Pedagogical Paradigms: Aalto’s University of Technology at Otaniemi and Mies Van Der Rohe’s Illinois Institute of Technology

Peter MacKeith

Working paper
Alvar Aalto Researchers Network 2012


This paper proposes a comparative architectural analysis and pedagogical assessment of the two significant post Second World War university campus plans (and consequent university buildings) by the two significant post Second World War modern architects: Alvar Aalto's University of Technology at Otaniemi, Finland (1949-1974) and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, Illinois, USA (1940-1958). With Aalto's campus – now the central site of the newly inaugurated Aalto University – on the verge of transformation, and Mies' campus already in possession of contemporary additions, it is an opportune and crucial moment for such appraisal.

In Campus: An American Planning Tradition (1984, The MIT Press), Paul Venable Turner asserted that "the campus has reflected changing educational ideals and – as the embodiment of the ideal community – it has often expressed utopian social visions..." Planning statements by institutional authorities in both Helsinki and Chicago, as well as design summaries by both Aalto and Mies, confirm these specific ambitions in education and visions for society in the campus designs at Otaniemi and in Chicago. While both university plans and their respective central buildings have been the subject of individual research and publication, this comparative study intends to reveal the emblematic character of the works for each architect, for their institutions, for their cities and for the pedagogical paradigm of an education in architecture and more generally in technology.

The campus comparison provides for several secondary focal points. In biography, for instance, Mies, the European émigré architect working in the heartland of America can be contrasted to Aalto, the European who chose not to emigrate, but remained fascinated by the educational models of the United States (equally, the figure and educational ideas of Laszlo Moholy- Nagy connects both architects). The architectural approaches and languages specific to both architects – spatial, material, formal, structural, urban - are available in ways both explicit and implicit in these iconic university designs. Pedagogical agendas for architecture – explicit for Mies in his role as director of both Bauhaus and IIT's Department of Architecture, implicit for Aalto through his professorship at MIT and his written and spoken statements – are activated by the close reading of the campus designs. But most importantly, the retrospective visions and the contemporary assessments of these two architects and their university designs afford insight into educational values and societal visions – the more lasting legacies of Mies and Aalto.

Download Full Text (PDF)
Peter MacKeith
Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Architecture

Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, Washington University in St Louis St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Pedagogical Paradigms: Aalto’s University of Technology at Otaniemi and Mies Van Der Rohe’s Illinois Institute of Technology