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McCormick Tribune Campus Center

2010 March 23
by Caroline Nye Stevens

CNS 2010

3201 S. State Street

In his widely read essay “Miestakes,” Rem Koolhaas wrote, “I do not respect Mies, I love Mies.” On its own this statement seems nonsensical, but when reading it in the context of Koolhaas’s McCormick Tribune Campus Center at IIT (Illinois Institute of Technology), it makes perfect sense. For decades IIT had been defined by the multitude of buildings designed by its revered professor and leader, Mies van der Rohe. With a new century upon them, the school needed a new look to complement its Miesian mausoleum. Through an international competition Koolhaas was chosen to bring IIT up to date with his design for the Campus Center completed in 2003. Nowhere else in Chicago do we see more tension than today at IIT’s campus. Mies’s buildings followed his famous dictum, “Less is More,” and Koolhaas rebutted this with his building that in every way asserts, “More is More.”

IIT’s expectation was for Koolhaas to design the center with its main levels raised above the elevated train tracks that run through the site. Instead he chose to encase the elevated tracks in a concrete and steel tube, and design the Campus Center below as if crushed by the weight of the tracks. Walking through the building you can hear the trains running above and can even see the steel bottom of the tube. Nothing simple and Miesian is going on here. Koolhaas carefully mapped the student traffic across the site, and designed the floor plan based off of this network of diagonals. The center’s unorthodox floor plan, augmented with a palette of brightly contrasting colors, results in a vibe of exciting chaos.

CNS 2010

Koolhaas’s combating feelings of love and disrespect for Mies are particularly evident where the Campus Center wraps around and encroaches upon Mies’s Commons building (the original Student Center, 1953). Mies’s building is effectively put behind glass as if an artifact. Thus, Koolhaas asks that we look at Mies as someone to be remembered (even loved) but not repeated.


Rem Koolhaas is partner at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) firm in the Netherlands. To see more of their world-famous architecture visit their website. And a visit to the IIT campus is a must for any architecture student. Check out their website here. For more pictures of the McCormick Tribune Campus Center see them on BLUEPRINT: Chicago’s facebook fan page.

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