Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

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Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Personal information
Name Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Nationality German 1886-1938/American 1938-1969
Birth date March 27, 1886(1886-03-27)
Birth place Aachen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Date of death August 17, 1969 (aged 83)
Place of death Chicago, Illinois, USA
Significant buildings Barcelona Pavilion
Tugendhat House
Crown Hall
Farnsworth House
860-880 Lake Shore Drive
Seagram Building
New National Gallery
Awards and prizes Order Pour le Mérite (1959)
Royal Gold Medal (1959)
AIA Gold Medal (1960)
Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963)

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, born Maria Ludwig Michael Mies (March 27, 1886August 17, 1969) was a German-American architect.[1] He was commonly referred to and addressed by his surname, Mies, by most of his American students and others.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, along with Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, is widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of modern architecture. Mies, like many of his post World War I contemporaries, 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 an 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".


[edit] Early career

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, working alongside Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier. Mies served as construction manager of the Embassy of the German Empire in Saint Petersburg under Behrens.[2] His talent was quickly recognized 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, adding the more aristocratic 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.

[edit] Traditionalism to Modernism

Villa Tugendhat built in 1930 in Brno, in today's Czech Republic, for Fritz Tugendhat.

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. The weak points of traditional styles had been under attack by progressive theorists since the mid-nineteenth century, primarily for attaching historical ornament unrelated to a modern structure's underlying construction. Their mounting criticism of the historical styles gained substantial cultural credibility after the disaster of World War I, widely seen as a failure of the old order of imperial leadership of Europe. The classical revival styles were particularly reviled by many as the architectural symbol of a now-discredited aristocratic system.

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 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 which started in July 1923. He developed prominence as architectural director of the Werkbund, organizing the influential Weissenhof prototype modernist housing exhibition. He was also one of the founders 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.

Like many other avant garde architects of the day, Mies based his own architectural theories and principles on his own personal re-combinations of ideas developed by many other thinkers and designers who had 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 with the 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.

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.

[edit] Significance and meaning

Mies adopted 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. The self-educated Mies painstakingly studied the great philosophers and thinkers of the past and of the day to enhance his own understanding of the character and essential qualities of the times he lived in. More than perhaps 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 leaves much room for interpretation. Yet his buildings also seem very direct and simple when viewed in person.

[edit] Emigration to the United States

Opportunities for commissions dwindled with the worldwide depression after 1929. In the early 1930s, Mies served briefly as the last Director of the faltering Bauhaus, at the request of his friend and competitor Walter Gropius. After 1933, Nazi political pressure soon forced Mies to close the government-financed school, a victim of its previous association with socialism, communism, and other progressive ideologies. He built very little in these years (one built commission was Philip Johnson's New York apartment); his style was rejected by the Nazis 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. When the refugee from the heavy-handed and constricting order of the Nazi government arrived in the United States after 30 years of practice in Germany, his reputation as a pioneer of modern architecture was already established by American promoters of the international style.

[edit] Career in the United States

IBM Plaza, Chicago, Illinois

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, although some regard the building as "completely inefficient". 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.

[edit] The American Period

860–880 Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois.

His significant projects in the U.S. include the residential towers of 860-880 Lake Shore Dr, Commonwealth Plaza-330-340 W Diversey Pkwy, the Farnsworth House, Crown Hall and other structures at IIT, all in and around Chicago, and the Seagram Building in New York. These iconic works became the prototypes for his other projects.

Between 1946 and 1951, Mies van der Rohe designed and built the Farnsworth House, a weekend retreat outside Chicago for an independent professional woman, Dr. Edith Farnsworth. Here, Mies explored the relationship between ourselves, our shelter, and nature. This small masterpiece showed the world that cold exposed industrial steel and glass were materials capable of creating architecture of great emotional impact. The glass pavilion is raised six feet above a floodplain next to the Fox River, surrounded by forest and rural prairies. The highly crafted pristine white structural frame and all-glass walls define a simple rectilinear interior space, letting nature and light envelop the interior space. A wood-panelled fireplace (also housing mechanical equipment, kitchen, and toilets) is positioned within the open space to suggest living, dining and sleeping spaces without using walls. No partitions touch the surrounding all-glass enclosure. Without solid exterior walls, full-height draperies on a perimeter track allow freedom to provide full or partial privacy when and where desired. The house has been described as sublime, a temple hovering between heaven and earth, a poem, a work of art. The Farnsworth House and its 60-acre (240,000 m2) wooded site was purchased at auction for US$7.5 million by preservation groups in 2004 and is now operated by the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois as a public museum. The influential building spawned hundreds of modernist glass houses, most notably the Glass House by Philip Johnson, located near New York City and also owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The iconic Farnsworth House is considered among Mies's greatest works. The house is an embodiment of Mies' mature vision of modern architecture for the new technological age: a single large space with a minimal "skin and bones" framework provides a steel and glass enclosure with a clearly understandable arrangement of architectural parts, with interior space loosely defined by independent partitions within the overall room, free-flowing to suggest freedom of use. His ideas are stated with clarity and simplicity, using materials that are allowed to express their own individual character.

Mies then designed a series of four middle-income high-rise apartment buildings for developer Herb Greenwald (and his successor firms after his untimely death in a plane crash), the 860/880 and 900-910 Lake Shore Drive towers on Chicago's Lakefront. These towers, with façades of steel and glass, were radical departures from the typical residential brick apartment buildings of the time. Interestingly, Mies found their unit sizes too small for himself, choosing instead to continue living in a spacious traditional luxury apartment a few blocks away. The towers were simple rectangular boxes with a non-hierarchical wall enclosure, raised on stilts above a glass enclosed lobby. The lobby is set back from the perimeter columns which were exposed around the perimeter of the building above, creating a modern arcade not unlike those of the Greek temples. This configuration created a feeling of light, openness, and freedom of movement at the ground level that became the prototype for countless new towers designed both by Mies's office and his followers. Some historians argue that this new approach is an expression of the American spirit and the boundless open space of the frontier, which German culture so admired.

Once Mies had established his basic design concept for the general form and details of his tower buildings, he applied those solutions (with evolving refinements) to his later high-rise building projects. The architecture of his towers appears to be similar, but each project represents new ideas about the formation of highly sophisticated urban space at ground level. He delighted in the composition of multiple towers arranged in a seemingly casual non-hierarchical relation to each other. He created, just as he did in his interiors, free flowing spaces and flat surfaces that represented the idea of an oasis of uncluttered clarity and calm within the chaos of the city. Nature was included by leaving openings in the pavement, through which plants seem to grow unfettered by urbanization, just as they would in their pre-settlement environment.

In 1958, Mies van der Rohe designed what is often regarded as the pinnacle of the modernist high-rise architecture, the Seagram Building in New York City. Mies was chosen by the daughter of the client, Phyllis Bronfman Lambert, who has become a noted architectural figure and patron in her own right. The Seagram Building has become an icon of the growing power of that defining institution of the 20th century, the corporation. In a bold and innovative move, the architect chose to set the tower back from the property line to create a forecourt plaza and fountain on Park Avenue. Although now acclaimed and widely influential as an urban design feature, Mies had to convince Bronfman's bankers that a taller tower with significant "wasted" open space at ground level was a viable idea. Mies' design included a bronze curtain wall with external H-shaped mullions that were exaggerated in depth beyond what is structurally necessary, touching off criticism by his detractors that Mies had committed Adolf Loos's "crime of ornamentation". Philip Johnson had a role in interior materials selections and the plaza, and he designed the sumptuous Four Seasons Restaurant which has endured un-remodeled to today. The Seagram Building is said to be an early example of the innovative "fast-track" construction process, where design and construction are done concurrently. Using the Seagram as a prototype, Mies' office designed a number of modern high-rise office towers, notably the Chicago Federal Center, which includes the Dirksen and Kluczynski Federal Buildings and Post Office (1959) and the IBM Plaza in Chicago, the Westmount Square in Montreal and the Toronto-Dominion Centre in 1967. Each project applies the prototype rectangular form on stilts and enclosure walls system but each creates a unique set of exterior spaces that are an essential aspect of his creative energies.

For the TD Centre he designed the font used on all the signage including the concourse area. The signage was still used in 2007, although is slowly being replaced as retailers update their store façades as leases turn over.

TD Centre towers frame CN Tower in Toronto.

During 1951-1952, Mies' designed the steel, glass and brick McCormick House, located in Elmhurst, Illinois (15 miles west of the Chicago Loop), for real-estate developer Robert Hall McCormick, Jr. A one story adaptation of the exterior curtain wall of his famous 860-880 Lake Shore Drive towers, it served as a prototype for an unbuilt series of speculative houses to be constructed in Melrose Park, Illinois. The house has been moved, but it exists today as a part of the public Elmhurst Art Museum.

Mies's last work was the Neue Nationalgalerie art museum, the New National Gallery, in Berlin. Considered one of the most perfect statements of his architectural approach, the upper pavilion is a precise composition of monumental steel columns and a cantilevered (overhanging) roof plane with a glass enclosure. The simple square box is a powerful expression of his ideas about flexible interior space, defined by transparent walls and supported by an external structural frame. The pavilion is a relatively small portion of the overall building, serving as a symbolic architectural entry point and monumental gallery for larger scale art. A large podium building below the pavilion accommodates most of the buildings actual built area in more functional spaces for galleries, support and utilitarian rooms.

The campus of Whitney Young High School and the adjacent Chicago Police Academy are two examples of the influence van der Rohe had on Chicago architecture.

[edit] Furniture

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.[3] During this period, he collaborated closely with interior designer and companion Lilly Reich.

[edit] Mies as Educator

Mies played a significant role as an educator, believing his architectural language could be learned, then applied to design any type of modern building. He worked personally and intensively on prototype solutions, and then allowed his students, both in school and his office, to develop derivative solutions for specific projects under his guidance. Some of Mies' curriculum is still put in practice in the first and second year programs at IIT, for example the excruciating drafting of bricks in second year. But when none was able to match the genius and poetic quality of his own work, he agonized about where his educational method had gone wrong.

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. 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. Lohan, who had collaborated with Mies on the New National Gallery, continued with existing projects but soon led the firm on his own independent path. Other disciples continued his teachings for a few years, notably Gene Summers, David Haid, Myron Goldsmith, Jacques Brownson, and other architects at the firms of C.F. Murphy and Skidmore Owings & Merrill.

But while Mies' work had enormous influence and critical recognition, his approach failed to sustain a creative force as a style after his death and was eclipsed by the new wave of Post Modernism by the 1980s. He had hoped his architecture would serve as a universal model that could be easily imitated, but the aesthetic power of his best buildings proved impossible to match, instead resulting mostly in drab and uninspired structures. The failure of his followers to meet his high standard may have contributed to demise of Modernism and the rise of new competing design theories, notably Postmodernism.

[edit] Death

Mies van der Rohe's grave marker in Graceland Cemetery

Over the last twenty years of his life, Mies developed and built his vision of a monumental "skin and bones" architecture that reflected his goal to provide the individual a place to fulfil himself in the modern era. Mies sought to create free and open spaces, enclosed within a structural order with minimal presence. Mies van der Rohe died in 1969, and was buried near Chicago's other famous architects in Chicago's Graceland Cemetery. His grave is marked by a simple black slab of granite and a large Honey locust tree.[1]

[edit] Archives

The Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Archive, an administratively independent section of the Museum of Modern Art's Department of Architecture and Design, was established in 1968 by the Museum's trustees. It was founded in response to the architect's desire to bequeath his entire work to the Museum. The Archive consists of about nineteen thousand drawings and prints, one thousand of which are by the designer and architect Lilly Reich (1885-1947), Mies van der Rohe's close collaborator from 1927 to 1937; of written documents (primarily, the business correspondence) covering nearly the entire career of the architect; of photographs of buildings, models, and furniture; and of audiotapes, books, and periodicals.

Archival materials are also held by the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago. The Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Collection, 1929-1969 (bulk 1948-1960) includes correspondence, articles, and materials related to his association with the Illinois Institute of Technology. The Ludwig Mies van der Rohe/Metropolitan Structures Collection, 1961-1969, includes scrapbooks and photographs documenting Chicago projects.

[edit] Photo gallery

[edit] Notable works

A memorial in Germany designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, built by Wilhelm Pieck, and inaugurated on 13 June 1926, later destroyed by the Nazis
Czech Republic
United States

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b "Mies van der Rohe Dies at 83; Leader of Modern Architecture". The New York Times. August 19, 1969. Retrieved on 2007-07-21. "Mies van der Rohe, one of the great figures of 20th-century architecture, died in Wesley Memorial Hospital here late last night. He was 83 years old." 
  2. ^ "German Embassy Building". Encyclopaedia of Saint Petersburg. Retrieved on 2008-08-11. 
  3. ^ " View images of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's design work "
  4. ^ Vitullo-Martin, Julio, .The Biggest Mies Collection: His Lafayette Park residential development thrives in Detroit.The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved on April 21, 2007.

[edit] Further reading

  • Puente, Moisés (2008). Conversations with Mies Van Der Rohe. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. pp. 96. ISBN 9781568987538. 
  • Schulze, Franz (1985). Mies Van Der Rohe, a Critical Biography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226740595. 
  • Sharp, Dennis (1991). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Architects and Architecture. New York: Whitney Library of Design. p. 109. ISBN 082302539X. 
  • Spaeth, David (1985). Mies Van Der Rohe. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.. ISBN 0847805638. 

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NAME Rohe, Ludwig Mies van der
DATE OF BIRTH 1886-3-27
DATE OF DEATH 1969-8-17

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