Mies Van De Rohe
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, born Maria Ludwig Michael Mies (March 27, 1886 – August 17, 1969) was a German-American architect and commonly referred to and addressed by his surname, Mies, by his colleagues, students, writers and others.
Mies, along with Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of modern architecture; like many of his post World War I contemporaries, he sought to establish a new architectural style that could represent modern times just as Classical and Gothic did for their own eras. He created an influential 20th century architectural style, stated with extreme clarity and simplicity. His mature buildings made use of modern materials such as industrial steel and plate glass to define interior spaces. He strived towards architecture with a minimal framework of structural order balanced against the implied freedom of free-flowing open space. He called his buildings ‘skin and bones’ architecture. He sought a rational approach that would guide the creative process of architectural design and is known for his use of the aphorisms ‘less is more’ and ‘God is in the details’.
Mies worked in his father's stone-carving shop and at several local design firms before he moved to Berlin joining the office of interior designer Bruno Paul. He began his architectural career as an apprentice at the studio of Peter Behrens from 1908 to 1912, where he was exposed to the current design theories and to progressive German culture. Mies served as construction manager of the Embassy of the German Empire in Saint Petersburg under Behrens.
His talent was quickly recognised and he soon began independent commissions, despite his lack of a formal college-level education. A physically imposing, deliberative and reticent man, Ludwig Mies renamed himself as part of his rapid transformation from a tradesman's son to an architect working with Berlin's cultural elite, taking his mother's, more impressive surname ‘van der Rohe’.
He began his independent professional career designing upper class homes in traditional Germanic domestic styles. He admired the broad proportions, regularity of rhythmic elements, attention to the relationship of the manmade to nature and compositions using simple cubic volumes of the early 19th century Prussian Neo-Classical architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, while dismissing the eclectic and cluttered classical so common at the turn of the century.
Traditional to Modernism:
After World War I, Mies began, while still designing traditional custom homes, a parallel experimental effort in international style, joining his avant-garde peers in the long-running search for a new style for a new industrial democracy.
Boldly abandoning ornament altogether, Mies made a dramatic debut with his stunning competition proposal for the faceted all-glass Friedrichstraße skyscraper in 1921, followed by a curved version in 1922. He continued with a series of pioneering projects, culminating in his two European masterworks: the temporary German Pavilion for the Barcelona exposition (often called the Barcelona Pavilion) in 1929 (a 1986 reconstruction is now built on the original site) and the elegant Villa Tugendhat in Brno, Czech Republic, completed in 1930.
While continuing his traditional design practice Mies began to develop visionary projects that, though mostly unbuilt, rocketed him to fame as a progressive architect. He worked with the progressive design magazine G that started in July 1923. He developed prominence as Architectural Director of the Werkbund, organising the influential Weissenhof prototype modernist housing exhibition. He was also a founder of the architectural association Der Ring. He joined the avant-garde Bauhaus Design School as their Director of Architecture, adopting and developing their functionalist application of simple geometric forms in the design of useful objects.
Opportunities for commissions dwindled with the worldwide depression after 1929. After 1933, Nazi political pressure soon forced Mies to close the government-financed school. He built very little in these years (one built commission was Philip Johnson's New York apartment); the Nazis rejected his style as not ‘German’ in character. Frustrated and unhappy, he left his homeland reluctantly in 1937 as he saw his opportunity for any future building commissions vanish, accepting a residential commission in Wyoming and then an offer to head an architectural school in Chicago.
Mies settled in Chicago, Illinois where he was appointed as head of the architecture school at Chicago's Armour Institute of Technology (later renamed Illinois Institute of Technology - IIT). One of the benefits of taking this position was that he would be commissioned to design the new buildings and master plan for the campus. All his buildings still stand there, including Alumni Hall, the Chapel and his masterpiece the S.R. Crown Hall, built as the home of IIT's School of Architecture. Crown Hall is widely regarded as Mies' finest work, the definition of Miesian architecture. In 1944, he became an American citizen, completing his severance from his native Germany. His 30 years as an American architect reflect a more structural, pure approach towards achieving his goal of a new architecture for the 20th century. He focused his efforts on the idea of enclosing open and adaptable "universal" spaces with clearly arranged structural frameworks, featuring pre-manufactured steel shapes infilled with large sheets of glass. His early projects at the IIT campus and for developer Herb Greenwald opened the eyes of Americans to a style that seemed a natural progression of the almost forgotten 19th century Chicago School style. His architecture, with origins in the German Bauhaus and western European International Style became an accepted mode of building for American cultural and educational institutions, developers, public agencies and large corporations.
Mies worked from his studio in downtown Chicago for his entire 31-year period in America. His significant projects in the U.S. include the residential towers of 860–880 Lake Shore District, the Federal Centre, the Farnsworth House, Crown Hall and other structures at IIT, all in and around Chicago and the Seagram Building in New York.
Mies designed modern furniture pieces using new industrial technologies that have become popular classics, such as the Barcelona chair and table, the Brno chair and the Tugendhat chair. His furniture is known for fine craftsmanship, a mix of traditional luxurious fabrics like leather combined with modern chrome frames and a distinct separation of the supporting structure and the supported surfaces, often employing cantilevers to enhance the feeling of lightness created by delicate structural frames. During this period, he collaborated closely with interior designer and companion Lilly Reich.
Mies as Educator
Mies served on the initial Advisory Board of the Graham Foundation in Chicago. His own practice was based on intensive personal involvement in design efforts to create prototype solutions for building types (860 Lake Shore Dr, the Farnsworth, Seagram, S.R. Crown Hall, The New National Gallery), then allowing his studio designers to develop derivative buildings under his supervision. Mies's grandson Dirk Lohan and two partners led the firm after he died in 1969.
Mies van der Rohe died in 1969 and was buried near Chicago's other famous architects in Chicago's Graceland Cemetery. A simple black slab of granite and a large Honey locust tree marks his grave.
Awards and Prizes:
Order Pour le Mérite (1959)
Royal Gold Medal (1959)
AIA Gold Medal (1960)
Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963)
Like many other avant garde architects of the day, Mies based his own architectural theories and principles on personal re-combinations of ideas developed by many other thinkers and designers who attacked the flaws of the traditional design styles, defined new criteria and created alternative design solutions.
Mies' modernist thinking was influenced by the aesthetic credos of Russian Constructivism with their ideology of ‘efficient’ sculptural constructions using modern industrial materials. Mies found appeal in the use of simple rectilinear and planar forms, clean lines, pure use of color and the extension of space around and beyond interiors, expounded by the Dutch De Stijl group. In particular, the layering of functions in space and the clear articulation of parts as expressed by Gerrit Rietveld appealed to Mies.
Like other architects in Europe, Mies was enthralled by free-flowing inter-connected rooms, which encompass their outdoor surroundings as demonstrated by the open floor plans of the American Prairie Style work of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Furthermore, the theories of Adolf Loos found resonance with Mies, particularly the ideas of eradication of ornament and the casting off of the superficial, the use of unadorned but rich materials, the nobility of anonymity and an admiration for the unfettered pragmatism of American engineering structures and machines.
Mies pursued an ambitious, lifelong mission to create not only a new architectural style, but also a solid intellectual foundation for a new architectural language that could be used to represent the new era of technology and production. He saw a need for an architecture expressive of and in harmony with his epoch, just as Gothic architecture was for an era of spiritualism. He applied a disciplined design process, using rational thought to achieve his spiritual goals. He adopted the idea that architecture communicated the meaning and significance of the culture in which it exists. Self-educated, Mies painstakingly studied the great philosophers and thinkers of the past and of the day to enhance his understanding of the character and essential qualities of the times he lived in. Perhaps, more than any other practising pioneer of modernism, Mies used philosophy as a basis for his work. Mies' architecture was created at a high level of abstraction and his own descriptions of his work leave much room for interpretation. Yet, his buildings seem very direct and simple when viewed in person.
Mies placed great importance on education of architects who could carry on his design principles. He devoted a great deal of time and effort leading the architecture program at IIT.
“God is in the details.”
“I don't want to be interesting. I want to be good.”
“Less is more.”
“Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. There it begins.”
“Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space.”
“A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous.”
“It is better to be good than to be original.”
“True education is concerned not only with practical goals but also with values. Our aims assure of us of our material life, our values make possible our spiritual life.”
“This is no less true of steel and concrete [than of wood, brick and stone]. We must remember that everything depends on how we use a material, not on the material itself....New materials are not necessarily superior. Each material is only what we make it.”
- Barcelona Pavilion
- Tugendhat House
- Crown Hall
- Farnsworth House
- 860-880 Lake Shore Drive
- Seagram Building
- New National Gallery
- Toronto-Dominion Centre - Office Tower Complex, Toronto
- Westmount Square - Office & Residential Tower Complex, Westmount
- Nuns' Island - 3 Residential Towers & Esso Service Station (Closed), Nuns' Island , Montreal (c.1969)
Tugendhat House - Residential Home, Brno
- Riehl House - Residential Home, Potsdam (1907)
- Peris House - Residential Home, Zehlendorf (1911)
- Werner House - Residential Home, Zehlendorf (1913)
- Urbig House - Residential Home, Potsdam (1917)
- Kempner House - Residential Home, Charlottenburg (1922)
- Eichstaedt House - Residential Home, Wannsee (1922)
- Feldmann House - Residential Home, Wilmersdorf (1922)
- Mosler House - Residential Home, Babelsberg (1926)
- Weissenhof Estate - Housing Exhibition coordinated by Mies and with a contribution by him, Stuttgart (1927)
- Haus Lange/Haus Ester - Residential Home and an art museum, Krefeld
- New National Gallery - Modern Art Museum, Berlin
- Bacardi Office Building - Office Building, Mexico City
- Barcelona Pavilion - World's Fair Pavilion, Barcelona
- Cullinan Hall - Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
- The Promontory Apartments - Residential Apartment Complex, Chicago
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library - District of Columbia Public Library, Washington, DC
- Richard King Mellon Hall of Science - Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA (1968)
- IBM Plaza - Office Tower, Chicago
- Lake Shore Drive Apartments - Residential Apartment Towers, Chicago
- Seagram Building - Office Tower, New York City
- Crown Hall - College of Architecture and other buildings, at the Illinois Institute of Technology
- School of Social Services Administration, University of Chicago (1965)
- Farnsworth House - Residential Home, Plano, Illinois
- Chicago Federal Center
- Dirksen Federal Building - Office Tower, Chicago
- Kluczynski Federal Building - Office Tower, Chicago
- United States Post Office Loop Station - General Post Office, Chicago
- One Illinois Center - Office Tower, Chicago
- One Charles Center - Office Tower, Baltimore, Maryland
- Highfield House Condominium | 4000 North Charles - Condominium Apartments, Baltimore, Maryland
- Colonnade and Pavilion Apartments - Residential Apartment Complex, Newark, New Jersey (1959)
- Lafayette Park - Residential Apartment Complex, Detroit, Michigan (1963).
- Commonwealth Promenade Apartments - Residential Apartment Complex, Chicago (1956)
- Caroline Weiss Law Building, Cullinan Hall (1958) and Brown Pavilion (1974) additions, Museum of Fine Art, Houston
- American Life Building - Louisville, Kentucky (1973; completed after Mies's death by Bruno Conterato)