Fred A. Bernstein

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Take That, Grandpa!

Smashing Mies

Published in The New York Times, April 3, 2005

Generations of architects have wanted to break out of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's boxes. On May 17, Dirk Lohan will get the chance. His firm bid $2,705 on eBay for the right to smash a window at Crown Hall, a glass and steel masterpiece by Mies. The Chicago building houses the Illinois Institute of Technology's architecture school, which Mr. Lohan attended (the auction raised money to refurbish the building's skin). "I think breaking the window will feel great," Mr. Lohan said. "But only because this is the beginning of a new life for the building."

Mr. Lohan's school ties aren't his only connection to Crown Hall - he is also Mies's grandson. "I always had a very warm relationship with him," Mr. Lohan, 67, said. He denied any Freudian motivations: "I know other people found him cold and forbidding, but I didn't." He said he hadn't yet thought about how he would break the glass. But Patrick Loughran, a fellow Chicago architect and the author "Falling Glass," the architect's bible on how to prevent glass from failing, had advice for Mr. Lohan: "If he uses a device that has a very small point - an icepick would work great - he should have no problem. But because of the nature of glass, if he uses a blunt instrument like a mallet, even a hammer, he might have more trouble. But he might use a hammer anyway, because, like a lot of architects, he is probably going for a little drama."