Mies van der Rohe’s Forgotten Frat House Design Is Resurrected and Repurposed


More than 70 years after its creation, a forgotten architectural design by Mies van der Rohe has finally been realized. This week, Indiana University opened its Mies van der Rohe Building to students, faculty, and the public. The new campus landmark will provide conference, workshop and student collaboration spaces, as well as administrative offices for the university. Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture and Design. Under construction since June 2020, the building was funded through a $20 million gift from Sidney and Lois Eskenazi.

Mies’ sleek design at IU was originally meant to be a brotherhood. In the early 1950s, two Indianapolis businessmen commissioned the famous German architect to design a residence for the Alpha Theta chapter of Pi Lambda Phi. However, the fraternity was unable to raise enough money for the project and it was abandoned. In 1985, a former fraternity president died, and his widow discovered Mies’ plans for the building among her late husband’s effects. She passed them on to a former fraternity treasurer, who then donated the plans to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In 2013, Eskenazi, a businessman and former fraternity member, informed IU’s then-president of Mies’ unrealized design. A research team was able to locate further project materials in the archives of the Art Institute of Chicago, and in 2019 IU announced that it would be resurrecting the project as a central shared facility for the Eskenazi School. Now that it’s officially complete, the rediscovered design is a major boon to the university. In a press release, Eskenazi School Dean Peg Faimon said, “There can be no greater inspiration for us than to learn and work in a masterpiece from this titan of 20th century architecture.

The interior of the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture and Design

The recently unveiled 60-foot-wide, 140-foot-long steel and glass building is an example of Mies’ understated yet innovative style. The UI version closely follows the architect’s original design, but with a few updates. To adapt to its new function, the old dormitories on the second floor have been converted into offices. Other changes were made to meet modern building, accessibility and safety codes, such as the addition of a fan coil heating and cooling system, a hydraulic elevator and of insulated and efficient glass windows. These changes were overseen by architectural firm Thomas Phifer and its partners.

The building is located on the IU Bloomington campus near its Herman B. Wells Library and Fine Arts Building. The Eskenazi School will hold an open house and reception there on April 8, followed by a panel on the history of the building and Mies’ work in Indiana.

The Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture and Design at Indiana University
The Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design, exterior view
Detail of the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design (© Anna Powell Denton)

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