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Lake shore drive de Mies van der Rohe (Chicago). Source El País.

In this post we are going to talk about Mies Van Der Rohe's Lake Shore Drive apartment buildings. Twin blocks of flats built in Chicago between 1948 and 1950. An architectural innovation in the modern style and Van Der Rohe's first work in the United States.

Mies Van Der Rohe

He was a German architect and designer born in 1886, who emigrated to the United States, where he continued to practice architecture with great prestige. He was the last director of the Bauhaus in Germany before the school was closed by the new Nazi government.


Mies Van Der Rohe is responsible for creating a highly influential architectural trend in the 20th century, following a simple and clear style, using materials such as industrial steel and glass to cover the exterior of buildings. These characteristics are reflected in the Lake Shore Drive flats in Chicago, thus fulfilling the architect's dream of designing skyscrapers.
Another of his emblematic works, erected in New York, is the Seagram Building, with 37 floors covered in glass and bronze.


In terms of his professional career, we can find a natural evolution in his constructions, moving from tradition to modernity, seeking functionality and minimalism in his ideas.

Lake Shore Drive: The Glass House apartments


The Lake Shore Drive Apartments are located across the Lake Michigan highway from Lake Michigan in Chicago. They are numbered 60 and 880, respectively, on the same avenue. They were built between 1948 and 1950 and they reflect the minimalist and simple style of Mies Van Der Rohe, known as the International Style, which was fully consecrated with these buildings.

The architect applies the philosophy of rationalism, advocating that less is always more.

Twin towers on the shores of Lake Michigan

The Lake Shore Drive Apartments are twin towers standing next to the highway. They are 82 metres high and they have 26 floors. The buildings were built by developer Herbert Greenwald, beginning in 1949. 


The two buildings on Lake Shore Drive are elevated on steel pillars that are visible on the façade. They are perpendicular to each other and they measure 19.7 metres by 32.5 metres. Both have the same height, although one may appear to be taller than the other from different points of view. Both have the same use, as private residences, but the architect decided to distribute the interior space differently in each building. As the buildings are situated perpendicular to each other, a space was created between them, forming a square, originally paved with travertine marble.


Mies van der Rohe's towers are eight metres apart. This, combined with the idea of arranging them perpendicularly, makes them look like a single building. The constructional rationality of the flats combines with the characteristic spirit of the architect himself. This can be seen in the layout decisions, both of the interior and the buildings themselves.

The flat blocks were nicknamed Glass House apartments because of their exterior appearance, as they arebuilt out of transparent glass and aluminium panels, with a matt black painted steel structure. They are a clear example of the minimalist architecture promulgated by Mies van der Rohe.
Some of Mies van der Rohe's first skyscraper designs were exhibited in 1921, in a skyscraper competition held for the Friedrichstraße in Berlin, and they fall within the International Style, as previously mentioned. This architectural trend was essential for the later development of high-tech architecture.

One of the things that makes these buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe really interesting is that the structure of these twin towers is based on a supporting grid made of black steel. Only glass was used for the outer enclosure; a curtain wall that has no load-bearing function.

They are simple-looking but powerful constructions. There are no decorative elements and nothing is unnecessary. To sum up Lake Shore Drive flats are perfectly compliant with the fire regulations of the city of Chicago. 

Functionality combines with creativity

They are fully functional buildings while at the same time having visual and constructive characteristics that are perfectly planned and innovative for the moment. The glass curtain that covers both buildings seeks to let natural light into the flats in the most natural and effective way.

In conclusion, the Lake Shore Drive flats are one of the architect's most representative and recognisable works, where we can appreciate a certain style and great skills in combining steel, glass and aluminium in a residential construction.

Master in Collective Housing UPM/ETH

The Master of Advanced Studies in Collective Housing is a professional and international postgraduate programme that is developed on a full-time basis, dealing with advanced architectural design in the city and housing. It is designed and taught jointly by the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH).


The application period for MCH2022 is already opened, and it will remain so till 31.01.2022 or until vacancies are filled. 


For more information, click here!

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