Shimer College

November 11, 2013

Was Mies van der Rohe a Shimerian?

If Mies van der Rohe was seeking to identify an architecture for his time, and in particular for his post World War I era, did others seek to create a curriculum for their time?

I ask about Mies and Shimer for three main reasons:

1) Because Shimer is now located on a campus that is linked with van der Rohe, including the building in which we currently hold classes, read and think (and, truly importantly, what some view as the “crown” of his career, Crown Hall);

2) Because one of our recent (interim) presidents ( Ed Noonan) had an intellectual relationship with van der Rohe; 

3) Because I believe that there may be features of Shimerishness that may be attached to those who were not Shimerians in any direct sense but participate in some way in its ethos. I have asked this question regarding contemporary popular authors, for example. Is So-and-So a Shimerian? So, why not ask the same question about a dead architect? Besides which, how can someone named Ludwig fail to be a Shimerian?

Another way of asking our question is this: if Mies van der Rohe was seeking to identify an architecture for his time, and in particular for his post World War I era, did others seek to create a curriculum for their time?

Are spaces of intellectual vitality called curricula and spaces more literally linked?

Of course – hence our octagonal tables, hence the move away from lecture halls, hence many changes in the thinking of those who plan pedagogical spaces. 

As an educator at IIT, Mies also looked to a curriculum to educate. In his case, theory did play a part, though as the last of a three-step process, as I recently read. Hmm. Which comes first: drawing (he thinks so) or theorizing? 

Mies is linked to aphorisms: most famously to “Less is more,” and, “God is in the details.” These, too, point to a Shimerian connection. (By constraining our curriculum, by what we exclude, do we too assert that less is more? )