Mies, Lost and Found

John Hill
18. June 2021
Image courtesy the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design, Indiana University. © Hadley Fruits

Indiana University has dedicated a recently rediscovered 1952 design by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe that is being adapted for the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design and will open on IU's Bloomington campus in the fall.

Mies was commissioned by the Alpha Theta chapter of the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity at IU, but they abandoned the project when they were unable to raise funds, and the project was quickly forgotten. Architectural histories of Mies don't mention the project, nor do contemporary publications such as Ludwig Hilberseimer's 1956 monograph on Mies. Even Dirk Lohan, Mies's grandson and an accomplished architect who worked with Mies in the late 1950s, did not know about the project until IU contacted him about their desire to realize it nearly seventy years later.

Original Mies van der Rohe drawing from 1952. (Image via News at IU Bloomington)

The project re-emerged in 2013, when Sidney Eskenazi, a former fraternity member of the chapter tipped off IU president Michael A. McRobbie, leading to the discovery of documentation of the project in archives at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art. Then in 2019, Sidney and his wife, Lois, gave $20 million to the university, which led to the renaming of the school in their name and the construction of the Mies building, a 10,000-square-foot facility that will be used, appropriately, by the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design.

Image courtesy the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design, Indiana University. © Hadley Fruits

Construction photos of the rediscovered Mies building give the indication of an oversized Farnsworth House, with a large glass-enclosed volume lifted one story above the ground. The similarity is hardly a coincidence, given that Mies's iconic house for Dr. Edith Farnsworth was completed in 1951, one year before he drew the fraternity project. Thomas Phifer and Partners is handling the adaptation that stays true to the original, though the New York firm is also designing the university's new Ferguson International Center that is under construction across the street from the Eskenazi School.

Image courtesy the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design, Indiana University. © Hadley Fruits

Even though the 1952 project was abandoned, another curious link between Mies and IU remains: Myron Goldsmith was an employee of Mies at the time of the IU project and later became a design partner at SOM. He went on to design the all-glass Republic Newspaper building for J. Irwin Miller in Columbus, Indiana, a one-hour drive east of Bloomington. IU took over the building in 2019 and has since been using for the Eskenazi School's J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program. 

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