“Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. There it begins.” – Ludwig Mies Vander Rohe

860-880 Lake Shore Driveo by Mies Van Der Rohe: Glass House apartments
Source: ©www.pinterest.com

The phenomenal architect behind half of Chicago if not more, pioneer of the modernist movement in Architecture. The above quote speaks to how design principles and concepts probably gravitated towards him, considering he defines Architecture in a trifling sentence.

Mies, originally from Germany before he moved to America, because of the Nazis. His career reigns from his mother-land, where he worked as an apprentice at Peter Behern’s studio. One of the milestones in describing the man of the hour would be working alongside Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier at The Bauhaus, an experimental School of Design, convincingly, giving back to society is the most important thing in a person’s career. Mies moved to America in the 1930s with powerful radical ideas with him that left a permanent impact on Architecture, saving a place for him in the books.

While Chicago’s skyline cannot be imagined without the said Architect, Lake Shore Drive apartments surely hold a special place in the hearts of the Illinois Natives, but also to the very Architect. The building was among the first ones to be recognized as a landmark of Chicago.

Constructed around 1949-’51, is on an uncanny piece of the triangular site. Mies proceeded to design the building by placing the two towers at the cross- axis to each other. He made sure that every phase had views to look forward to, the Lakeshore and the inner loop of the Chicago city. 

The building consists of two 29 floors, twin towers. They appear to be flaunting its glass and metal facade, foregoing the heavy brickwork and ornamentation paving way to simple and honest skyscraper design, owning its verticality with minimalist geometrical features. The towers also have a very fascinating feature, they are raised above the ground levels on stilts that give them floating like appearance.

The esplanade towers are located at 860 880 Lake Shore drive between Walton place and Delaware palace, appearing to be carefully integrated with the landscape, the lawn is a bit generous, strategically positioned between the towers.

Mies followed a school of thought that speaks to the much-required sustainability in today’s context, that is, “Less is more”. To him, a structure is something like logic, it is the best way to design and express them. The aesthetic sense brought out in the structure is through the mullions and they speak to the truth of the structure, which incidentally is a Bauhaus principle, which might explain the simplicity of the form of the skyscraper, like a rectangular plan that is extruded to the required amount.

He also, like other Architects, tried to bring in more than one principle in his structures. The widespread use of glass was to try and bring the outside, the environment, and the surroundings inside the structure, generating a living with nature scenario for the residents.

“… first I am going to tell you the real reason for those mullions, and then I am going to tell you a good reason by itself. It was very important to preserve and extend the rhythm which the mullions set up on the rest of the building. We looked at it on the model without the steel section [I-beams] attached to the corner columns and it did not look right. That is the real reason. Now the other reason is that the steel section was needed to stiffen the plate which covers the corner column so this plate would not ripple, and also we needed it for strength when the sections were hoisted into place. Now, of course, that’s a very good reason-but the other one is the real reason.” 

The above is an extract, giving an insight into Mies’s way of thinking and reasoning for the structure as he gave it to the Architectural Forum 97.

The Lakeshore drive apartment was endearingly referred to as a vengeful less is more. Mies believed that this is structure and that they wouldn’t be decorating it. “We put up what has to be built and then we accept it.”, while a man of few words, he certainly knew to convey the most.

Some features the towers consist of except curtain walls are I-beams struts, recessed lobby, colonnade, and travertine plaza. These features have taken appearances later in Architecture, thoroughly used by other Architects who were inspired by Mies.

The building occupied mostly by architectural enthusiasts has also bagged a good amount of recognition in its peak including a mention in an article on Mies in Life Magazine in 1957 and the tower has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980! The United States Postal Service also released a stamp commemorating the history of the building.

Architecture has a unique way of integrating itself in the lives of people, it is art. It signifies different things to different people, almost like an asteroid crash moment.

It’s like people looking up at the asteroid amazed in wonder, thoroughly unknowing of its effects, but in the case of Architecture, it’s in a good way!

Mies Vander Rohe has contributed much to this effect, ultimately changing the way people live for a better one.


An undergrad student who dreams of building castles in the sky with her words. Yep! She is an aspiring architect and writer, living between the grand mosques of the gulf and the palatial indian palaces, currently, hankering for a peripatetic lifestyle all the while maintaining her non-existing social life!

Write A Comment