Restoration to reveal historical building's facade

 
Elmhurst Art Museum submission
Updated 2/23/2018 1:46 PM
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  • The McCormick House, designed by architect Mies van der Rohe, originally featured an iconic "carport" entrance, visible in this November 1952 photo, that was obscured by an addition to connect the house to the Elmhurst Art Museum.

    The McCormick House, designed by architect Mies van der Rohe, originally featured an iconic "carport" entrance, visible in this November 1952 photo, that was obscured by an addition to connect the house to the Elmhurst Art Museum. Courtesy of Hedrich Blessing Archive, Chicago Historical Society

  • A restoration project to be completed by summer will reveal the original facade of the McCormick House, which has been hidden for more than 20 years.

    A restoration project to be completed by summer will reveal the original facade of the McCormick House, which has been hidden for more than 20 years. Courtesy of Heritage Architecture Studio and LP Studio Inc.

  • Artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle is creating an architectural intervention to be called "Seeing Red," shown in this rendering, in conjunction with the restoration of Mies van der Rohe's McCormick House in Elmhurst.

    Artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle is creating an architectural intervention to be called "Seeing Red," shown in this rendering, in conjunction with the restoration of Mies van der Rohe's McCormick House in Elmhurst. Courtesy of Elmhurst Art Museum

Visitors to the Elmhurst Art Museum this summer will see a restored work that's been hidden for more than two decades: the original facade of renowned architect Mies van der Rohe's McCormick House.

The historically significant house, built in 1952, is one of only three Ludwig Mies van der Rohe built in the U.S. and was meant as a prototype for prefabricated suburban housing.

Acquired by the museum in 1994, it was moved several blocks to the property at 150 Cottage Hill Ave. Then, in 1997, an addition to connect the house to the museum obscured the house's iconic carport entrance.

Restoration work to remove the addition, set to finish in June, will be completed by Berglund Construction under guidance by Elmhurst's Heritage Architecture studio and museum Executive Director John McKinnon. The work is the first step in a multiphase restoration plan that will continue with the house's interior.

"Through this restoration, the Elmhurst Art Museum aims to honor and revitalize the original designs by Mies van der Rohe, while better educating and inspiring generations to come," McKinnon said.

"As the only contemporary art center in the U.S. that oversees a building designed by Mies, we have a unique responsibility and programming opportunity. Each of our rotating exhibitions, talks and other programs build on the legacy of the house in a new way. This aspect of the museum's mission will be more visible after the construction."

In tandem with the exterior restoration, internationally acclaimed artist Iigo Manglano-Ovalle will create "Seeing Red," an architectural intervention within the McCormick House that builds on an idea of original developers Robert Hall McCormick and Herbert S. Greenwald, who offered to make glass windows of the proposed prefab housing "almost any shade of the rainbow."

Manglano-Ovalle's architectural interventions have included projects at Mies's Farnsworth House, Barcelona Pavilion, S.R. Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, as well as the fabrication of the architect's 1951 proposal for the as-yet-unbuilt House with Four Columns. This intervention will be on view through Aug. 26.

At the same time, the museum will stage "Mies's McCormick House Revealed: New Views," a complementary three-part exhibition curated by Barry Bergdoll, Columbia University professor of art history and archaeology.

"New Views" will provide background, context and visibility to the McCormick House and serve as an introduction for a broad audience.

"The McCormick House is the great unknown Mies van der Rohe design hiding in plain view," Bergdoll said. "Not only is the restoration going to allow visitors again to experience its spatial sequence, but research has revealed Mies van der Rohe's contribution, hitherto all but unknown, to the vibrant debate over a future of prefabricated houses in post-World War II America."

The first "New Views" gallery will contain models of the prototype house and the potential prefab houses that were to be made after it, in addition to reproductions of historical photographs and advertisements for the houses.

Among the highlights will be loans from the Mies van der Rohe archive at the Museum of Modern Art, including three drawings of the McCormick House that have never been exhibited. The exhibition is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

"New Views" also will serve as the only U.S. venue for an international traveling exhibition curated by Renato Anelli, professor at the Institute of Architecture and Urban Planning-University of So Paulo and curatorial adviser for "New Views."

Taking place in the second gallery, the exhibition will contextualize the McCormick House with other glass houses across North and South America. Models and photographs for homes built and proposed by other architects will provide background for Mies's "dream home of tomorrow."

These materials come from the exhibition "Glass Houses," which originally was held in Brazilian Lina Bo Bardi's Glass House.

Finally, the third gallery of "New Views" will display photographs by contemporary artists responding to reflections and transparency on the iconic glass walls designed by Mies, including works by Scott Fortino, Veronika Kellndorfer and Luisa Lambri.

Described by a prefab advertisement used by McCormick, "The glass wall doesn't merely disclose a section of the outdoors but reveals to the expansive eye and spirit a constant weather-changing spectacle from the earth up, of plant and creature."

Mies designed the McCormick House for Robert Hall McCormick III, a member of one of Chicago's most prominent families, and his wife, poet Isabella Gardner. The house was a home for the McCormick family and a prototype for a proposed group of smaller, affordable middle-class homes in Chicago's suburbs that McCormick, Greenwald and Mies hoped to develop.

The McCormick House is a rare and important example of Mies's mature style, incorporating elements of both Farnsworth House (1951) and 860-880 Lake Shore Drive (1951) in a revolutionary prototype for mass-produced modular housing.

According to McCormick, however, the progressive design had limited appeal to potential buyers, and the house lacked some desirable features, like air conditioning and a basement, a new standard in new suburban developments.

It was originally located at 299 Prospect Ave., Elmhurst, and was acquired by Elmhurst Art Museum and moved to its current location in 1994.

The museum is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays and weekends, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays. Admission is $9, $8 for seniors, and free for students and children younger than 18.

For information, call (630) 834-0202 or visit elmhurstartmuseum.org.

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