Mies van der Rohe arguably first began exploring the potentials of the clear span and ideas of universal space during the war through his teaching at the Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology) where he served as the director beginning in 1938 after leaving Germany. It was with Mies and one his students, Paul Campagna, that work first began in 1941 on a theoretical concert hall for 3,000 people. Ultimately Mies ‘took over’ the project and his office produced the iconic collage of Albert Kahn’s Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Assembly Building in 1942 converting the structure into a large concert hall using only a series of floating acoustical planes in an otherwise uninterrupted space. From this point, Mies went on to produce a number of significant clear span works, both built and unbuilt, where he explored and refined this theme of universal space, beginning with a Museum for a Small City the following year, a theoretical project prompted by the magazine Architectural Forum, which also grew out of a collaboration with a student, George Danforth.
Using the resources of the Mies van der Rohe Archive at the Museum of Modern Art, we have produced a series of large format new drawings of eight of these seminal projects. The projects in the order they appear in the drawing series are as follows: the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois (1945-1951), the Cantor Drive-In in Indianapolis, Indiana (1945-1948), the competition entry for the National Theater in Mannheim, Germany (1952-1953), the Architecture and Institute of Design Building (S. R. Crown Hall at IIT) in Chicago, Illinois (1950-1956), the 50 x 50 House studies (1951-1952), the Convention Hall project for Chicago, Illinois (1953-1954), the unbuilt Ron Bacardi y Compañia Administration building in Santiago, Chile (1957-1960), and finally the New National Gallery in Berlin, Germany (1962-1968).
Drawn in great detail using the original construction drawings from Mies’s office, the engineering drawings, the drawings of his collaborators, and carefully referenced historical images, we have made every effort here to be as accurate and as precise as possible. Each building is drawn at least once in a 45-degree axonometric format, either regular or reverse axis depending on the focus of the drawing and depicts the structural elements. The decision was made to use the 45-degree axonometric based on its inherent abstraction and its precision. Mies, of course, used axonometry only rarely, namely with details and furniture, and contrary to his avant garde peers, his preferred mode of representation was the perspective.
The emphasis on the new drawings our office produced was on the unseen, however, and to that end construction is emphasized over appearances. This is not to dismiss in any way the visual effects of Mies, but rather to shine new light on how Mies actually managed to achieve these effects in a very real, practical sense and the axonometric proved the most effective tool in that regard. Most people familiar with Mies’ work are also certainly familiar with how his projects appear- the images are too prevalent in our visual culture to avoid. The drawings presented here though are more interested in, for instance, the structural idiosyncrasies, the diagonal bracing and tension ties, the elements Mies so carefully suppressed in his final expressions. Other drawings show other unseen elements, the layouts of underfloor tubing for heating, ductwork, flood waters, hydraulic construction, camber, deflection, various studies, and forgotten additions. The goal of all this was not to produce drawings that offer a revisionist or even contrarian view of the architect, but rather to offer a richer and more nuanced visual history of his pursuit of universal space.
The additional formats for the drawings are plans, sections, elevations. Drawings, where possible, are kept at the same scale. Nonetheless, it was required to produce the drawings in several different scales, for practical reasons, due to the sizes of the works- the Farnsworth House (77 ft x 29 ft) and the 50 x 50 house on up to the unbuilt Convention Hall project for Chicago (720 ft x 720 ft).
A few other notes. Following the completion of the National Gallery, Mies’s own office produced a small analytical drawing or sorts – uniformly drawn 1:500 elevations depicting seven of the clear span projects. We have added an 8th project back into the mix- the Cantor Drive-In, because of its obvious significance as a precursor to Crown Hall and Mannheim. Historically speaking and (we imagine) within Mies’ own office, the unbuilt drive-in restaurant did not fit neatly into the oeuvre, which in turn made the project all the more appealing and critical to the drawing series.
The order of the projects here and in the 1959 drawing produced by Mies’s office is not quite chronological. We followed the order Mies’s office presented the seven projects, with one exception- addition of Cantor). It is interesting to note that Mies inserted the 50 x 50 house between IIT and the Convention Hall because the 50 x 50 house studies showed both one- and two-way structural solutions. In doing so, the drawings present what Mies referred to as ‘gothic’ structures (one-way structures) first followed by what he referred to as ‘gothic’ structures (two-way structures). The 50 x 50 House presents an unusual moment where Mies considered both types of solutions for a particular building. Perhaps in Mies’s revisionist drawing the order of work was shuffled a bit to present a clearer trajectory of architectural thought leading up to the National Gallery, and if so, we thought it was important to respect this more conceptual ordering.
Drawings © 2016-2021 Landry Smith Architect, all rights reserved
Drawing team: Landry Smith, Ki Yeol Baek, Harrison Moser