BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie welcomed Sidney and Lois Eskenazi, IU alumni and principal donors, and architect Dirk Lohan, grandson of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, to the dedication ceremony for the new, shared facility for the IU Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design on June 17. The building, now under construction, realizes a rediscovered 1952 design created by Mies for the IU Bloomington campus.
As adapted for contemporary use by the architectural team of Thomas Phifer and Partners, the Mies Building for the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design is scheduled to open in fall 2021. Thomas Phifer and Partners is also the architect for IU’s new Ferguson International Center, under construction directly across Jordan Avenue from the Eskenazi School.
Also joining McRobbie for the ceremony were the Eskenazis, Lohan, IU Bloomington Provost Lauren Robel, Eskenazi School Founding Dean Peg Faimon, architects Thomas Phifer and Stephen Dayton of Thomas Phifer and Partners, and Vice President for Capital Planning and Facilities Thomas A. Morrison, as well as members of the IU Board of Trustees, faculty and staff.
Commissioned for the IU fraternity Alpha Theta chapter of Pi Lambda Phi, which subsequently abandoned the project, the Mies design was all but forgotten for some 60 years. It re-emerged in 2013 when Sidney Eskenazi, a fraternity member of the chapter as an IU student, informed McRobbie of the existence of Mies’ drawings for the building.
IU subsequently found documentation of the project in the archives of the Art Institute of Chicago and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. In 2019, IU announced that it would realize the 10,000-square-foot, two-story building – conceived contemporaneously with Mies’ famous Farnsworth House and similar in design philosophy and materials – paying for construction with a portion of a $20 million donation from Sidney and Lois Eskenazi.
“From the late-19th-century Romanesque of Kirkwood Hall to the mid-20th-century modernism of Myron Goldsmith’s Republic Building in Columbus, Indiana, to I.M. Pei’s acclaimed IU Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University is renowned for its magnificent architecture,” McRobbie said. “We are extremely pleased and excited to add yet another extraordinary building on the IU Bloomington campus, designed by the renowned Mies van der Rohe, one of the greatest architects of the modern era, and reminiscent of many other famous buildings designed by Mies.
“This new building, situated in the center of our beautiful Bloomington campus, will serve to inspire and elevate IU’s students of art, architecture and design, as well as our excellent faculty, as it advances the growth and development of one of IU’s newest schools.
“All of us at IU are immensely grateful for the vision, support and generosity of Sidney and Lois Eskenazi, who have literally brought this astonishing work of architecture out of obscurity and into the light and who continue to have a transformational impact on our world-class community of scholars. To acquire a building for the campus designed by Mies van der Rohe is the equivalent of IU’s Eskenazi Museum of Art acquiring a new Picasso or Pollock.”
The Mies Building is a 60-foot-wide, 140-foot-long rectangular structure of thin, white-painted steel and expansive glass, in panes measuring 10 feet square. Floor-to-ceiling windows wrap around the entire second story, which features a central exterior square atrium, giving the impression of transparency throughout the building. Much of the lower level is open to the air, with the second or main story elegantly elevated above the ground plane. Architecturally, the building has a strong relationship to both the Farnsworth House and the massing and form of many of Mies’ early concepts for buildings at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
“As someone who worked with my grandfather Mies van der Rohe since 1957, I thought I knew all the projects he ever worked on,” Lohan said. “But I never heard about this project until Indiana University contacted me about its wish to build this 70-year-old design. After contemplating the request, I and the three other grandchildren concluded this would indeed be a wonderful assertion of Mies’ significance as an architect.
“Looking at what is emerging here on your campus, I am convinced you have chosen a masterpiece, and we all should be grateful to the Eskenazi family for their support, and to the architects Thomas Phifer and Partners for their outstanding craftsmanship to make this new, and simultaneously old, facility a reality in, and for, the 21st century. I am convinced that Mies van der Rohe, who died over 50 years ago, would have been pleased to see his iconic edifice ultimately being born.”
“The Mies Building will provide the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design with a shared facility, enabling faculty and students of all our programs to come together and collaborate,” Faimon said. “But just as important, the building shows who we are, representing the excellence to which we are committed.
“There can be no greater inspiration for us than to learn and work in a masterpiece by this titan of 20th-century architecture. Let us hope that it will be a lasting monument to the power of collaborations and connections of all kinds: artistic, creative, intellectual and, above all, human.”
The dedication of the building was held as McRobbie completes his 14-year tenure as the 18th president of Indiana University, which ends June 30. Under McRobbie’s leadership, IU has constructed or renovated more than 100 major facilities across all seven of its campuses, with a total value of nearly $2.7 billion. Among the notable building projects he has overseen related to the Eskenazi School are the renovation of Myron Goldsmith’s 1971 Republic Building, a National Historic Landmark, for the J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program; the renovation of the 1895 Kirkwood Hall; and the creation of a new 50,000-square-foot Fine Arts studio building.
During the dedication, McRobbie awarded two President’s Medals for Excellence, the highest honor an IU president can bestow. The award went to Patrick A. Shoulders, longtime member of the IU Board of Trustees, for his 19 years of exceptional service to IU as a trustee. Also honored was Morrison, for his 12 years of service as IU’s first vice president for capital planning and facilities. During Morrison’s tenure, IU has seen the most sustained period of renovation, renewal and repurposing of its existing facilities – and of the construction of new facilities – in its history.