At the center of Illinois Institute of Technology’s campus is Crown Hall, an iconic Mies van der Rohe building that houses the university’s School of Architecture. The building is peak Mies, recognizable by its exposed structure, transparent facades, and restrained embellishment. Last month, the quietly prestigious building was the recipient of a striking installation by Chicago-based artist Assaf Evron. Aptly titled Collage for S.R. Crown Hall, the piece is comprised of a 650-square-foot photograph of a desert landscape hung in the clerestory windows above the building’s South entrance.
Evron’s interest in Mies’ designs began with his collages, an obscure body of work compared to the legacy of his buildings, but the launching point for his American legacy. The series of collages, made in the late 1930’s when Mies arrived in the United States, often feature panels of windows framing various landscapes, overlaid with textures and materials that translated literally into his building designs. Crown Hall is exemplary of this, with an expansive, open floor plan surrounded by rows of windows that perfectly frame the campus’ green lawns and trees. Evron reverses this collage-to-building process, using his own landscape photographs and superimposing them on the built work of Mies. “It’s interesting because in a way it’s like working with Mies in a weird collaboration, using his own strategy against him.”
Collage for S.R. Crown Hall is the third installation that brings Evron’s photographs together with Mies’ architecture. The first two, located at the McCormick House and Esplanade Apartments respectively, use an equivalent tactic of plastering large-scale, incongruous topographic images onto the building’s glass walls. The installations juxtapose the architecture with the surrounding landscape and the superimposed landscape, and each photograph is carefully selected to address different design attributes of the buildings. “For Crown Hall, I was looking for a landscape that would mimic the form and monumentality of the building,” explained Evron, whose search for an American mountain that could match Crown Hall’s horizontality and austerity led him to the Vermillion Cliffs in northern Arizona.
The cobalt desert sky in the final image is almost seamless against the blue of the late summer Illinois sky on IIT’s campus, but that’s where the similarities between the two landscapes end. The brickish reds of the striated cliffside appear to bear heavily on the cool steel lintel above the glass doors and windows, allowing onlookers a glimpse through open floor-plan studios and into the lush, green campus beyond. The contiguity of landscape, photography, and architecture, akin to the early Miesian collages, is what Evron hopes will “give life to the buildings,” and loosen people’s perceptions, not only of the stoic Mies style, but of the built environment as a whole.