Ludwig Mies van der Rohe has been dead for more than half a century. Yet on the campus of Indiana University (IU), the German-born architect, whose works are among the most notable landmarks of modernism, including New York’s Seagram Building and Lakeshore Drive Apartments of Chicago, comes back to life, thanks to a combination of some unusual circumstances and a very dedicated group of collaborators.
“It was designed to be a fellowship house,” says architect Thomas Phifer, of New York-based firm Phifer and Partners. The unlikely story of the modernist fraternity – and how Phifer became involved in it – begins in 1945, when two Indiana businessmen contacted Mies (then recently arrived in the United States) to design a bowling. This idea never made it past the planning stage, but when the businessmen – both IU alumni and former Pi Lamda Phi brothers – learned that their old campus home had been condemned by the local fire marshal, they again turned to the architect to build a new one. .
Seven years later, in 1952, Mies had a design plan. Yet just when work was due to begin in Bloomington, Indiana, bureaucratic difficulties halted construction. The delay dragged on for more than a decade, and when the designer died in 1969, the project fell into near obscurity. “Mies’ grandson had worked with him, and he told us he had never heard of it,” says Adam Thies, IU vice president of capital planning and school principal. on the project.
Only chance led to the resurrection of the project: Sidney Eskenazi, also a graduate of IU and former member of Pi Lambda Phi, found the original schematics and presented them to the president of the university in 2013. After thinking about the proposal for a few more years, the administration decided to press forward, turning the building into a learning and event space for the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture Design, so named for the patron who came up with the plans as well as a $20 million grant to help build it.
In this case, the Phifer office was already under contract with IU for the neighboring Ferguson International Building. “We could have done a search, but we already had them there,” Thies said. The choice seems natural for reasons other than convenience: known for elegant and demanding works such as the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland, and the Federal Building in Salt Lake City, Phifer has long practiced a very modern brand of design. refined that clearly echoes that of Mies himself. Stepping into the shoes of a bygone legend might have intimidated some, but Phifer relished the opportunity. “I just loved it,” says the architect. “It was a chance to get inside his head.”