In 1938, the Armour Institute of Technology, a modest technical training school on Chicago's near south side, engaged German born-architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) to take over the leadership of its architectural program. In doing so, the school hoped to transform its traditional architectural program to one of international stature and innovation.
The selection of Mies as chairman of the school's Department of Architecture was a logical choice for achieving this goal; at that time, Mies had already achieved international recognition as one of the leading figures of modern architecture. Mies also had an established reputation in the field of architectural education, having been affiliated with the famed Bauhaus school of design in Germany. He served as director of the Bauhaus from 1930 until 1933, when political pressures forced its closing.
Relocating to Chicago in 1938, Mies reshaped the architectural curriculum of Armour Institute along similar lines to that of the Bauhaus, developing a disciplined curriculum carried out in a cooperative environment that encouraged interaction between students and the faculty, comprised of professionals from a wide variety of design disciplines. The curriculum was comprised of progressive, Bauhaus-inspired courses on the visual and tactile characteristics of materials, as well as more fundamental classes on drawing and construction techniques. Beginning students were first educated in the essential characteristics of materials and construction, providing a sound foundation in how a building is built and the nature and capabilities of materials. Only when students fully grasped the basic concepts were they gradually advanced into applying these principles into actual building design.
Mies viewed architecture as embodying multiple levels of value, extending from the entirely functional to the realm of pure art. He also believed, through his interpretation of history, that the aim of architecture is to truly represent its epoch, and that the architect must search out and express the significance of the time.