Jul 15th 2019

MIES Project Explores Modernist Architecture Through Reflections, Photography

MIES Project Opening Reception
S. R. Crown Hall
September, 25th | 6 p.m.

In 2012 German photographer Arina Dähnick had a chance encounter with a camera and a building designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. In the seven years that followed, Dähnick compiled a collection of photos of Mies buildings in American and European cities. Along the way, she began a dialogue with Chicago, culminating in an exhibition at Illinois Institute of Technology’s S. R. Crown Hall starting on September 18 and extending through November 1; the opening reception for the project will be held on the 25th.

Architecture wasn’t a subject found at the business end of Dähnick’s camera lens until her first revelatory experience with Mies’ architecture, which happened in Berlin in 2012 when visiting the Neue Nationalgalerie.

“Being in the room, and being in the building viewing the architecture, I had this feeling for the space,” says Dähnick. “It was a paradoxical feeling. On one hand it calmed me down, and on the other it gave me a creative restlessness.”

To see if that feeling could be recaptured in another Mies-designed space, Dähnick visited the Barcelona Pavilion in 2015. She says that, despite the widely different floor plans, she still felt the same creative force as she did at the Neue Nationalgalerie.

Thus, the MIES Project began. Toting a Leica M Body digital camera, she visited nine other Mies buildings in Berlin; Brno, Czech Republic; New York; and Chicago. Most are what Dähnick refers to as “legacy buildings,” instantly recognizable Mies works like the Seagram Building in New York or S. R. Crown Hall, though she featured Lemke House in Berlin, one of the architect’s most modest designs.

“What buildings to leave out and what to consider was not easy to decide,” says Dähnick. “I was interested in modern buildings starting from the Barcelona Pavilion and onward. I think they relay such a strong feeling of space.”

Dähnick doesn’t seek to capture her subjects holistically or perfectly. Her “architectural portraits” are intimate, prioritizing the details of Mies’ works, and how different lighting and weather conditions interact with the buildings.

The reflections seen in the glass façades of Mies’ buildings loom large in Dähnick’s photos, appropriate given the architect realized the importance they play in steel-and-glass designs. In 1922, when working on an unrealized skyscraper project in Berlin, he wrote, “I discovered by working with actual glass models that the important thing is the play of reflections and not the effect of light and shadow as in ordinary buildings.”

In addition to the exhibit at S. R. Crown Hall, a smaller version of the exhibit will be showing concurrently at Goethe-Institut in Chicago. The photos will also be on display at Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, from August 6 to September 8.

A book of the photos will also publish in October 2019, and will feature essays by College of Architecture Professor Michelangelo Sabatino and Dirk Lohan, Mies’ grandson and a member of the College of Architecture’s Board of Advisors.

“While Mies did not take photographs himself, his interest in montage and collage allowed him to explore the expressive possibilities of photography as art,” says Sabatino. “In recent years, documentary-like photographs of Mies’ buildings have been enriched by a new body of work by artists and performance artists such as Dähnick, Luftwerk, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Thomas Ruff, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Yoshihiko Ueda.”