’d romanticize taking the ‘el’ forty or so blocks north, into downtown Chicago.

The Near North Apartments add wind turbines to the top, – you can see them in the photos – they’re to create a little energy, or at least to make a nod in that direction.

Inside are 96-units for homeless people. The housing is slated to also provide access to services such as mental health assistance and vocational guidance.) Jahn told me he did the work pro-bono. It’s due to open in February. We’ll keep you up-to-date.


more on Jahn, and his SRO here


That Hovey thing

going up on the west side of the Edens expressway, near the once-nice Old Orchard shopping center,

is looking better – as trees are planted atop some terraces, people move in and turn on lights in their units, hang curtains, place houseplants and colors inside their homes.

In a way, a contemporary way, it’s looking like an Italian hilltop village. But it’s still a little scary. A little too like Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse.

Local architect David Hovey is a very talented architect. Capable of fine light-filled expensive single family homes, and condo buildings. He did the ones with the orange balconies in Evanston. Like ’em? I do. And the angled towers with balconies near the Davis Street train stations in Evanston. One of my favorite Hovey’s is near IIT, where he teaches. It’s shorter and quieter. Less oppressive. Beautifully integrated into the landscape. It’s called Michigan Place.

They’re nicer, smaller. But then … this.

To learn more about Hovey,
read local critic Cheryl Kent’s FINE book.