Mies van der Rohe’s Forgotten Frat House Design Is Resurrected and Repurposed
More than 70 years after its inception, a forgotten Mies van der Rohe architectural design has finally been realized. This week, Indiana University opened its Mies van der Rohe building to students, faculty, and the public. The new campus landmark will provide lecture, workshop, and student collaboration spaces, as well as administrative offices for the university’s Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design. Under construction since June 2020, the building was funded through a $20 million gift from Sidney and Lois Eskenazi.
Mies’s elegant design at IU was originally supposed to be a frat house. In the early 1950s, two Indianapolis businessmen commissioned the renowned German architect to design a residence for the Alpha Theta chapter of Pi Lambda Phi. However, the fraternity wasn’t able to raise enough money for the project, and it was abandoned. In 1985, a former fraternity president died, and his widow discovered Mies’s blueprints for the building among her late husband’s effects. She passed these along to a former fraternity treasurer, who then donated the plans to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In 2013, Eskenazi, a businessman and former fraternity member, informed IU’s then-president about Mies’s unrealized design. A research team was able to locate further documentation from the project in archives at the Art Institute of Chicago, and in 2019, IU announced that it would resurrect the project as the shared central facility for the Eskenazi School. Now that it’s officially completed, the rediscovered design is a significant boon to the university. In a press release, Eskenazi School Dean Peg Faimon said, “There can be no greater inspiration for us than to learn and work in a masterpiece by this titan of 20th-century architecture.”
The newly unveiled 60-foot-wide, 140-foot-long steel and glass building is an exemplar of Mies’s signature understated but innovative style. IU’s version follows the architect’s original design closely, but with a few updates. To accommodate its new function, former dorm rooms on the second floor have been repurposed as office spaces. Other changes were made in order to meet modern building, accessibility, and safety codes, such as the addition of a fan-coil heating and cooling system, a hydraulic elevator, and insulated, high-performance glass windows. These changes were overseen by the architectural firm Thomas Phifer and partners.
The building is located on the IU Bloomington campus near its Herman B. Wells Library and Fine Arts Building. The Eskenazi School will hold a public open house and reception there on April 8, followed by a panel on the building’s history and Mies’s work in Indiana.