This weekend I'm spending a 4 day weekend in Chicago, and the windy city has got me thinking about the roots of modernism in America. I've been a fan of modern architecture ever since the day I discovered it. Over the years I have found that architecture, like any of the arts, is more meaningful and powerful when you know some of the context surrounding it. While you can trace modernism back to Bauhaus in Europe, where it really gets interesting to me is when the war forced all of that talent to flee Europe, much of it landing in the United States. The story lines from then are like a soap opera for me, full of architects with their egos, murdered mistresses and the occasional amazing collaborations. The core group of modern architects in the United States from the 40's to 60's literally helped shape our built environment. One of the most influential, straight from Bauhaus, was Mies van der Rohe.
Every time I'm in Chicago I take some time out of my schedule to go check out the Illinois Institute of Technology campus. After leaving Bauhaus in the 30's Mies served as the director of the Department of Architecture there for 20 years. He would ultimately design the layout of the entire campus and build 20 buildings of his own design there. Walking through that campus is like walking through a museum of architecture.
Of course the campus isn't all about Mies. One of my favorite buildings on campus was designed in 2003 by Rem Koolhaas. While much more playful than anything that Mies would have designed, Koolhaas has a masterful way of manipulating volume and scale. The McCormick Tribune Campus Center is a building that can really only be appreciated in person.