The Battle Over Mies van der Rohe’s ‘Test Cell’

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Right before this writer left for his extended stay abroad, he was intending to talk about the local battle taking place here in Chicago over the planned demolition of Mies van der Rohe‘s “Test Cell,” a nondescript small brick building on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology. One side, which includes the esteemed Edward Lifson, thinks it’s unthinkable to tear down the building so the city can build a new train station, arguing that the building is an important piece of history and there is vacant land everywhere around the building, so why not build there instead? On the other side, which includes architect Blair Kamin, the argument follows the line of “Who cares?”, that it isn’t an important building in the slightest and likely wouldn’t even be recognized as a van der Rohe original unless someone told you (and even then you might not believe it). But that was early May and this writer never got around to the debate. But behold, it still rages on, with Lifson still fighting to keep the bulldozers at bay. Meanwhile, Kamin has since moved on, but now has worries about preservation of his own — with county courts now potentially revising Chicago’s landmark ordinances and leaving historic buildings in serious jeopardy. So what began as a small fight over one tiny building has turned into a lot of concern over a whole ton of very large ones. Before we start getting really afraid for the city, can we all just agree to go back to tussling over the “Test Cell”? Please?