Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969)

By Marcia Faye
Urban Development - Yesterday
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Photo: Courtesy of IIT Archives

According to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s obituary in the New York Times, S. R. Crown Hall (1956) was Mies’ favorite design project, with the Chicago Federal Center [Everett M. Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, John C. Kluczynski Federal Building, and U.S. Post Office, Loop Station] (1964, 1973, 1974) being his second favorite. Thanks to the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and architect Sidney Epstein, one member of a group of architects who worked with Mies on the Federal Center project, the story behind this photo [above] of Mies and his bronze bust can be told.

Epstein, then of A. Epstein and Sons (now Epstein), and his fellow collaborators from three other Chicago architecture firms met with Mies for a lunch meeting once a month, often held at the Graham Foundation, over the seven years that the Federal Center project was being developed.

“I thought that Mies was a wonderful man; he and I became good friends,” says Epstein. “I felt that he was very modest.”

To commemorate Mies’ 75th birthday, Swiss-born artist and former IIT Institute of Design faculty member Hugo Weber created a series of Mies portraits, including the bust in the photo, which was taken at the Graham Foundation. In 1961, the Graham Foundation presented the then Department of Architecture at IIT with one of Weber’s three Mies busts. High atop its black pedestal at Crown Hall’s south exit where it is displayed today, the caricatured Mies seems to look out over the architecture students creating favorite design projects of their own.