Modern Tour Explores College Landmarks

Looking at an evolution of architecture on Indiana University’s Bloomington campus

On June 1, Back to the Future: A Mid-Century Modern Tour showcases the architecture of Indiana University in Bloomington, including the recently built Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design (top), modeled on a rediscovered 1952 fraternity house design by Mies van der Rohe. (Photo by James Brosher/Indiana University)

College Bound

Nearly lost to time, a mid-century design by a world-renowned architect now inspires students who take classes within its walls as the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design at Indiana University (IU). Completed in 2021, the streamlined, glass-walled building took shape from a 1950s commission by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, renowned pioneer of modern architecture. Today, it’s an interesting place to consider the progression of modern design.

On June 1, Back to the Future: A Mid-Century Modern Tour invites the public to see how modern design developed at IU’s Bloomington campus by visiting landmarks built from the 1930s through today, including designs by A.M. Strauss, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and I.M. Pei.

“Indiana University presents a diverse selection of architectural styles across the Bloomington campus, one often listed among the 10 most beautiful in America,” says Adam Thies, Indiana University’s associate vice president for capital planning. “The introduction of the design aesthetic of the mid-century is prevalent on the campus and sits in a family of styles that range from Romanesque to Brutalist and beyond.”

In the 1950s, the Alpha Theta chapter of IU fraternity Pi Lamba Phi hired Mies to design a fraternity house that was never built. Forgotten by most for decades, Mies’ design resurfaced in 2013 after Sidney Eskenazi, a fraternity member who attended IU in 1952, mentioned the plans’ existence to IU President Michael McRobbie. The school embarked on a research mission, eventually locating project drawings and documentation in the archives of the Art Institute of Chicago and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The rediscovered plans guided creation of the present-day school by New York architecture firm Thomas Phifer and Partners. Spanning 10,000 square feet and two stories, the white steel-frame Eskenazi School looks similar in design to Mies’ groundbreaking Farnsworth House completed in 1951 near Chicago.

Near the Eskenazi School, the tour features Woodburn Hall, completed in 1940 to house IU’s School of Business. Executed in Indiana limestone with Art Deco and Collegiate Gothic-influenced design elements, the New Deal-era landmark was one of a few campus buildings designed by architect A.M. Strauss and hints at the beginning of modern building forms on campus.

Tourgoers will be allowed access to Woodburn Hall 100, where docents will explain the history of the room’s murals by Thomas Hart Benton. The State of Indiana commissioned Benton to paint a 26-panel mural for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair showing the state’s history from its origins to the 1930s. After the fair, the artwork remained in storage at the Indiana State Fairgrounds until IU acquired the panels, dividing them among three campus buildings. Woodburn Hall became the home of two panels representing the 1920s, one depicting industry in the Calumet region and the other showing scenes representing the state’s history of parks, circus, press, and the Ku Klux Klan. Discussions over the artwork’s complicated material led IU officials to decide to no longer use Woodburn Hall 100 for regular classes but to make it available for special events.

The tour also features the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, which underwent a $30 million renovation in 2016. Opened in 1982 as the Indiana University Art Museum, the building was created by architect I.M. Pei with triangular forms and a soaring atrium. Pei’s other museum designs include similar light-filled design elements, including the glass pyramid entrance to the Louvre in Paris and the East Building of Washington D.C.’s National Gallery of Art. Visitors will learn how recent renovations at the IU museum reconfigured spaces to make the building a teaching facility while respecting Pei’s original vision.

The day also includes access to the Classical-influenced Lilly Library, a limestone landmark that holds the university’s rare books, manuscripts, and special collections. Built in 1960 to house the private library donated by Josiah K. Lilly Jr., the building reopened in 2021 following a top-to-bottom renovation. Its extensive holdings include the New Testament of the Gutenberg Bible, Abraham Lincoln’s law office desk, Shakespeare’s First Folio, and Audubon’s Birds of America, among other notable items.

Indiana Landmarks’ affinity group Indiana Modern sponsors Back to the Future: A Mid-Century Modern Tour, Saturday, June 1, noon to 5 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 day of tour. Day of tour tickets are available at tour headquarters at IU’s Memorial Union, where ticketholders can also obtain tour programs. Learn more.

This article first appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of Indiana Preservation, Indiana Landmarks’ member magazine. Learn more and subscribe.

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