In 1995, the Arts Club of Chicago was compelled to leave its Mies van der Rohe-designed meeting rooms, taking along the only element of real architectural consequence: Mies’ impeccable entry stair. At the time, I proposed a new Arts Club building that considered displacing the stair into an “inappropriate” setting. Coming back to the project 15 years later, I thought: Why not displace Miesianism itself?
This new design pursues an excess of Miesian modes, both in number and degree, to the point of architectural slovenliness. The ratcheting structural grid that underpins the massing is almost, but not quite, orderly, and is infilled using strategies from Mies’ whole career. In the most rebellious move, the buff brick podium erupts from platonic site-surrogate to three-dimensional enclosure.
The return of the repressed podium is on full display at the building’s entrance, where public face overlaps with erogenous zone. Here, visitors confront a ramp and open-air antechamber extruded from the brick plinth. Within the antechamber, Mies’ stair is worshipfully displayed behind glass panels and daylit from above, but can only be reached by turning to the side, entering the building, and then re-entering the chamber through a small opening.
The building’s most prominent corner is wrapped with a screen that recalls Mies’ Chicago convention hall project, but retrofitted with tri-panel rotating billboards that variously display commissioned art projects, exhibition graphics, and Miesian architectural features to “complete” the Arts Club building’s fractured composition.