It’s not every day you stumble upon the plans for a long-lost, never-built structure by a legendary architect like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, but that’s just about what happened at Indiana University (IU). The German-American architect, who was one of the fathers of architectural modernism, designed a 10,000-square-foot glass-walled building for Indiana University’s Bloomington campus in 1952, but it was never built, and it was more or less forgotten. But soon the building will come to life at IU’s Sidney and Lois Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design.
Sidney Eskenazi, founder of retail development company Sandor, was an IU student at the time of Mies van der Rohe’s proposal, and he recalled the structure. “A few years ago, Mr. Eskenazi brought the plans to the attention of president McRobbie,” says Peg Faimon, dean of the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design, which is named after its benefactor. The Eskenazis are funding the construction of the building, which is heavily inspired by the original plans, through a $20 million gift, the largest in the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design's history. The structure will house classrooms and office space, and will serve as a creative hub for the school.
Indiana University has tapped New York–based firm Thomas Phifer and Partners to complete the project, which is expected to be finished in June 2021. "We have a strong and established relationship with the firm, as they are already designing a building directly across the street,” says Faimon. “We want to achieve a clear and sensitive connection between the two buildings, and this is best accomplished by the same firm working on both projects. The firm is also known for its beautiful attention to detail and its ability to work in a modernist language, making them the perfect partners for the project.”
This is part of AD PRO’s Designer Takeover, in which working designers contribute stories to the site. Here, Michael G. Imber pens a narrative that examines art's changing role in the architecture process.
As the architecture profession becomes increasingly dominated by programs that create buildings by algorithms, and as architectural schools shut down drawing studios, I begin to wonder if the architect as an artist is becoming a romantic notion of the past and if the architect as we always knew him (or her) will soon be no more.
In the past, architects were always seen as the ultimate artists, visualizing imaginary buildings and places deep within the recesses of their imagination and teasing them out in paint or pencil. Only then could they begin the laborious process of drawing how the building could be assembled and brought to reality through an elaborate collaboration with craftsmen and allied artists. They drew upon their visual experiences, knowledge of human nature, and understanding of physics to bring to fruition wondrous places: places that impacted not only the way we lived our daily lives but the very development of our culture—and ultimately our civilization.
Becoming an architect was a lifelong process of studying both our built and natural environments through drawing and painting. This is how past generations came to know the world—by seeing though their hands. Through drawing antiquities they saw the past, and from drawing landscapes they understood the beauty of the natural world. Renowned art critic John Ruskin once said, “To draw the leaf is to know the forest,” for without drawing there was no understanding. Creating our built environment wasn’t simply theoretical; by drawing our environment we came to understand our world through an empirical process—through observation and experience.
Drawing for the architect was another language. Thousands of hours of sketching allowed one access to the deepest complexities of the mind, where ideas would flow through the hand to paper instantaneously, without pondering interpretation—from imagination to fruition without impediment.
Today, an architectural office is a scene of flickering screens and humming computers, endlessly energetic tools for the creation of buildings. Yet, as technology aids the progress and efficiency of building, the young architectural graduate who can draw is but a rarity in today's studio. As we give ourselves over to the machines, can we continue to understand nature? Can we know history and culture, and can we really understand humanity through building? Is architecture still art?
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