Commission brief: The groundwork for S.R. Crown Hall was set when Mies van der Rohe devised his master plan for the new IIT campus in 1941, which included a site for the “Architecture and Applied Arts Building.” The new home of the architecture department, of which Mies was director at the time, was the last of 19 buildings to be constructed by the renowned architect at IIT. The official commission for the "Department of Architecture and Institute of Design” building came from the Buildings and Grounds Committee in February 1950.
Design brief: Mies experimented with several schemes for Crown Hall before settling on the final design for a clear-span structure. In the first dated drawings from May 24, 1952, the building elevation was similar to that of his earlier campus buildings of brick, steel, and glass. The building footprint conformed to the 24-foot grid that dictated the layout of his campus master plan. The design called for a ground floor, basement, and mezzanine to house the building functions. The structural design consisted of a simple steel post and beam system, though unlike Mies’ other IIT buildings, the perimeter columns were not fully expressed on the brick and glass façade. The early concept for Crown Hall shared many similarities with Mies’ un-built design for the IIT Library and Administration Building. However the extent to which Mies contributed to the original scheme is unknown since its purpose was mainly for fundraising. Several variations of the early design existed, in which modifications were made to the exterior glazing and outward expression of the structure. Mies also conducted numerous space planning studies for the Department of Architecture and Institute of Design.
In the next dated drawings from November 10, 1952, the building broke away from Mies’ campus plan and earlier IIT buildings. The building footprint abandoned the regular campus grid and adopted a 10-foot module. The cladding materials excluded brick and instead used just steel and glass. Perhaps most notably, the roof girders and exterior columns for the clear-span structure were introduced into the design. Mies had previously experimented with the use of exterior truss supports and uninterrupted spaces in his designs for the Cantor Drive-In, IIT’s Student Union Building, and the Manheim Theatre Competition. Though the three projects were never built, they undoubtedly contributed to the final scheme for Crown Hall. Several versions of the structural design showed between 4 and 6 exterior trusses, however Mies eventually settled on 4 solid steel girders to support the building. The reasons for using girders rather than trusses were likely both aesthetic and practical, as trusses were unnecessary to support the span and would have been more difficult and expensive to fabricate.
Mies presented his drawings and a model to the Buildings Committee on November 25, 1952, where his design was declared “of such an extreme nature…a most advanced design.” As proposed, the new design exceeded the $500,00 budget, causing the project to be delayed until the following spring. The project resumed with two alternate floor plans in the next dated drawings from June 1, 1953. Mies completed several layouts for the building, in which he experimented with the number of window modules and overall footprint, possibly to fulfill his design process or to reduce the cost of the project. The plan for the main hall was essentially fixed by then end of June 1953, however the arrangement of the basement spaces was not set until sometime that fall. Fundraising for Crown Hall continued through the following year, though little changes were made to the building during that time. A $250,000 donation by the Crown family in the name of Sol R. Crown provided the source for the name of the building. On June 11, 1954 Mies was directed to precede with the design drawings, and on September 2, 1954 the Buildings Committee approved them.
Building/construction: Following their approval, Mies’ design drawings were sent to PACE Associates, an associate architecture firm responsible for completing the construction documents and overseeing construction. The construction drawings were distributed to several contractors in November 1954. Twelve bids were submitted, with the award going to Dahl-Stedman Company. Separate contracts were commissioned for work on the mechanical and electrical systems. Groundbreaking ceremonies for Crown Hall were held on December 2, 1954, and construction began soon after. David Haid served as the project architect for Mies’ office, with PACE Associates overseeing daily construction activities. Assembly of the steel structure began in the spring and continued into the summer. A basement fire on March 25, 1955 caused significant damage and delayed construction by several weeks. By July 1955 the steel structure was in place and ready for glazing. Mies continued to rearrange the interior spaces in the main hall throughout the construction process. The final arrangement for the partitions was set by August 1955. Other changes during construction included the installation of sprinklers in the main hall, which was required once the city learned that the space was intended for educational purposes and not simply exhibition space. Though construction was not yet complete, most of the building was occupied by November 1955. The official dedication of Crown Hall took place on April 30, 1956 in a ceremony featuring speeches by architect Eero Saarinen, industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss, and city planning consultant Walter H. Blucher. Speaking on the greatness of Crown Hall, Saarinen declared: “It is fitting that in this city architecture should be taught in the proudest building of this campus. It is time that architectural education came out of the dingy attics of the past into this serene temple of the present.”
Crown Hall is one of 19 modern buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe for the Illinois Institute of Technology. As the last project to be completed for Mies master plan, Crown Hall departs from his earlier campus buildings in its proportion, structure, and materials.
Exterior: The building is arranged on a 10-foot module, unlike Mies’ other IIT buildings that derive their scale from a 24-foot grid. The steel and glass hall measures 120 feet by 220 feet and is divided lengthwise into three 60-foot bays with a 20-foot overhang on each end. It is supported by an advanced structural system of four 6-foot deep exposed girders and perimeter columns, from which the roof is essentially suspended. All steel is painted black, and all joints are field welded to provide a near seamless appearance. Centered atop the roof is a 6-foot tall penthouse. The exterior walls are clad entirely in glass, with vertical steel I-beams spaced at 10-foot intervals supporting the expansive panels. The glazing is divided into three horizontal sections by steel mullions. The upper layer is transparent and runs from the top of the wall down to a height of nearly 8 feet above the main floor. The middle layer is translucent, except in the center bay, and is further divided into two vertical sections. Below the translucent lights are 8-inch high louvered vents that provide ventilation to the main hall. The lower layer of glazing runs from ground level to the main floor and supplies natural light to the basement. Crown Hall rests on a flat lawn planted with trees and ivy. The main entrance is on the south side of the building. Travertine stairs and a platform that seem to float above the ground serve as the approach for two pairs of Ellison stainless steel doors. Only thin metal handrails, a later addition, provide a sense of grounding. A secondary entrance on the north elevation mirrors that on the south, with two sets of cast concrete steps and a travertine landing leading to a second pair of Ellison doors. Two exterior entrances are also provided for the basement level on the north side.
Interior: The building comprises two floors, with the main hall raised 4 feet above grade to allow for clerestory windows in the basement. Due to the nature of the building’s structure, the main hall becomes a column-less universal space, perhaps the greatest ever designed by Mies. There are no formal divisions of space in the 18-foot tall room. Rather areas are sectioned off with freestanding wood partitions that only rise to about 8 feet, allowing for an uninterrupted overall view of the hall. Only two vertical chases extend all the way from floor to ceiling. A 1-foot wide soffit surrounds the perimeter of the ceiling, making it appear as though it is detached from the walls and floating above the space. The white acoustic ceiling tile is a sharp contrast to the black terrazzo floor. Thin metal handrails distinguish the two cast terrazzo staircases that penetrate the floor and lead to the lower level. Though less architecturally significant to the overall composition of the building, the basement provides space for service facilities and other operations that require more formalized division. Rooms are arranged around a main stair hall and two corridors, which share the same terrazzo floor as the upper level. The walls are almost entirely concrete block, and the concrete slab of the floor above serves as the ceiling in most areas.
This building is a part of the Illinois Institute of Technology campus.
Visual relations: Crown Hall was one of 19 buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe for his master plan for the IIT campus. Among his other buildings were Perlstein Hall (1945-1946), Alumni Memorial Hall (1945-1946), Wishnick Hall (1945-1946), and Siegal Hall (1945-46, 1956-1957). Completed situation: Crown Hall was intentionally situated within the IIT campus on an open lawn, visually isolated from its surroundings by sidewalks on all sides. Alfred Caldwell designed the landscaping around the building, which included Honey Locust trees and Boston ivy.
Original situation or character of site: The site for Crown Hall was created as part of a 120 acre campus master plan for IIT, following the merger of the Lewis and Armour Institutes in 1940. The campus was located on the site of the former Armour Institute and incorporated several of its older buildings into the design, including Machinery Hall (1901).
Present context: In 1996, architect and Mies’ grandson Dirk Logan created a new master plan for IIT that proposed restoring the main components of Mies’ plan and constructing several new buildings on the campus. The McCormick Tribune Campus Center, a dramatic addition to the campus design by renowned architect Rem Koolhaas, was opened in 2003. The State Street Village residence hall, a state-of-the-art student living environment by architect Helmut Jahn, was completed in the same year. Crown Hall and Wishnick Hall, another of Mies’ designs, were pinpointed for restoration as part of the campus revitalization. With two phases of renovation complete at Crown Hall, a third stage is planned to reduce the overall energy use of the building. An automated building management system will be installed to control all of the engineered systems. Automated blinds will be added to take advantage of opportunities for natural light, and the original heating system beneath the floor will be retrofitted to provide cooling as well.
The clear-span, steel and glass construction of Crown Hall epitomized the Modernist values of structural clarity, material innovation, and adaptable space. The ingenious use of rooftop girders supported by perimeter columns represented the “first large-scale realization of Mies’ concept for a…universal space building.”5 Crown Hall admitted to its complete reliance on its structural system by placing the structural elements at the center of its design and leaving them entirely exposed. The glass curtain wall eliminated any question about how the building was supported. It allowed the building to be honestly understood from both inside and out and promoted Mies’ philosophy of “almost nothing.”
The plan for Crown Hall offered a radical alternative to traditional school building design, much like Mies’ teaching theories advanced the field of architectural education in the United States. As director of the IIT Department of Architecture, Mies completely transformed the curriculum of the program, incorporating into it both his own personal philosophy and the ideals transferred to him during his time at the Bauhaus. At Crown Hall, Mies’ collaborative teaching methods were transformed into a physical reality. Specifically in the main hall, he created cooperative environment in which students and faculty were encouraged to interact openly with one another. The glass-walled, column-less space sought to further the architectural pursuits of its inhabitants by allowing for the free flow of light, air, conversation, and creativity.
As conceived, Crown Hall carefully combined function and appearance into one harmonious composition. The clarity and rationality of the design hinged on an honest expression of structure, unobstructed through the use of exterior glazing. Its delicate proportion, rhythm, and visual purity were expressed both inside and out, using only the most basic elements, minimalist materials, and simplest details. Mies himself described the building as “the clearest structure we have done, the best to express our philosophy.” Crown Hall demonstrated that steel and glass could be combined to create a sophisticated design that remained visually and functionally true to its purpose and structure. From its conception, Crown Hall was recognized as an exemplary model of the International Style and the Modernist Movement. It received great praise from individuals, architects, and several of the most notable journals of the time. A 1956 article in Architectural Forum expressed the magnitude of Crown Hall, declaring “the structural clarity of IIT’s newest building is unlikely ever to be surpassed in steel.” Its combination of structure, materials, and adaptable space advanced the possibilities of Modernist values in steel and glass construction, thereby meriting continued attention by current architectural practice.
Crown Hall was part of a series of studies in steel, glass, and clear-span spaces by Mies. Beginning in the mid-1940s, he played with the ideas of universal space and exterior structure in his designs for the Cantor Drive-In, IIT’s Student Union Building, and the Manheim Theatre Competition, though none were ever constructed. At Farnsworth House (1947-1951), Mies was able to transform these notions into a physical reality. The rural house consisted of one room, interrupted by only a service core, with glass walls that nearly eliminated the barrier between interior and exterior. It should be noted that other architects of the time were adopting similar ideas, such as Philip Johnson with his Glass House (1949). At Crown Hall, Mies adapted the same fundamental principles to a much larger scale, setting a precedent for spatial and structural possibilities. His later work at the Federal Center Post Office in Chicago (1959-1974) and the National Gallery in Berlin (1962-1968) pulled inspiration from Crown Hall.
Graham Resource Center, S.R. Crown Hall, 3360 South State Street, Chicago, IL 60616
IIT Archive, Paul V. Galvin Library 35 West 33rd Street, Chicago, IL 60616
IIT Facilities Department Machinery Hall, 100 West 33rd Street, Chicago, IL 6061
Chicago Historical Society 1601 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60614
The Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60603
The Museum of Modern Art 11 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019
The Canadian Center for Architecture 1920, rue Baile, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3H 2S6
The following list of publications is an expansion of the bibliography obtained from the Historic Structures Report conducted by McClier Preservation Group in 2000.
Spaeth, David A. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: An Annotated Bibliography and Chronology. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1979.
Vance, Mary. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: Selected Journal Articles Published 1970-1986. Monticello, IL: Vance Bibliographies, 1987.
Books and catalogues
Achilles, Rolf and Charlotte Myhrum. Guide to the Campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology. Chicago: IIT, 1986.
Bach, Ira J., ed. Chicago’s Famous Buildings. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.
Banham, Reyner. Age of the Masters: A Personal View of Modern Architecture. New York:Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975.
Berger, Miles L. They Built Chicago: Entrepreneurs Who Shaped a Great City’s Architecture. Chicago: Bonus Books, Inc., 1992
Better Buildings, Better Industrial Design and Better Cities: How Illinois Institute of Technology
Proposes to Help Up-Date the Physical Patterns of Our Time. Chicago: IIT, 1954.
Blake, Peter. The Master Builders. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960.
Blaser, Werner. Mies van der Rohe. Berlin: Birkhauser Verlag Basel, 1997.
Blaser, Werner. Mies van der Rohe: Continuing the Chicago School of Architecture. Stuttgart: Birkhauser Verlag Basel, 1981.
Blaser, Werner. Mies van der Rohe: Crown Hall. Basel; Boston: Birkha?user, 2001.
Blaser, Werner. Mies van der Rohe: IIT Campus, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago. Basel; Boston: Birkha?user, 2002.
Blaser, Werner. Mies van der Rohe: Less is More. Zurich: Waser, 1986.
Blaser, Werner. Mies van der Rohe: The Art of Structure. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1993.
Blaser, Werner. West Meets East – Mies van der Rohe. Berlin: Birkhauser Verlag Basel, 1996.
Carter, Peter. “Mies van der Rohe.” In The Rationalists: Theory and Design in the Modern Movement. ed. by Denis Sharp, New York: Architectural Book Publishing Company,1979, 59-71.
Carter, Peter. Mies van der Rohe at Work. London: Pall Mall Press, 1974; reprint, London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1999.
Cohen, Jean Louis. Mies van der Rohe. London: E & FN Spon, 1996.
Condit, Carl W. Chicago 1930-70: Building, Planning, and Urban Technology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974.
Converging Visions: The Making of a University. Chicago: IIT Press, 1991.
De Sola-Morales, Ignasi. Differences: Topographies of Contemporary Architecture. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997.Dedication Ceremonies: S.R. Crown Hall, Dedicated to the Advancement of Architecture, Design, and City and Regional Planning. Chicago: IIT, 1956. Domer, Dennis, ed. Alfred Caldwell: The Life and Work of a Prairie School Landscape Architect. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. Drexler, Arthur. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1960. Glaeser, Ludwig. Global Architecture: Mies van der Rohe. ed. Yukio Futagawa, Tokyo: A.D.A. Edita, n.d. Harrington, Kevin. “Order, Space, Proportion – Mies’s Curriculum at IIT.” In Mies van der Rohe: Architect as Educator. ed. Rolf Achilles, Kevin Harrington and Charlotte Myhrum, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986. Heald, Henry. “Mies van der Rohe at I.I.T.” In Four Great Makers of Modern Architecture. New York: Da Capo Press, 1970. Hilberseimer, Ludwig. Contemporary Architecture: Its Roots and Trends. Chicago: Paul Theobald and Company, 1964. Hilberseimer, Ludwig. Mies van der Rohe. Chicago: Paul Theobald and Company, 1956.
Holt, Glen E. and Dominic A. Pacyga. Chicago: A Historical Guide to the Neighborhoods. Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1979. Illinois Institute of Technology: Its Purpose and Its History. Chicago: IIT, 1970. Illinois Institute of Technology: Main Campus Guide. Chicago: IIT, 1996. Johnson, Philip C. Mies van der Rohe. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1978. Macauley, Irene. The Heritage of Illinois Institute of Technology. Chicago: IIT, 1978.
Mertins, Detlef, ed. The Presence of Mies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Architectural Press, 1994. Mies van der Rohe. Library of Contemporary Architects, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970. Mies van der Rohe, European Works. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. Neumeyer, Fritz. The Artless Word: Mies van der Rohe on the Building Art. trans. Mark Jarzombek, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991. Pommer, Richard, David Spaeth and Kevin Harrington. In the Shadow of Mies: Ludwig Hilberseimer Architect, Educator, and Urban Planner.Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago (in association with Rizzoli International Publications), 1988. Scully, Vincent. American Architecture and Urbanism. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1988. Shulze, Franz. Illinois Institute of Technology: the Campus Guide, an Architectural Tour. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2005. Schulze, Franz. Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. Schulze, Franz. Mies van der Rohe: Interior Spaces. Chicago: The Arts Club of Chicago, 1982. Schulze, Franz, ed. The Mies van der Rohe Archive. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1992. Sinkevitch, Alice, ed. AIA Guide to Chicago. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1993. Spaeth, David. Mies van der Rohe. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1985.Speyer, James A. Mies van der Rohe. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1968.Technology Center Today and Tomorrow. A Building and Expansion Program to Transform Today’s Outgrown Campus of Illinois Institute of Technology into a Modern Center of Technological Education and Research. Chicago: IIT., n.d. Newman, M.W. “Mies van der Rohe.” In Three Centuries of Notable American Architects. ed. Joseph J. Thorndike, New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1981. Zukowsky, John. Mies Reconsidered: His Career, Legacy, and Disciples. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago in association with Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1986. Encyclopedias Lampugnani, Vittorio M., ed. The Thames and Hudson Encyclopedia of 20th Century Architecture. Thames and Hudson, 1989. “Mies van der Rohe.”
Journals and magazines
Becker, Lynn. “Crown Jewel: IIT’s Mies Centerpiece is Restored.” Metropolis. vol. 25, no.4 (2005): 116-117.
Biemiller, Lawrence. “On Campus with 20 Mies Buildings, One Masterpiece.” Chronicle of Higher Education (1986).
Bluestone, Daniel. “Chicago’s Mecca Flat Blues.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians vol. 57 no. 4 (December 1998): 382-403.
Domer, Dennis. “Alfred Caldwell.” Catalyst vol. 8 no. 2 (1998): 8.
Furlong, William Barry. “The Expanding World of IIT.” Chicago (Winter 1967): 56-63. “IIT Dedicates Crown Hall, New Design Building by Mies.”
Architectural Forum no. 104 (June 1956): 17,21.
“Gilbert, Douglas. Á Universal Space with Worldwide Appeal: Mies van der Rohe’s Crown Hall.” Historic Illinois. vol. 24, no. 4 (2001): 3-9.
Hart, Sara. “The Perils of Restoring ‘Less is More’.” Architectural Record. vol. 194, no. 1 (2006): 149.
“Illinois Tech Re-plans 16 City Blocks.” Architectural Forum no. 85 (September 1946): 102-3.
Keegan, Edward. “A Twenty-First-Century Mies.” Architecture. vol. 94, no. 9 (2005): 25-28.
Kuh, Katharine. “Mies Van Der Rohe: Modern Classicist.” SR (23 January 1965): 22-23, 61.
Lambert, Phyllis. “Mies’s Student Union.” ANY Magazine no. 24 (1999): 52-53.
“Less than 50 Years Old, IIT’s Crown Hall Among 15 Sites Named National Historic Landmarks.” Architectural Record. vol. 189, no. 10 (2001):
“Mies’ Enormous Room.” Architectural Forum no. 105 (August 1956): 104-111.
“Mies Hangs a Roof.” Architectural Forum no. 101 (July 1954): 48.
“Mies van der Rohe.” Architectural Record (August 1956): 134-139.
Nelson, George. “Buildings to Come.” Architectural Forum no. 76 (February 1942): 14.
Rowe, Colin. “Neoclassicism & Modern Architecture: Part II.” Oppositions 1: A Journal for Ideas And Criticism in Architecture (September 1973): 14-26.
Bey, Lee. “Alfred Caldwell, Landscape ‘Genius.’” Chicago Sun Times, 9 July 1998: 60.
Bey, Lee. “Crown Jewel: Van der Rohe Building May Get Landmark Status.” Chicago Sun Times, 2 October 1996: 4.
Bey, Lee. “IIT Project Puts New Face on ‘Inner City.’” Chicago Sun Times, 10 February 1998.
Bey, Lee. “The FBI’s File on Mies van der Rohe.” Chicago Sun-Times, 19 April 1999: 14.
“Crown Family Pledges $1 Million to Support College of Architecture, Planning, and Design.”
IIT Alumni News, vol. III no. 4 Spring 1985.
Heald, H.T. “President Heald Announces Gift From Mrs. J. Ogden Armour at Banquet Honoring Mies Van Der Rohe.” Armour Engineer and Alumnus, vol. 4 no. 2 December 1938.
Jawny, George. “S.R. Crown Receives A.C.” Technology News, 21 April 1986: 1.
Kamin, Blair. “Crown Hall Dazzles in Mies Simplicity.” Chicago Tribune, 21 Aug 2005.
Thomas, Jerry. “Landmark Status Closer for Mies Building at IIT.” Chicago Tribune, 27 April 1997: 8.
Van Der Rohe, Ludwig Mies. “Mies Van Der Rohe’s Address, Delivered at Banquet Held in his Honor.” Armour Engineer and Alumnus, vol. 4 no. 2 December 1938.
Reports and studies
Commission on Chicago Landmarks. “S.R. Crown Hall, Illinois Institute of Technology, 3360 S. State St.,” ed. Timothy Barton, October 1996.
Fujikawa Johnson & Associates, Inc., et. al., “S.R. Crown Restoration Study – 97,” May 1998.
Harboe, T. Gunny. “S.R Crown Hall Historic Structure Report.” McClier Preservation Group, 2000.
Illinois Roof Consulting Association, Inc. “Roof Rehabilitation at Crown Hall, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Illinois,” 13 August 1998.
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. in association with Peter Lindsay Schaudt Landscape Architecture, Inc. “IIT in the Landscape: 1999
Illinois Institute of Technology West Campus Landscape Master Plan. After Mies and Caldwell: A Report to the Mies Committee,” 1999.
kidmore, Owings, and Merrill. “IIT Campus Master Plan,” n.d.
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. “Illinois Institute of Technology Crown Hall Renovation Feasibility Study,” February 1974.
Thomas, Eric. “S.R. Crown Hall.” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. National Park Service, October 2000.
“Crown Hall Restoration Awarded Project of the Year.” Mies Society. (http://mies.iit.edu/news/">http://mies.iit.edu/news/)
“Crown Hall.” City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development, Landmarks Division. (http://www.ci.chi.il.us/Landmarks/C/CrownHall.html"
“Main Campus Master Plan: Crown Hall.” Illinois Institute of Technology. (http://masterplan.iit.edu/crown.html )
“Mies at IIT.” Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture. (http://www.iit.edu/colleges/arch/ )