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You Can Have a Mies-Designed Apartment of Your Very Own

Apartments in his iconic buildings can be smart buys.

While the Modernist master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) designed buildings from New York to Berlin, Chicago has by far the most residential structures: eight, containing nearly 1,400 apartments. Built mostly along Lake Michigan from 1949 to 1963, when high-rises were new, the glass-clad minimalist masterpieces boast amazing water views. True, many units are smallish by current standards, with cramped kitchens and baths. But because the buildings don’t have many interior load-bearing walls, units are easy to renovate and to combine.

And even with the Mies name, the units don’t sell for much more than comparable nonpedigreed ones—some even sell for less (see the map [[[on the next page]]]). And according to Jim Kinney, vice president of luxury sales at Baird & Warner (he does not represent any Mies properties), they’re a great investment: “Unless Mies were to fall out of favor in the design world, I don’t see any falling-off of value.”

At presstime, 26 Mies residences were for sale. For pros, cons, and key details, see below.

 

Mod Map

Of the 33 Mies buildings in Chicago, eight are residential. Here’s the list, in order of build date.

Promontory Apartments

Photo: Michael Dant

Where: Hyde Park (5530–5532 S. South Shore Dr.)
Completed: 1949
Size: 22 stories, 122 units
Pros: Mies broke new ground by exposing the building’s structural steel and concrete. These are the cheapest Mies apartments in the city.
Cons: Unlike in the other Mies residences, windows are not floor to ceiling. The building lacks one-bedrooms.
Prices: In August, a 1,100-square-foot 12th-floor two-bedroom with a lake view sold for $100,000 (a comparable unit in the area sold for $132,000).
On the market: At presstime, six two-bedrooms, ranging from $80,000 to $130,000

 

860 and 880 North Lake Shore Drive

860 and 880 North Lake Shore Drive

Photo: Mike Schwartz

Where: Streeterville
Completed: 1951
Size: Two 26-story towers with 238 units total
Pros: Each unit comes with a reserved parking space.
Cons: It’s the only building on this list that’s landmarked—making reno approvals harder.
Prices: In September, a 785-square-foot 18th-floor one-bedroom facing south sold for $265,000 (a comparable unit in the area sold for $215,000).
On the market: Seven one-bedrooms ranging from $180,000 to $360,000; two four-bedrooms at $749,000 and $806,000

 

Esplanade Apartments

Esplanade Apartments

Photo: Rui Morais de Sousa

Where: Streeterville (900 and 910 N. Lake Shore Dr.)
Completed: 1955
Size: Two 29-story towers with 524 units total
Pros: The first Mies design to use a curtain wall: a nearly uninterrupted glass exterior.
Cons: The buildings’ short sides face the lake, limiting the number of apartments with water views.
Prices: In October, a 1,436-square-foot 20th-floor three-bedroom with a lake view sold for $485,000 (a comparable unit without a lake view in the area sold for $365,000).
On the market: A studio for $205,000; six one-bedrooms from $219,000 to $350,000; three two-bedrooms from $439,000 to $629,000

 

Commonwealth Promenade Apartments

Commonwealth Promenade Apartments

Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

Where: Lake View (330 and 340 W. Diversey Pkwy.)
Completed: 1956
Size: One 29-story and one 28-story tower, 238 units total
Pros: It has expansive views of Lincoln Park and the lake.
Cons: Dogs are not allowed.
Prices: In August, a 2,800-square-foot 27th-floor three-bedroom with a lake view sold for $470,000 (a comparable unit in the area sold for $660,000).
On the market: A two-bedroom for $569,000 and a three-bedroom for $439,000

 

2400 North Lakeview Avenue

2400 North Lakeview Avenue

Photo: Sandra Kite/Koening & Strey Real Living

Where: Lincoln Park
Completed: 1963
Size: 30 stories, 264 units
Pros: It’s across from Lincoln Park Zoo.
Cons: Owners here rarely sell, so you may have to wait for the apartment you want.
Prices: In August, a 465-square-foot seventh-floor studio with a park view sold for $148,000 (a comparable apartment with no park view sold for $135,000).
On the market: A studio for $125,000

 

Langham hotel
Photo: Mike Schwartz

Bonus: Want just one night?

Book a room at the Langham hotel, which opened in July on floors 2 to 13 of the Mies–designed IBM building (330 N. Wabash Ave.). A room looking south over the Chicago River runs $445 a night.

 

 

 
Stanley Tigerman Photo: Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune

Tigerman on Mies

The award-winning Chicago architect Stanley Tigerman, 83, has lived in the Esplanade Apartments since 1968.

“My whole life, I was in awe of Mies. He managed to take what he referred to as ‘almost nothing’ and make something out of it, thus the phrase ‘less is more.’

“I live in 910 Lake Shore Drive as a reminder and as a challenge to me, in the [spare] details of the building and the finishes and so forth. In 1979, I combined apartments at 910 to get more space. My wife [and architecture partner], Margaret [McCurry], joined me there that year. She, too, had lived in a Mies building: 900 North Lake Shore Drive. . . . Mies buildings are full of architects.”

Want to take a self-guided walking tour of 20 Mies-designed buildings at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where Mies ran the architecture department from 1938 to 1958? Go to the map at chicagomag.com/mies.

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