Mies van der Rohe emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1938, ostensibly to take up the position of head of the architecture school at the Armour Institute of Technology, Chicago. Perhaps more important to him, though, was his understanding with the president of Armour, Henry Heald, that he would be the architect of the school's master plan for a new campus-an unprecedented opportunity for him to design an assemblage of structures in an urban center. Mies undertook preliminary studies for the campus plan between 1939 and 1941. The studies reflect the urban street grid of Chicago; in this example, a dozen or so flat-roofed two- and three-story brick buildings are arranged so that they mirror each other across 33rd Street.
While in Germany, Mies had served as the director of the Bauhaus school (from 1931 until its closing in 1933), and had taught architecture to senior students. At Armour, however—renamed the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) shortly after his arrival there—he taught not a master class but a curriculum patterned after the Bauhaus Vorkours, preliminary courses that taught essential skills to students before they advanced to designing initially simple structures. His relationship to his IIT students, then, and their relationship to his work, were significantly different, and he was able to direct their entire architectural education from draftsmanship to urban design. In fact many of the drawings Mies produced in America, including this one, display a mixture of hands: students who had mastered his drafting style (and many of whom would eventually work in his office) would develop the base drawing to his specifications, and he would then add texture, shadow, trees, and other landscape elements to make the drawing complete. When Mies began the master plan for IIT, the college was still known as the Armour Institue of Technology. The name was officially changed in 1940 to the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Terence Riley, in Matilda McQuaid, ed., Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, p. 96.