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IIT Mies Dormitories

Dirk Denison Architects

Chicago, Illinois, United States



Dirk Denison (Principal)


Gilbane Building Company (Contractor)


Illinois Institute of Technology (Illinois Tech)


Tom Harris


This scope of work required reorganization strategies of student living units to adapt to contemporary student life, planning adjacencies to social and study spaces, and additional supporting programming that compliments the respectful replacement of the building’s façade and systems.

We wanted to create a dynamic, communal space that would help them feel at home with one another and in the university setting. The pod-style dormitories blended circulation and lounge space to create a variety of scales of space for students to meet and interact. Cunningham Hall has hybridized this plan, balancing six floors of collective, pod-style configurations with two floors of apartments. Carmen Hall has been reconfigured as student style apartments, designed for upper-level students.
Designed and built to minimum LEED Silver standards, the adaptive reuse of the building structure, vertical cores, and lower level reduced the project’s carbon footprint by over 30% compared to building new. In creating new plans for each building, we recognized that providing the highest level of comfort for students required equal attention to the skin, core, and building systems. For Mies, the fundamentals of architecture involved not only the use of contemporary materials and technologies, but also how we live in the space.


The IIT Mies Dormitories - composed Kacek, Cunningham, and Carman Halls; are a complete gut-renovations of three iconic 1950’s era Mies van der Rohe designed housing towers on the historic Mies Campus at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Sited in a quadrangle designed by modernist landscape architect Alfred Caldwell, these sibling buildings are situated perpendicular to each other defining the northeastern edge of the campus.
Originally completed in the 1950s, years of disuse and deferred maintenance had left these existing nine-story buildings a shadow of their original selves. Water had seeped into the brick knee walls; the radiant heating system in the cast-in-place-concrete flooring was beyond repair; and the uninsulated windows left the interiors defenseless against Chicago’s temperature extremes.
Kacek Hall, formerly Bailey Hall, Cunningham and Carmen were all built as eight levels of apartments that housed university faculty, staff, and married students. The original plans privileged privacy—a natural choice for a tower full of families. But the renovated Kacek and Cunningham Hall have now been redesigned as home to young students, including first-year students who are totally new to college life.
Our task was not only to renew the structures on a landmark campus to meet the needs of today’s students, but also to do so quickly and on an exceptionally tight budget. In navigating the stewardship of these buildings, we recognized each decision required a design position on what’s fixed and what’s flexible, informed by intimate understandings of Mies’ design principles and new high-performance systems.


Through an architect-contractor design-build collaboration each building was renovated on a quick timeline and with a precise budget. This afforded the client the flexibility and confidence to renovate each building as needed to align with their current and projected housing demand. Additionally, the team implemented inclusionary business practices, achieving record-breaking diverse and local participation for subcontractor participation helping to keep financial resources in the community.
The occupancy of the three near-vacant buildings reactivated the north-east corner of campus including the revitalization of the Alfred Caldwell landscape and quadrangle between the dormitories. Today you will find students gathering under the shade of historic honey locust trees and large university events utilizing the grassy quad.
The restoration re-established the buildings’ distinctive visual presence on campus and demonstrated how our historic modernist structures can adapt to the needs, technologies, and environmental standards of today.

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