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"Less is more" was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's trademark phrase, but the minimalist modern master probably wouldn't appreciate the irony. If Chicago developers get their way, there will indeed be less Mies in the world. It turns out plans to expand the city's subway system will necessitate the demolition of one of his buildings.

The structure in question sits on a corner of the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, which calls itself "the greatest collection of Mies-designed buildings in the world". It's no empty boast. SR Crown Hall, in particular, is a defining example of Mies's stripped-to-nothing, steel-and-glass purity, and the campus as a whole is a pioneering piece of planning.

But the structure in jeopardy is not exactly one of his greatest works. In fact, it's probably the crappiest building Mies ever designed: a plain little brick hut more electricity substation than cultural artefact. Which makes the usual architectural conservation debate even trickier. It's fine to martial the troops and mount a campaign to save a threatened landmark or a neglected masterpiece, but what about when it's an extremely major architect and an extremely minor building?

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