DWR was where I drew the line.)
And then, last September, I went ahead and visited a Mies. The Chicago Architecture Foundation runs a periodic Mies and Modernism tour on the IIT campus – my sweetie and I signed up for one Saturday last September.
I’ll spare you the details of wandering through Rem and Jahn’s structures (I would rhapsodize and you might yawn), and the slow meander through Mies’ God Box and the Admissions building. Let’s just say I was slowly warming to the man, to his long lines and suspended steel girders, and I didn’t entirely know why.
But it wasn’t until we hit Crown Hall that I crossed over.
It was the middle of the afternoon, and the day was overcast – an innocent enough moment to encounter the structure that’s better known for a being a beautiful box of light that beams across the campus at night. The hall was packed with first year architecture students assembled around drafting tables and chalk boards, buzzing with new beginnings.
I don’t understand what happened next, but all I know was: I got giddy.
Something about that building made me high.
The only experience that comes close to what I felt that first time in Mies’ Crown Hall takes a minute to explain: I was 12 and visiting friends; he was 16 and a cousin of theirs.
We were all horsing around in the swimming pool and he picked me up and hurled me across the water – but before he tossed me, he held me just long enough to make me wish he would hold me some more.
That’s all there was too it – a brief, bare moment of experience – I was too young to understand where it could lead, or how messy that would all get – I just wanted that feeling of being held against his chest to last forever. It was pure intoxication without the complications of consummation. Nothing hidden. Every ounce of desire was in plain sight.
That’s Crown Hall.
Suspended from the girders that support the building, it’s largely one big room, divided gratuitously by human-sized partitions. The walls are all windows, of course; the base panels are scrim-like; the top panels are pellucid and transparent. A largely iron-free glass makes these panes extraordinarily clear.
I returned to Crown Hall over the weekend as part of an architecture class with Blair Kamin, the architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune. It was the first time I had been back since September, and I suspected that I would be a little more restrained this time.
But I was wrong. The students were gone and the sun was out and the vastness of the hall was even more pronounced.
No cold old man of Modernism here. Mies is shockingly transparent in his intentions.
Hold me, Mies. Hold me.
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