Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
BCO Members Tour IIT Campus
May 22, 2015
See Other CTBUH Tours & Visits
CHICAGO – As a supporting partner of this year’s British Council for Offices (BCO) Conference, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat hosted more than 40 visitors from the BCO for an event on its home campus at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) on May 22, 2015. As part of the BCO’s technical tour program, the event’s theme was to examine the role of Chicago in both the history and future of skyscrapers, with a special focus on Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who played a vital role in the history of IIT’s Architecture Department and the university campus itself.

The event began in Crown Hall, Mies van der Rohe’s most celebrated building on IIT’s campus, which houses the university’s architecture department. CTBUH Director and IIT Research Professor Antony Wood gave opening remarks and introduced the first speaker of the day, Dirk Lohan, Principal at Lohan Anderson Architects, and grandson of Mies van der Rohe.
Dirk Lohan, Principal at Lohan Anderson Architects, presents on Mies and the Modern Tall Office Building
Lohan gave a talk entitled "Mies and the Modern Tall Office Building," discussing Mies’s professional life in two sections: the thirty years he spent as an architect in Berlin, and the next thirty as an architect in Chicago. Attendees learned the evolution of Mies’s style and work, from his earliest designs – such as his dramatic modernist proposal for the faceted, all-glass Friedrichstraße skyscraper in 1921– to his renowned tall office towers built in Chicago and around the world in the 1950s and 1960s.

Lohan described Mies’s post-World War II designs for office buildings in Chicago as structures recognizable for their minimalist style, focusing on their signature use of steel, glass, and orthogonal design. He discussed the tremendous influence on global architecture that Mies’s skyscrapers possess, with special emphasis on their impact on Chicago’s skyline.

Mies’s architectural impact on Chicago extends beyond his role as architect in key city buildings, such as the Chicago Federal Center Complex; he also influenced generations of students he trained during his tenure as head of IIT’s Architecture Department, including Lohan himself. Lohan concluded his talk by revealing a bit of personal family history, describing what it was like working alongside his grandfather. He was able to tape conversations that he had with Mies towards the end of his life, and has since donated those recordings to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Eric Thompson, Mies van der Rohe Society, led a tour of the IIT campus that started in Crown Hall The recently renovated Wishnick Hall
Upon the conclusion of Lohan’s presentation, Eric Thompson, a docent from the Mies van der Rohe Society, led the group on a tour of the IIT campus. Thompson noted that during the time that Mies headed IIT’s Architecture Department from 1939–1958, he redesigned the department’s curriculum and, early in his tenure at IIT, created plans for the recently expanded 120-acre (49-hectare) campus. Mies designed a series of buildings at IIT featuring steel and concrete frames wrapped in brick and glass curtain walls, considered very innovative at the time. Delegates on the tour had the opportunity to visit several of these key Mies-designed buildings on campus, beginning with Crown Hall, and including Wishnick Hall, IIT Commons Building, and the Carr Memorial Building.
Looking across the IIT Campus at the McCormick Tribune Campus Center's Mies van der Rohe door The tour included a stop in the Carr Memorial Building, the only chapel Mies designed
The tour concluded with the recently-built McCormick Tribune Campus Center (MTCC), designed by Rem Koolhaas of OMA. There BCO members attended a brief presentation given by Antony Wood entitled “Chicago: Continuing Home of the Skyscraper?” in which he discussed tall building trends around the world, and concluded that Chicago remains extremely relevant to the industry.
The tour attendees gather on the steps of Crown Hall
Wood began with an overview of the evolution of tall building construction over the last 30 years, focusing on the transition of major construction from North America to Asia, the emergence of mixed-use towers, and the rise of concrete over steel as a preferred structural material. He then offered an argument that there have been three distinct epochs in Chicago skyscraper history; starting with the birth of the skyscraper in the 1880s, many of the world’s supertall buildings were constructed there in the 1970s, while today a global export of architectural and structural engineering expertise out of Chicago is quite evident. CTBUH data confirms that 19 of the current 100 tallest buildings are influenced by consultants from Chicago.

The tour of IIT campus and nod to Mies van der Rohe was a fitting conclusion to the BCO Conference, which took place from May 20–22 in Chicago, home of the skyscraper.