Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Five Things I learned from Dirk Lohan about Mies van der Rohe's IBM Building

The IBM Building before Trump Tower - click images for larger view
. . . from a presentation architect Dirk Lohan gave at a Tuesday press event for The Langham Hotel Chicago, which will open in the Mies van der Rohe designed IBM Building (330 North Wabash) this coming July:
1.  Unlike buildings like Aqua even today, the IBM, completed in 1972, incorporated thermal breaks in its steel construction that insulated the building from outside weather conditions and made it much more energy efficient than most of the skyscrapers of its time.
2. When you walked over the IBM's south plaza, you were walking over the next day's news.  The space beneath the  plaza was controlled by the Chicago Sun-Times, which operated out of its own building across Wabash from the IBM until it was demolished to make way for Trump Tower.  The below-grade space was where the Sun-Times stored its supply of massive roles of newsprint.
That is why the plaza along the river edge is basically a flat surface that goes vertically down to the river without any gesture to bring the river into this [IBM] development . . . I've always regretted that in a way because I think it would have been wonderful to open up the plaza and cascade down, similarly to what Trump has done since then.
3.  The newsprint was delivered via the train tracks that run under the IBM, under Marina City and points west, part of an original railyard dating back to the time when the Wells Street Station was on the current site of the Merchandise Mart.  These tracks ran right under the center of the IBM, and so instead of the usual central service core for elevators and staircases, the IBM actually has two cores, split on either side of the old tracks.
4.  If they had followed an initial scheme done by the Mies office, the IBM might well be known today as The Bow Tie Building.  That was because Wabash originally ran in a way that cut a triangle into the middle of the IBM site, making the usual rectangular box impossible.
Mies was willing to live with it . . .  It was a triangular piece that came right into the property that was public right-of-way for Wabash Avenue, and it would have meant to build the building with a reduced width in the center of the building and then towards the north and south make it wider again as a typical office building.  And we developed this scheme in the Mies office that expressed that.  So it was in a way very un-Miesian, but we of course rebelled and we said why don't we go and talk to the city about IBM acquiring it.  And in the end, they did. 
5.  “The building was also fairly expensive at that time, ” recalled Lohan. “I think it cost $33.00 a square foot.”    Looking at the IBM's enduringly iconic place in the Chicago skyline four decades later, I'd have to say it proved to be a pretty good bargain.
first floor hotel lobby.  Image Courtesy The Langham Chicago
Lohan was asked by the owners to design the ground floor lobby of the new Langham Chicago, and we'll talk about that - and give you a tour of the hotel -  in our next post.


Unknown said...

Looking forward to the next part of this.. It looks like they are adding an entrance on the east side with it's own roof shimmed in between the existing columns. Hope it doesn't look silly.

Verna said...

This is cool!