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Lake Shore Drive Apartments - Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Updated: Jan 5, 2023

Project Specifications:


860–880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments, Chicago


82 m


Ludwig Mies van der Rohe



Known as:

"Glass House"


Residential complex




Designed by architect Mies van der Rohe and completed in 1951, the two towers of glass and steel are a prime example of the International Style. Their trend-setting design and structural resolution were widely copied around the world following their construction. The towers are a testament to van der Rohe's skill and have become paradigmatic for their time.

l Style. Each tower consists of 46 stories and contains a total of 504 units. The buildings are situated along Lake Michigan, providing residents with breathtaking views of the lake and the surrounding city.

Image courtesy by - Hagen Stier

The Lake Shore Drive Apartments have had a significant impact on the architectural world. They have been recognized in numerous publications and have won several awards, including the American Institute of Architects National Honor Award. In 1996, they were designated as "Chicago Landmarks," further cementing their place in the city's history. The building occupied mostly by architectural enthusiasts has also bagged a good amount of recognition in its peak including a mention in an article on Mies in Life Magazine in 1957 and the tower has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980! The United States Postal Service also released a stamp commemorating the history of the building.

Despite initial criticism and the relatively small size of their individual units, the towers were a commercial success. They received recognition in various publications and won numerous awards, cementing their place in architectural history. In 1996, their significance was further recognized when they were designated as "Chicago Landmarks.


Design Philosophy :

The Lake Shore Drive Apartments, also known as the 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments, are a project that exemplifies the innovative and functional ideas that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe developed throughout his career. These towers represent a unique approach to housing and were recognized for their location, visual appeal, and efficient use of space.

Image courtesy by - Hagen Stier

In an effort to maximize the use of space and minimize waste, van der Rohe designed common laundries and incorporated everyday dining into the living room, creating a larger common space. He also reduced the space allocated to bathrooms and kitchens. The design of the facade also allowed for a generous amount of natural light to enter the apartments, enhancing the interior spaces.

Mies aimed to create a simple, uncluttered structure that would allow for maximum efficiency and flexibility. He believed that buildings should be stripped of unnecessary ornamentation and focused on the essential elements of form and function.

To this end, Mies used a simple palette of materials, including glass, steel, and granite, and employed a clean, grid-like structural system. He also incorporated large windows and an open floor plan, allowing for seamless integration of the interior and exterior spaces and maximizing the amount of natural light that entered the apartments.

Image courtesy by - Hagen Stier

Mies approached the triangular site by arranging the two apartment buildings at cross axis towards one another, delivering views of the lake, Lake Shore Drive, and the busy inner city Chicago Loop which is southwest of the towers. The ninety-degree angle that the buildings are situated in also encloses a plaza at ground level.

Mies' concept of independent architecture is also seen in the rise of the ground floor of 860-880 Lake Shore Drive which makes the towers appear as if they are floating above the ground. On the entrance level, a horizontal roof is the sole connector between the two high-rise apartment towers and does not have any function other than to "mark the spirituality of this specific place."


Material & Façade :

As in his previous projects such as the German Pavilion in Barcelona and the Farnsworth House, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe utilized common materials and pushed them to their maximum potential in the design of the Lake Shore Drive Apartments. Instead of using the concrete and brick that were common in the city at the time, Mies chose to employ steel in the construction of the towers, creating a strong and suitable structure for the high-rise buildings.

Image courtesy by - Hagen Stier

Rather than concealing the steel structure, Mies used it as a key element of the facade and incorporated large glass windows to establish a dialogue between the grid-like floor plan and the exterior of the building. The result was a sleek, minimalist design that stood in contrast to the more ornate buildings that were prevalent in the city.

Mies utilized the steel frame for structure and used it to convey the grid while simplifying it to its essential function. He desired for the inherent character of the steel skeletons to be visible, but this posed a challenge due to fire regulations. Despite this, Mies made it a priority to showcase the skeletons by covering the concrete shells with steel plates, maintaining the uniformity of the steel columns.

Image courtesy by - Hagen Stier

The construction :

The buildings are made of glass and steel and are set on a podium of black granite. They are known for their sleek, minimalist design, which is characteristic of the International Style. Each tower consists of 46 stories and contains a total of 504 units. The buildings are situated along Lake Michigan, providing residents with breathtaking views of the lake and the surrounding city.

Image courtesy by -

A notable aspect of the Lake Shore Drive Apartments is that they were constructed using prefabricated parts. For example, during the construction of the facade, four-window units were assembled on the roof and secured to the columns and corner pillars using vertical T-profiles made of steel. This created a structure that consisted of a system of filling and framework, resulting in a visually striking pattern of black steel against the glass surface.

The mullions of the towers were also carefully designed, using a 5'3" grid system and made of standard 8" wide-flange steel. These standard steel sections were commonly used and made it easy to assemble the building, as they simply attached to the exterior frame.

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In addition to the use of prefabricated parts, the towers were built using a structural system of steel columns and beams. The steel frame was then clad in glass and granite, creating the iconic look of the buildings.


Drawings :



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