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Living in a Mies van der Rohe Building Costs a Lot Less Than You’d Expect

Get a beautifully designed space for about $100,000 at Hyde Park’s Promontory Apartments, the famed architect’s first residential high-rise.

The Promontory Apartments, 5532 South Shore Drive.   Photo: Ian Spula

In 1948, Mies van der Rohe was deep into the master planning and construction of Bronzeville’s 100-acre IIT campus, but he took time away to work with developer Herb Greenwald on what would be Mies’ first residential high-rise, The Promontory Apartments.

It is said to be the first tall building in the world to exhibit its construction materials—and there’s no hiding from the point-blank steel beams and concrete plates. Structural columns are exposed inside the building’s units, and their positioning shifts subtly as you climb from story to story, reflecting a lessened load.

An unusual happening drew me to The Promontory on Sunday. Eight co-op units are currently for sale at the 121-unit modernist slab, but three of them just listed in a joint open house. They are two-bedroom spaces, priced between $105,000 and $125,000.

Architect David Fleener of the firm Lohan Anderson is a resident of the south wing and was enlisted to renovate two of the featured listings—units 1F and 7F, near-identical 1,100 square foot spaces. He brought in polished concrete counters as interplay with the original concrete windowsills; stainless steel appliances to match; stripped paint from sliding closet doors to reveal the intended wood grain; repaired flooring (cork in 1F and hardwood in 7F); and brightened up the tile bathrooms.

Mies’s lines and planes do the rest. There is no adornment to walls, ceilings, or doors—where the doors meet plaster walls, there’s barely an indent, let alone a frame. And you can forget about crown molding or wainscoting. A short passage off the living/dining room combo neatly organizes each unit’s two bedrooms and two baths in a three-leaf clover pattern with little wasted wall space. The galley kitchens are modest by today’s standards, but are greatly aided by a cut-through to the living area. You could move a table up to the opening for an island effect.

Windows are another prominent feature, with characteristic black steel framing and so much façade given over to glass that, according to Fleener, it was a real battle getting insurance to cover the building. All you have to do is look around at the lakefront’s brick pre-war high-rises to understand that, previously, nobody dared fetishize windows to this degree. For Mies, it was already a habit, formed from his early years designing homes that emphasized light and natural cross-ventilation in old, crowded German cities.

Price Points: With co-op ownership, monthly assessments are expected to be higher but more inclusive. It comes in around $500 in these units, and includes all utilities, cable TV, door staff, maintenance, and taxes. Back in 2006-2007, buyers paid $150,000-$175,000 for high floor two-beds (Fleener paid $150,000 for his 10th floor spot). 

Amazingly, listing agents Karen Winters and Michelle Browne tell me that while today’s prices register as very low, they’re up 20% or so from the abyss of the market. “Back then,” says Browne, “we had a lot more rentals in the building because no one wanted to sell for so little.”

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