Vladimir Radutny Makes His Mark on Chicago—One Mies Apartment at a Time

With Miesian precision, the architect has renovated a number of apartments in the iconic Lake Shore Drive buildings, prioritizing openness and natural light.

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At Unit 3E, a central partition also functions as a headboard. Courtesy Bill Zbaren

“Living and working in Mies’ buildings has had a lot of influence on me,” says Vladimir Radutny, reflecting on the several apartments he’s renovated in the German-American architect’s Chicago towers, from the twin steel towers of 860–880 Lake Shore Drive to the two concrete structures of 900–910 completed in 1957. “They symbolize Chicago architecture,” he added.

Seventy years have passed since Ludwig Mies van der Rohe erected the condo towers along Chicago’s lakefront, after directing the Bauhaus and fleeing Nazi-ruled Berlin to head the Windy City’s Armour Institute of Technology’s architecture school (now the Illinois Institute of Technology). Today, some residents of these iconic towers have sought the familiarity and expertise of Radutny—who has called Chicago home since 1989 after he and his family too fled persecutions and instability in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics—in order to bring their Modernist abodes into the 21st century.

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The compact living space at 3E Courtesy Bill Zbaren

In 2006 Radutny kicked off his architecture career inside one of 860-880’s units, after he and his wife bought an apartment there to renovate. “The units are very dated, not in how they appear, but the fact they were designed in a period when separation of spaces was a must,” he said. “All of the kitchens are tucked away, introverted and with walls, and the bathrooms are relatively small. Light was never considered as a value to these spaces.”

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His first official project at Mies’ towers came, however, in 2013, when he renovated Unit 3E for a client based in Virginia who “wanted a bachelor pad with lake views.” The local architect rethought Mies’ original layout, with its closed-off kitchen, tiny bathroom, and minimal natural light, with a new open-plan scheme that is minimal and restrained. A glass wall that doubles as a headboard supports views and light across the interiors.

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A model of 3E Courtesy Vladimir Radutny Architects

It was while attending a party at this newly renovated project that Radutny met his next client, whose home in at 9C in 860-880 now features floating pale wood volumes for storage. Radutny was then contacted by a couple in Michigan who owned a unit in Mies’ other complex 900, Unit 2808. By then, he too had moved into 910, with its curtain wall that reflects the blue water of Lake Michigan like a mirror. It was throughout this assignment, recently completed in 2019, that the architect honed his understanding of Mies’ work. “I began to see and appreciate deeply what Mies van der Rohe was creating. My observations of his work while living in his buildings, working in them, and teaching in them has greatly impacted how we think about our own projects.”

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Unit 9C Courtesy Bill Zbaren

At Unit 2808, Radutny along with longtime colleague Fanny Hothan, who also worked on 3E, created an interior design scheme based on a series of planes that run horizontally or vertically—from walls, cabinets and shelves—to highlight the original lines of the space. A move away from the earlier work (more akin to boxes and volumes), the concept features walls that change in thickness and wood alternating in grain and finish, from glossy to oak, as a way to visually cohere the whole interior. “The design is trying to deal with heavier more framed darker perimeter,” he said.

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Looking toward the sleeping area reveals lake views. Courtesy Bill Zbaren

Before this project, Radutny was used to working with the “timelessness” of the 860-880’s aluminum and glass shell, but the project at Unit 2808 tasked him with refinishing and resurfacing the “black heavy things” from the steel-frame towers. “They’re very different in terms of material palette,” he explained. “All of the previous units were inherently lighter because the windows and the cladding are of lighter aluminum. 860-880 towers which have lighter anodized aluminum clad windows, where 900-910 have the black aluminum frames and darker tinted glass.”

Unit 2808 Courtesy Mike Schwartz

Since first working in the iconic Modernist high-rise condos ten years ago, Radunty has developed a unique sensibility for optimizing natural light, openness, and organization while not compromising Mies’ original design. Reflecting on what he has learned over the years, he remarks on the precision that’s required: “Whatever you put into it has to come as close to precision as possible. The precision of how to make things is a byproduct of working in those buildings.” This attention to accuracy can be seen across Radutny’s designs, from the physical openness to the material continuity inside the units: “It’s a very Miesian way of thinking.”

The sleeping area and view outward at 2808 Courtesy Mike Schwartz

Radutny specializes in residential work: He has also refurbished an apartment on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue and transformed a dilapidated, 2-unit brick building into a welcoming residence. And yet there’s no stopping the local architect and his eponymous studio on his journey to revitalize Mies’ towers along the Chicago lakefront, a unique trajectory for someone who started his career working for Chicago’s Krueck Sexton Partners (Ron Krueck actually studied under Mies). But Radutny believes he only learned this sensitivity and closeness to Mies because of being there at the right time and the right place: “The biggest influence on me has been through experiences of his work.”

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