Perhaps not surprisingly—since its architecture program is located in Columbus, Indiana, rated sixth by the AIA on its 1991 list of the top ten U.S. cities for architectural innovation and quality—Indiana University occupies several outstanding Modernist buildings, including a new one based on a 1952 Ludwig Mies van der Rohe design.
Late last year the university opened a new, 10,000-square-foot facility on its main Bloomington campus for its >Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture & Design that’s based on a 1952 Mies design for a never-constructed fraternity house on the same campus. And in 2018, the Eskenazi School’s J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program moved into the 1971 Republic Building in nearby Columbus. Designed by Myron Goldsmith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill for the plant and offices of the Republic Newspaper, the building was the seventh in Columbus to be named a National Historic Landmark.
The new Bloomington building’s path to completion has been more circuitous. It begins in 1950, when Mies was invited to design a fraternity house on the Bloomington campus. His plan featured the same white steel and glass structure as his Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois. The fraternity that commissioned the design was unable to raise the money for construction and abandoned the project.
Flash forward to 2013, when IU alumnus Sidney Eskenaz, founding donor of the school that bears his name and a member of the Alpha Theta Chapter of Pi Lamda Phi, the fraternity that commissioned the Mies house, told the university about Mies’ design. As a young law student, Eskenazi helped the fraternity manage a building permit denial by the city of Bloomington for the project; Mies’ office gave him two floor plans and a rendering to assist him in his efforts. He gave a scan of these documents to Michael A. McRobbie, then- president of the university, in 2013.
The actual blueprints for the building were found in Mies’ archive at MoMA by Smith Group JJR, the university’s master planning consultants, in 2014. Adam Thies, associate vice president of capital planning for the university, found additional documentation of the building in the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2015 and 2021, as well as at MoMA in 2019 and 2021.
The two-story, 60-foot-by-140-foot building is based on the original 70-year-old design but deviates slightly from the materials Mies would have had available and conforms to regulations that were not a concern in 1952. Though it is constructed of white-painted steel, gray limestone, and white epoxy terrazzo, the liberal glazing is insulating and high-performance. To conform to today’s building code, it also features an additional stair; hydraulic elevator; modern heating, cooling and ventilation systems; and sprinklers. Its lower level has a mechanical room and is mostly open-air, while its elevated second story, which has lecture, workshop, student collaboration and administrative spaces, features wrap-around, floor-to-ceiling windows. According to the school, the building, which is furnished with designs by Mies and Florence Knoll, “has a strong relationship” to both the Farnsworth House and Mies’ early concepts for buildings on the Chicago campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Goldsmith’s glass and steel Republic Building on the other hand—described by the Columbus Area Visitors Center as “a linchpin in the redevelopment plan for downtown Columbus in the late 1960s”—originally offered passersby a literal window on the newspaper’s operation: Its printing presses were visible from the street until they were moved to a larger plant in Columbus.
When the university’s architecture program moved into the Republic Building, it outfitted it with a visual studies studio, fabrication lab, exhibition gallery and flexible auditorium space. It purchased the building—which was vacated by the newspaper in 2016 and later owned by Columbus Regional Health, a southwestern Indiana health system—in 2018. According to Thies, the building required little modification for its new role; Peg Faimon, founding dean of the Eskenazi School, said “its architecture stands up very well, it’s functioning for us very well.”
She also said the Mies building serves as a community hub for the Eskenazi School’s multiple disciplines on the university’s Bloomington campus.