860-880 Lake Shore Drive
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
The twin high-rises, named after
their luxurious addresses, are legends in the lineage of Chicago
high-rises and of modern architecture itself. They are among the first
tall embodiments of Mies' lifelong meditation on structural clarity. The
reticent architect was precise and refined in this work, eloquent from the
careful placement of the slabs on the trapezoidal site to the subtly
cadenced A-B-B-A rhythm of windows along the perimeter. The most radical
feature of the building, though now trite to contemporary eyes because of
the countless knock-offs, is the skin-and-bone expression of the steel and
glass towers. The steel I-beams effortlessly define the structure while
the glass suspends and encloses space. It was, in a way, two buildings
that so simply assert their essence that they dematerialize and become
The popular criticism about
these buildings has to do with Chicago's building code and its mandate to
fireproof steel buildings more than one story in height. Mies had to cover
and fireproof his steel structure. He subsequently added I-beams of
different scales onto the facade for the columns and the mullions. This
detail was derided because critics claimed that the appliqués presented a
falsehood, a facade not in harmony with Mies' doctrinarian belief about
structure and truth. In response, Mies replied:
"... first I am going to
tell you the real reason for those mullions, and them I am going to tell
you a good reason by itself. It was very important to preserve and
extend the rhythm which the mullions set up on the rest of the building.
We looked at it on the model without the steel section [I-beams]
attached to the corner columns and it did not look right. That is the
real reason. Now the other reason is that the steel section was needed
to stiffen the plate which covers the corner column so this plate would
not ripple, and also we needed it for strength when the sections were
hoisted into place. Now, of course, that's a very good reason-but the
other one is the real reason."
Mies van der Rohe's New
Buildings, Architectural Forum 97 (November 1952): 99
It was important for Mies to
express the structure of the buildings and the applied elements did not
fall outside of his exacting logic, but were rather essential to the
poetry of the towers.
How to visit
Though private residences, the
City Council deemed 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Chicago landmarks in 1996.
The building is located within walking distance from the Loop, along
Chicago's gold coast. Most people can only view the buildings from Lake
Michigan's shores or from the public streets surrounding the building. One
can also do a quick drive-by viewing by cruising down Lake Shore Drive.
Only the privileged few can enter the private property, though design
magazines often feature interior shots of select units.
By Subway: Get out on the
Chicago Station of the subway in downtown Chicago at Chicago Avenue and
State St. Walk East on E. Chicago Avenue for 5 blocks until Mies van der
Rohe St., make a right on East Chestnut St and walk towards the lake. The
towers will be on your left on Lake Shore Drive.
Books and other web
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