Getting to the bottom of Mies' 860-880 Lake Shore Drive

May 21, 2010


(photo by Lee Bey)

I checked out the base of the John Hancock building a few days ago, intrigued by how the tower's 100 stories meet the ground in a relatively simple granite plaza.

Today I'm looking at the base of Mies van der Rohe's seminal 860-880 Lake Shore Drive. The 26-story steel-and-glass high rises seem to ride above the earth on a transparent band of glass, light, and air.


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)

Built in 1951, the modernist towers became the steel-and-glass standard for generations of residential and office buildings across the world.‚  The buildings are looking a little snazzier these days, thanks to a restoration by Chicago architects Krueck & Sexton and Harboe Architects.

Landmarks Illinois President Jim Peters best summed up 860-880's worldwide influence in a discussion he and I had back in the 1990s when he worked at City Hall:‚  "People look at 860-880 and say 'What's so special about them? A lot of buildings look that way.' And the answer is 'Yes. But these buildings looked that way first.' "