S. R. Crown Hall, Illinois Institute of Technology, Mies van der Rohe, Chicago, Illinois, USA

One brilliant black building to see in Chicago

In Illinois? Looking for an architecturally themed trip this weekend? Then try this Mies classic, from our book Black

The colour black doesn't always represent wilful opacity – sometimes it can be used to frame buildings which, in look and purpose, are all about achieving lucidity.

Mies van der Rohe designed S.R. Crown Hall in Chicago 1956, explains our new book Black: Architecture in Monochrome. It would provide a template for future black architecture in the late 20th and 21st centuries. Mies had been the last director of the Bauhaus before fleeing to America following the rise of the Nazis. He took the position of head of the architectural school at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where the S.R. Crown Hall is situated. He sought in his work to create a modernistic style that would speak proudly of the times in which he lived the way, say, Gothic architecture represented its own era.


Black: Architecture in Monochrome
Black: Architecture in Monochrome

The Crown Hall achieves this, through its purity of line and form. Constructed using glass and painted black steel frames, its classrooms and meeting rooms are spare and minimal representations of mental space, encouraging learning. The single upper room, meanwhile, eschews columns in favour of steel supporting beams. This was van der Rohe's first successful clear-span structure. It was declared a City of Chicago landmark in 1997 and it still speaks to us today.

Check back next Friday for another black architecture wonder, and to see more of architecture’s dark side order a copy of Black: Architecture in Monochrome here.