A Brief History

by New Idiom

As a foundation student, I have recently been told and retold of the history of the Institute of Design. Sitting in a desk on the 3rd floor listening to my instructors describe the great legends that came before me; I began to realize what I was getting myself into and what I would have to live up to! ID’s roots begin at the Bauhaus and continue to grow today, exceeding expectations and driving full force into the future. I find it very interesting and inspiring. Seeing that it is the beginning of a new semester, I thought everyone was due for a little history lesson.

The Paul V. Galvin Library on the IIT main campus had an exhibition in 2000/2001 highlighting masterpiece photographs and projects done of ID faculty and students spanning from 1937 to 1955. The collection documented much of the school’s early history. Due to the present lack of a time machine, we are unable to travel back in time six years to view and experience the exhibition. This is extremely unfortunate, because seeing those works of art by our predecessors would have been much better and potentially more life-altering than this article is going to be, but for those of you who do not know much about the history of the Institute of Design; I will give you a brief overview.


The Institute of Design has had many homes. From 1937-1939 the school was housed in the former mansion of Marshall Field, 1905 South Prairie Avenue (above). After that, the school moved to 247 East Ontario Street and then 1009 N. State Street. During the 1950s, 632 North Dearborn, now the Excalibur Dance Club was home to ID. Wow – could ID students today benefit from a little energy release!! The basement of Crown Hall, the School of Architecture building designed by Mies Van der Rohe on the IIT main campus, was the fifth location of ID. The school then relocated to the IIT Research Institute (IITRI Tower). We finally arrived at 350 North LaSalle Street in 1998.

* I have included the addresses of the former homes of ID, in case there are ardent design students who want to pay homage to the sites.


A variety of courses have been taught to ID students over its 70 year existence. Among the first were music, building musical instruments, and intellectual integration (mmm?!) During the World War II, courses included war designs and camouflage as well as opportunities for women. As the school began to truly establish itself as a top design institution, courses regarding the design profession were taught to students, along with courses in sociology and economics. While on the main campus of IIT, classes in environmental control, shelter design, problems in filmmaking and volume exploration occupied the students’ time. Once Jay Doblin came along in 1955 he developed a set of methods and frameworks of design to connect the field of design to business. Today, our courses incorporate Doblin’s initial methods and strategies and also include courses in structural planning and understanding users. The Institute of Design has always been an experimental institution as evident by the variety of courses listed above. New methods and courses are continually being re-worked and added to help better prepare students for a future in design in a business-oriented world.


Laszlo Moholy-Nagy came from the Bauhaus in Germany in 1937 to begin what was at the time known as The New Bauhaus: Chicago School of Design (1937-1939). He believed design was the “synthesis of the intellectual and the emotional.” Renamed the School of Design in 1939, Serge Chermayeff became the director in 1946. It was during this time that the school linked itself with IIT and became the Institute of Design. Beginning in 1955, Jay Doblin changed the curriculum and direction of ID. These changes laid the ground work for what we are experiencing today. J. Montague and Dale Fahnstrom, among others, followed Jay Doblin as directors of ID. In 1982 Patrick Whitney became director of the school. Under his advisement, ID became a graduate-only design school, with a PhD program and dual-degree program with the IIT Stuart School of Business.

Insight from our forefathers:

Moholy-Nagy – told students to see the world as a child does, no preconceived ideas of what is “right”

Jay Doblin – “Innocence, a lovely quality in a child, will be replaced by algorithm, an equally admirable quality in a professional”

Though I have greatly simplified and only outlined the rich history of the Institute of Design; there are some important facts to remember. ID originates from the teachings and guidance of the Bauhaus in Germany. The Bauhaus was an art and design school founded in Weimar, Germany in 1919. The original goal of the school was to focus on the hand-crafting of art, which in the early twentieth century was threatened by industry and mass-production. However, in 1923 Walter Gropius became director and turned the school’s focus towards industry, desiring to make a connection between art and technology. Founded on those same principles, the Institute of Design wants to make that connection with technology and business. ID, like the Bauhaus, has and will continue to leave a lasting imprint on the design field, releasing into the world, talented, creative, savvy and sleep-deprived designers ready to impact the future.

The image of the Marshall Field House was originally obtained from the ID archives at the Galvin Library on  IIT’s main campus. Thanks to Amy Palit and her group for the use of their Bauhaus presentation.