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Wednesday, 6 April 2005
Mies Returns
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
Several weeks ago we made some comparisons between Mies van der Rohe and his contemporary, Le Corbusier. We also described a connection between his Promontory Apartments and unambitious imitations with different aims, specifically Cabrini Greens. I recently visited the Promontory Apartments, and discovered some impressive qualities not immediately discernable. We are so accustomed to Mies' imitators that it sometimes takes some effort or closer observation to understand his true innovation (I would say 'genius,' but I hate seeing its overuse in describing artists and architects. You would think 20-something years of contemporary art theory that questions ideas of 'mastery' and 'genius' would have made us more cautious about throwing around those terms. But go to the arts section of any book$$$$$tore...oh).

Back to our subject, The Promontory Apartments were completed in 1949, as work was underway at 860-880 N. Lake Shore Dr. Both were to have steel and glass curtain walls, but Mies' original plans for the Hyde Park high-rise were ultimately modified. So I walked around the corner and started taking a couple pictures of these apartments. As you can see, the vertical supports taper as they rise, which adds a touch of formal drama and structural efficiency (they need to support a decreasing load as they go up). From the back we can see through the open lobby to the lake, which the building overlooks, right by pretty little Promontory Point. Then I was politley asked to leave the private property by a building attendant. Bonus pics: The first beautiful day of the season spent at the Point--note the melting ice.

Posted by thenovakids at 5:16 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 1:01 AM CDT
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Saturday, 9 April 2005 - 9:16 AM CDT


haha, random pictures put at the end. i look dorky with my glasses and childish with my smiles. you should look into what kant says about genius. i forget, and i think ted cohen had some beef with kant's definition. waa waa.

Wednesday, 13 April 2005 - 1:08 AM CDT

Name: anon

I think the most remarkable aspect of these photos is that the building is, in fact, banal and imposing looking--a regrettable blight on Chicago's urban fabric. One must strain, as you do, to discern anything notable at all, and surely few people could honestly say that this is a beautiful building.

Wednesday, 13 April 2005 - 10:20 AM CDT

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True true, well put. I will try to put up a photo of the original scale model for the Promontory Apts, which shows the glass and steel design, which looks a little less "banal and imposing." Still, it's basically the kind of building one easily overlooks. At the time though, as an alternative to hanging a fake, neo-classical facade on a steel frame, its austerity and economy must have been striking. Here's a good quote from Mies himself that resonates with what you said:

"I don't want to be interesting, I want to be good."

Tuesday, 26 April 2005 - 11:23 AM CDT

Name: Hugh Towers

My god, how is that little Asian girl balancing the entire skyline on her head? I must protest - that is architecturally impossible!

Wednesday, 27 April 2005 - 9:42 PM CDT

Name: thenovakids
Home Page:

It depends how well the head is engineered. This one seems to work pretty well.

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