Mies van der Rohe: Corner and mullion solutions
Mies have an image as an idealist who built with great perfection, disregarding both function and cost. The Illinois Institute of Technology buildings cost no more than contemporary Chicago high schools; the famous 860 Lake Shore Drive cost $ 10.38 a square foot in 1951 wich was cheap by local standards; Chicago’s Federal Center at $ 20 a square foot is a reasonable price for a fully air-conditioned office building. Architects, remembering that onyx wall and knowing the price of Mies furniture, will doubtless continue to think of him as an architect of expensive buildings, but the property developers have no such hang-ups and have beaten a path to his door.
The perfection of craftmanship is a myth too, and the visitor will be rudely shocked by running mastic at Illinois Institute of Technology and the crooked steel fa-scias at Lafayette Park. Although he cannot be cre-dited with any specific item or technical progress, Mies has often been regarded as a machine-age prophet. He has claimed this position: “Not yesterday, not tomorrow, only today can be given form”. Today techno-logy has given us glass and metals, and it is to these materials that Mies has given rational, economic form.
John Winter, “The Architectural Review”, february 1972
860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments
Chicago, IL, USA, 1949-1951
The mullions of 860-880, the first free-standing high-rise building Mies built, set the pattern for all his subsequent metal-faced towers: for the window frame with I-beam outside to guide the cleaning cradle and for the flat member inside to take the partition.
The corner with its steel-faced, concrete encased, steel column is the detail that put steel in the same class as stone as a noble building material. At the time the logical expression of a steel frame seemed to be casing of the column in sheet steel, which served as formwork for the concrete fireproofing. A typical bay shows the columns expressed on the face and the adjacent windows correspondingly reduced. Windows below the transom are hoppers opening behind fixed flywire, a ventilation system common in American apartment buildings.
Commonwealth Promenade Apartments
Chicago, IL, USA, 1953-1956
Commonwealth Promenade and 900 Esplanade have reinforced concrete structure, but the change of framing material has little influence on the skin. The increasing demand of mechanical services leads to a new skin/structure relationship with the mullions brought forward from the column face so that services, like heating riser, can pass on the outside face of the column. The apartments have free-standing convectors in each room served by water pipes traveling round the skin behind the sills.
Seagram Building, New York
NY, USA, 1954-1958
The Seagram Building explores the luxury of bronze and brown glass; negative detailing giving separate identity to each elemet is carried to the extreme degree where around the glazing beads only one thickness of metal separates outside and inside.
The bronze cladding to the column is held further out than the outside face of the column to allow copper flashings to protect the expansion joints at each ceiling level.
With the Seagram Builnd it was found more economical to raise two-storey high sticks and assemble the skin on the building, a practice that was continued in subsequent towers. The omission of the transoms always marks a Mies office building from an apartment building.
Pavilion Apartments, Newark
NJ, USA, 1955-1963
In the Pavilion Apartment the cost was pared down to the minimum and the concrete column was left uncased. Pavillion Apartmens at Lafayette Park use a split mullion, but the Newark Apartments revert to the I-beam solution. The problem of the tenants unit air-conditioners was elegantly dealt with by making the part of the skin below the transom a cast-aluminium grille and on the inside a flap for natural ventilation can be changed to a unit air-conditioner at the occupant’s choice.