Crown Hall Gets 50th Birthday Present

Mies’ masterwork, S.R. Crown Hall on the Illinois Institute of Technology campus, is undergoing a multiphase restoration, the latest component of which will stabilize the structure and the envelope; address electrical, accessibility, and infrastructure issues; and help improve energy efficiency. In keeping with Mies’ original intent, the university reports, they will once again install single-pane translucent glass and repaint the steel structure as a charcoal color, a.k.a. “Mies Black.” Mies’ grandson and Chicago architect Dirk Lohan, FAIA, will smash one of Crown Hall’s 1970s-era windows May 17—an honor he won for his firm Lohan Anderson through an eBay fundraiser for the Mies van der Rohe Society—to signal the start of this most-recent phase of renovations and to celebrate the landmark’s 50th birthday.

Beginning with the May 17 shattering of glass, the architects will restore and renovate the curtain wall. They will remove the existing glazing and steel stops, sandblast the exterior steel down to white metal and make repairs to the corroding steel, and refurbish and reactivate the louvers. The building will also get a new coat of paint.

IIT Architecture Dean Donna Robertson, AIA, is looking forward to returning the building back to the Mies ideal and “having the architecture crisp again.” The building was named a National Historic Landmark, a designation it received in 2001, four years before the traditional 50-year waiting period. It also has Chicago Landmark status. As a result, the architects need to adhere to strict preservation and restoration guidelines. But that’s not a problem for Krueck and Sexton, Chicago, the principal in charge says. “Every year it gets better looking. It is still completely cutting-edge and Modern. We are trying to hold on to Mies’ spirit while still working in today’s environment,” Mark Sexton, AIA, says about the project. Krueck and Sexton are collaborating with T. Gunny Harboe, AIA, and Doug Gilbert, AIA, McClier, the preservation architects and engineers.

Doing “proper to Mies”
Throughout the restoration and renovation process, Robertson says of the restoration of his space for architecture students on the IIT campus, the project team has asked, “How do we do proper to Mies?” Sexton says the ambitious project will be done during a 13-week period between semesters.

This restoration follows work done on the building in the 1970s, during which Mies’ original single-pane glass windows were replaced with an ill-suited double-pane translucent glass. After putting up a full-scale mockup of various new options, the planners decided to return to the Mies original single-panes, this time with a new sealer so that they are easier to maintain. The plans also call for disassembling and retrofitting with electromagnetic release hardware and refurbishing the original stainless steel doors on the north and south façades. The next phase of the renovation will begin as early as next year and will include even further upgrades to improve energy efficiency.

“Because of its minimalism, there is no measure for error or adjustment. Are we fearful? You bet!” Sexton says both of working on the building where he and fellow principal Ron Krueck, FAIA, received their own architecture education and of the prospect of having about 3,000 of his fellow alums as peer reviewers. “It’s both thrilling and challenging to have the opportunity to bring it back to the icon it has always been,” he says with reverence. The firm has been working on the project since 1997. Prior work has included upgrades to electrical and data wiring and wood paneling, renovation of the main level student studio desk set-ups and storage lockers, and an upgrade of the lower-core Thesis & Doctoral Student Lab and the rebuilding of the South Porch, Crown Hall’s iconic front entry. The current work will also help the building comply with current codes and accessibility standards.

Ebay received 55 bids to smash the glass, closing with Lohan Anderson’s offer of $2,705. The pane is not original to the building; nearly all of the original glass was removed in the 1970s refitting.

—Tracy Ostroff

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All photos © Ron Gordon

Visit the Mies van der Rohe Society, which is dedicated to returning Mies’ buildings to their former glory, by repairing structural elements and restoring exquisite details, and to reinvigorating them as vibrant centers of education.

The S.R. Crown Hall project team includes:
• Donna V. Robertson, AIA, dean, IIT College of Architecture
• Terry Frigo, AIA, director, Design & Construction, Department of Facilities, IIT
• Jan Rogatz, owner’s representative project manager, Cotter Consulting, Inc.
• Ron Krueck, FAIA; Mark Sexton, AIA; Tim Tracey; and Rico Cedro, AIA, Krueck & Sexton Architects
• T. Gunny Harboe, AIA, and Doug Gilbert, AIA, Austin AECOM, preservation architects and engineers
• Patrick Bellew and Nico Kienzl, Atelier Ten, energy experts
• Matthias Schuler, Transsolar Energietechnik Gmbh, energy experts
• Mark Penz, Kirkegaard Associates, acoustical consultant
• Jim Baney, Schuler Shook, lighting consultant
• Peter Schaudt, Peter Lindsay Schaudt Landscape Architecture, Inc.
• Tom Vannatta, Mandeep Singh, E Cube, Inc., commissioning agents
• Thomas Gentry, AIA; Peter Land, George Schipporeit, Arthur Takeuchi, IIT faculty members
• Hans Frey, Seele L.P. Glass, USA.

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