Chicago’s architectural world turned out last week for two notable occasions. First, members of the Mies van der Rohe Society gathered at IIT’s Crown Hall for a fun party to honor the famed 20th Century architect’s 124th birthday. The highlight of the “Riddle Mies This?” event was a Trivia Contest pitting two teams of experts—Cigars vs. Martinis (two of Mies’ indispensable props)—to test who knew the master best.
The Cigar panel included IIT Architecture Dean, Donna Robertson and architect Ed Keegan while the Martini panel featured architecture critic Lee Bey and cultural critic Edward Lifson. Mies’ grandson and noted architect, Dirk Lohan, along with critic, Franz Schulze, acted as judges while WTTW producer and architecture buff, Geoffrey Baer, moderated the 30-minute quiz. The Martini team won, though Cigars huffed and puffed about the score.
Amid the laughs, I learned 10 lesser-known facts about the German-born apostle of Modernism who designed 18 buildings on the IIT campus, who did not exactly utter the words “less is more” and who is Chicago’s unofficial patron saint of architecture. (For those who can’t wait to find out or wish to cheat, skip to the end).
1) Mies collected the paintings of which 20th Century artist?
2) Where is Mies’ final resting place?
3) What is another name for the Mies-designed Carr Memorial Chapel?
4) What was the former name of Mies van der Rohe Way?
5) What years did Mies head IIT’s College of Architecture?
6) What do Mies and Martin Luther King have in common?
7) What was Mies’ favorite television program?
8) What brand cigar did Mies smoke?
9) Which buildings are on the two U.S. postage stamps honoring Mies?
10) What color and model car did Mies own?
Two days later, March 27th, Mies’ actual birth date, Modernism’s mortal foes gathered at Murphy Auditorium’s cathedral-like interior on E. Erie Street for the presentation of the Richard H. Driehaus Architecture Prize. It is given each year to an architect who follows classical principles of design and construction.
This year, architecture’s richest honor, greater even than the more prestigious Pritzker Prize, was awarded to Spanish architect, Rafael Manzano Martos while the Henry Hope Reed Award went to legendary Yale professor and architectural scholar, Vincent Scully.
The New Yorker magazine’s architecture critic, Paul Goldberger, said the Driehaus Prize calls attention to the “unholy alliance between quality and novelty” and that “the present is not as disconnected from the past as we might think.”
The prize’s focus is as much on traditional urbanism, for which Scully was chosen, as on traditional architecture. It is administered by the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture, one of the few schools to stress a more classical approach to the discipline.
Scully taught at Yale for 63 years until his retirement last year at the age of 89. Philip Johnson called him “the most influential architecture teacher ever” and the list of prominent architects he taught includes Johnson, Goldberger, Robert A.M. Stern (the current dean at Yale), Thomas Beeby, Cesar Pelli, Charles Gwathmey and James Polshek. His early championing of the work of Louis Kahn and Robert Venturi led to their emergence as important architects.
Scully advocated the integration of places and buildings in relation to one another. He believes that older buildings are special and whose destruction sabotages the conversation that architecture should have between the past and present.
An early modernist, who once said, “Modernism is in my bones”, Scully turned against that architectural philosophy when he observed the horrible effects of urban renewal during the 1960s, most especially with the demolition of New York City’s grand Pennsylvania Station.
It was a great week for architectural tributes and lasting memories.
Answers to Mies Quiz
1) Paul Klee; 2) Graceland Cemetery; 3) The God Box; 4) Seneca Street; 5) 1938-58; 6) Martin Luther King Library in D.C. was designed by Mies; 7) “Gunsmoke”; Monte Cristo (Cuban); 9) Crown Hall and 860/880 Lake Shore Drive; 10) A Yellow Oldsmobile with Red Interior (Mies couldn’t drive).