Last night at Crown Hall, a design competition paid tribute to the work of Mies van der Rohe by recasting and reinterpreting his influence in the form of modern furniture showrooms. Five Chicago designers and former IIT students — Katherine Darnstadt, Melissa Johnston, Ryan Monteleagre, Todd Snapp and Stephen Burks — were given different Mies chairs and free rein to create their own displays, all part of a 129th birthday celebration co-sponsored by the Mies van der Rohe Society, Knoll Furniture and the Illinois Institute of Technology. Overall, it was a congenial celebration, capped off by Mies' grandson, Dirk Lohan, who gave a warm toast to his grandfather, expounding on how he learned about him as an architect and as a person (the martini in his hand was something he learned to appreciate from his "Pa").
Todd Snapp of Perkins + Will, whose display was named the winner, utilized creative reuse for his birthday-themed "Mies Cake" piece. Shaped like a slice of chocolate cake, his showroom was flanked by a curvilinear sculpture made from 129 pieces of elevator panels from the Mies-designed IBM building, each listing an important event in Mies' lifetime or architecture's progression over the years.
"For me it was about the purity of it," he says, "trying to find the true expression of the material."
Katherine Darnstadt of Latent Design took an abstract spin on the Barcelona chair and asked viewers to look at the iconic piece in a new way. An inflated plastic figure let people interact without touching the chair (looking through the peepholes revealed someone sitting on a chair inside), while playing with shape and form in three dimensions.
"Form follows function," she says, "I wanted to follow the audience and also have some fun."
Melissa Johnston of Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill created a series of reflective stands inspired by the description of Crown Hall as a reductive building, "almost nothing." The ethereal, mirrored showroom made the chrome chair legs seem to float.
"By revealing what's underneath the chairs," she says, "it increases the drama of the shape."
Ryan Monteleagre of RDK Design did his homework, creating period-influenced rooms and artwork that recreated where his chairs were first displayed, Berlin and Brno in the early '30s.
Stephen Burks, who runs his own firm Man Made in New York, created a striking showroom setup, raised on a travertine plinth, that channeled the "dialogue between the historic and contemporary." The table features his Anwar Lamp.