July 19, 2018

The Elmhurst Art Museum Refreshes Mies van der Rohe’s McCormick House

The Elmhurst Art Museum facility comprises the 1952 McCormick House (right) and a companionably scaled facility designed by DeStefano+Partners in 1997 (left). Photography by James Prinz.

The Mies van der Rohe–designed McCormick House (1952) has been a component of the Elmhurst Art Museum (EAM) since 1997, when it was incorporated into the Illinois institution’s new facility, designed by Chicago’s DeStefano + Partners. Connected by a breezeway to the new construction, it initially served as offices and occasional exhibition space. Now, in efforts to better utilize and interpret the house, the museum has removed that connective link to fully reveal the structure and differentiate it from the museum’s primary space.

Once obscured by a breezeway connecting the McCormick House to the museum’s 1997 facility, the restored carport allows visitors to appreciate the home’s original exterior appearance. Photography by James Prinz.
Untitled Film (Red), an intervention by artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, baths the McCormick House interior with color. Photography by James Prinz.

One of only three single-family homes Mies built in the U.S., the 2,100-square-foot glass, steel, and brick house was built for Robert Hall McCormick Jr., who with developer Herbert Greenwald Jr. erected the Mies-designed apartments at 860-880 N. Lake Shore Drive. The McCormick home served as a prototype for pre-fab homes the two planned to build in American suburbs. “But the market wasn’t really ready for this kind of design,” notes Heidi Y. Granke, who oversaw the current restoration. “The houses didn’t have basements, attics, or garages. That was pretty cutting-edge.”

The McCormick House as it appeared in the 1950’s at its original location in the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst. Photography courtesy Hedrich Blessing Archive, Chicago Historical Society.
An early shot of the McCormick House interior, showing the home’s open and I-beam construction. Photography courtesy Hedrich Blessing Archive, Chicago Historical Society.

To reintroduce the Mies structure to the public, EAM is presenting “Mies’s McCormick House Revealed: New Views,” curated by Columbia University professor Barry Bergdoll, along with an intervention by Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, in which the artist tinted the windows of the house red (a reference to the developers’ offer to make windows “almost any shade of the rainbow.”)

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