At 860/880, Mies relied on steel I-beams internally to form the building’s load-bearing structure as well as externally as mullions.

Some critics objected that many of the external I-beams at 860/880 were decorative rather than necessary. In an interview published in Architectural Forum (November 1952), Mies responded: “ …We looked at it on the model without the steel section [I-beams] attached to the corner columns and it did not look right. That is the real reason. Now the other reason is that the steel section was needed to stiffen the plate which covers the corner column so this plate would not ripple, and also we needed it for strength when the sections were hoisted into place. Now, of course, that’s a very good reason — but the other one is the real reason.”

The extruded aluminum mullions used at 900/910, on the other hand, do have a structural (as well as aesthetic) function: they stiffen the curtain wall, permitting it to stand clear of the building’s load-bearing frame. The free-standing curtain wall opens space between the wall and the buildings’ frame, which accommodates pipes for heating and air-conditioning the units.

The technology pioneered at the Esplanade Apartments continued to be used by Mies in later works such as the Seagram Building in New York.

Photo: Alec McAusland.
Diagram: © Alvin Ho/Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal


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