Dirk Lohan shares Mies van der Rohe's legacy

    Evanstonians packed the small auditorium in Block Museum Tuesday evening to hear a lecture from the museum’s architect, Dirk Lohan, on his work and his grandfather, famed Chicago architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

    “Chicago is an extraordinary place for architecture and both men have had a tremendous impact on the Chicago skyline,” said Ingrid Zeller, senior lecturer in the Department of German, who helped to organize the One Book One Northwestern event.

    Lohan’s lecture progressed through his grandfather’s life from his start building classic homes in Germany as a 19-year-old prodigy to establishing himself as an “upper class society architect,” to the development of his own, now-ubiquitous modern style.

    After discussing some of his grandfather’s most famous works, including the Illinois Institute of Technology campus, the Farnsworth House and 860-880 Lake Shore Dr., Lohan transitioned to his own works, including Block Museum.

    “It’s always a pleasure to talk in your own building,” said Lohan, who noted that elements of the building were inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s Berlin’s New National Gallery, a building which he helped to complete.

    Recently Lohan has become nearly as much a part of Chicago’s architecture as his grandfather, having completed buildings for “apes, ocean mammals, football players and humans.” However, not all of his buildings have been as well received as the Block Museum. As was the case with his grandfather’s groundbreaking works, some of his buildings have attracted controversy.

    In particular, Lohan received considerable negative press for his modern addition to Soldier Field. Although the furor has died down considerably since the addition opened in 2003 (the building even won an award from the American Institute of Architects), as recently as last February the Chicago Tribune published an article calling the renovated stadium “hideously ugly.”

    “I was the whipping boy for the Tribune for a while,” said Lohan, “in all modesty, I think they were wrong.”

    Despite defending his addition to Soldier Field, Lohan was quick to cast judgment in the case of another controversial Chicago building, the former Prentice Women’s Hospital. On Feb. 7, the Chicago Landmarks Commission voted against landmark status for the building for the second time. The hospital was designed by one of Mies van der Rohe’s former students, Bertrand Goldberg.

    "When I first heard about [Prentice], I said okay, tear it down,” Lohan said. “I thought about it a bit, but it’s not one of the iconic buildings in the world.” Lohan went on to suggest that the Marina City towers were much better examples of Goldberg’s work.

    The influence of Lohan and Mies van der Rohe will be felt on campus again soon, as their former firm, Goettsch Partners, has been contracted to design the new building for the Bienen School of Music.

    Like his grandfather’s famed Crown Hall at IIT or NU’s Deering Library, it could very well be, as Lohan put it, another “sacred cow on campus.”

    Editor's note, Feb. 13 at 1:42 p.m.: The original version of this story misattributed the quote about Chicago's architecture to Lisa Graziose Corrin. It has been changed to reflect that Ingrid Zeller said those words.


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