Mies’ Crown Hall Jason 30 Jan 2006

8 comments Latest by Adrian

We don’t just share an office space with Coudal Partners, we share a love for Mies and especially the recently restored Crown Hall. The Coudalians recent trip to Crown Hall brought back a video and photos of the great building. Videos and photos don’t tell the whole story, as is usual with great buildings or vast natural wonders, but this is a perfect start for those who’ve never seen the gem of the IIT campus. We’re lucky to live in Chicago.

8 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Kendall 30 Jan 06

Very beautiful. How true about lucky to be in Chicago. Also, I find that even though there is such a rich culture and heritage in Chicago, I rarely take full advantage of it. I regret that. I would love to see more theatre, and art, and architecture.

Britt 30 Jan 06

I became a Mies lover after you posted a link to your photos of the Farnsworth House a while back. I’ve since visited it myself. In fact, in the discussion that grew from that post, someone mentioned the affair Mies had with Edith Farnsworth and how they had a falling out over the house. I’ve since started a screenplay based on that story.

John Athayde 30 Jan 06

Having gone to architecture school, I was a bit suprised to not hear a Mies “Less is More” reference in the “Getting Real” workshop. But I figured you all were software guys, not architecture kids. And between all the Mies work and the Sullivan stuff in Chicago, I can’t wait to go back for RailsConf armed with a D70 and nice June weather.

JF 30 Jan 06

John, we don’t believe less is more. We believe less is less, but less is often all you need anyway.

Zack 30 Jan 06

Kendall: Isn’t that the truth. I worked in Chicago for 6 months for an internship and aside from going to the occational concert and bar, I didn’t see nearly all that the city had to offer. I never did get to see than Marcus Aurelius exhibit at the Art Institute. :(

John Athayde 01 Feb 06

Jason, well the idea of less is more is about clear, ordered spaces, removing the excess and stripping it down to the bare elements. And that creating a more functional space. What I’ve read from you all in the past just reminds me of the “less is more” and “god is in the details” mantras from Mies.

But yes, Less is often all you need anyway. :)

Adrian 08 Feb 06

Software and web design isn’t architecture, however much some people might like it to be.

Mies is a significant architect because his work and that of his colleagues represented a significant break from the past. No-one should criticise radical designers for trying to push the boundaries of their disciplines, but any sober assessment of the International Style has to regard it as a failed experiment. Among the architectural establishment, Modernism still has many admirers and it’s hard to escape its influence in the schools. But the vast majority of people prefer to live and work in something more humane than an overgrown iPod. Which indeed is why Dr Farnsworth sued Mies, saying, “I thought you could animate a predetermined, classic form like this with your own presence. I wanted to do something ‘meaningful,’ and all I got was this glib, false sophistication.”

The architect Christopher Alexander is known to many designers and software developers as the originator of the design patterns movement. I would encourage people to actually go and read A Pattern Language. I marvel at his level of attention to detail, not just in an aesthetic sense, but his profound understanding of how people inhabit buildings and their need for something more than just a functional shelter.

A house is more than just a “machine for living in” and a workplace should definitely be more than a place where you can exchange the hours of your life for cash. What comes across most is the emphasis on comfort, individuality, serenity, “homeliness”, ornamentation and gentle transitions rather than abrupt, jarring ones. It’s very much the antithesis of the sterility and standardisation of the Modernists.

If you look at the tradition of thousands of years of vernacular architecture, where people are essentially designing and building for themselves, what they produce is very different from the ideas of most recent designer-as-expert architects. What’s exciting about software design at the moment is the increasing ability for people to produce and distribute vernacular software, let alone just hack something up for their own use (Clay Shirky’s “situated software”.)

It’s these ideas, whether you express it as wabi-sabi (impermanent, imperfect, incomplete) or agile processes, that are driving software design forward. It’s craft, not art; pragmatism, not philosophy. While 37signals’s work might bear a superficial aesthetic comparison with Modernist architecture, I’d say its real nature is its adaptability and unwillingness to take on functional perfection or completeness. Software that doesn’t adapt, dies. Buildings that can’t be modified as requirements and ownerships changes, die. You really can’t hack a Mies building or an iPod, which is why every six months Apple come out with a restatement of what they now claim constitutes perfection - until the next time.

37s is doing a lot of things right, but sometimes I wonder if they/you really understand why.

Further reading: Tom Wolfe’s From Bauhaus to Our House, and Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn.

I’m looking forward to the screenplay: the essential conflict over the Farnsworth House runs deep and is played out every day in all our cities, suburbs and lives.