Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig
After the 1914–18 war, when the political climate in Germany had shifted Leftwards, Gropius organized (1919) an exhibition of architecture considered suitable for the new era. Mies submitted his 1912–13 Kröller-Müller designs which Gropius (a convinced believer in the tabula rasa) refused to accept because of its clear links to historical precedent. The result was a transformation: Mies (which has connotations with what is seedy, wretched, and out of sorts, though its cuddly pussy-cat associations were preferred in the UK) became Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (which sounds vaguely grand (the pretentious ‘van der’) as well as having allusions to bareness, rawness, and roughness (his mother's name was Rohe) ); and the new Mies van der Rohe emerged as a radical Leftist Modernist. He joined the Novembergruppe (1921), becoming its President in 1923. His ‘Five Projects’ of the period (1921–3) included the unrealized glass-clad Friedrichstrasse Office Block, published by Bruno Taut. Then followed the design for a Glass Skyscraper (1922), the Concrete Office Block (1922—one of the first designs to have the International-style strip- or ribbon-window arrangement), the Brick Country House (1923— influenced by van Doesburg and De Stijl in its composition of cubic volumes), and the Concrete Country House (1923—designed for a sloping site and with a plan resembling a swastika cross). The last project had powerfully emphasized overhanging horizontals reminiscent of Wright's work, counterbalanced by the big vertical block of the chimney, while the configuration of the L- and T-plan-shapes of the walls of the Brick Country House is one of the first instances of walls being disposed according to the principles of De Stijl composition. In 1923 he exhibited at a show of De Stijl work in Paris, and made contact with the protagonists of Russian Constructivism and Suprematism. He also exhibited in Berlin and Weimar (in the latter case at the invitation of Gropius, who was mollified by Mies's conversion to the cause). Nevertheless, he was still designing suburban houses in his prewar Arts-and-Crafts and Neo-Classical modes, a fact that was carefully concealed in later hagiographies.
With Bartning, Behrendt, Häring, Mendelsohn, Poelzig, the Tauts, and others, he formed Der Ring, which rapidly became a nationwide organization to reject all historical allusions and styles and to prepare the ground for an architecture of the new epoch supposedly to be based (or to look as though it was based) on contemporary technology. In 1926 Mies designed the monument (destroyed 1933) to the Socialist and Spartacist Karl Liebknecht (1871–1919), the Polish Communist agitator Rosa Luxemburg (1870–1919), and the November 1918 Revolution in the Friedrichsfelde Friedhof, Berlin: of brick projecting and receding planes on which the hammer and sickle were predominantly displayed, it was nevertheless based on a steel-framed construction (so much for ‘honesty’ of expression in building). In the same year he designed the Wolf House, Guben (destroyed), where blocky masses of brick were pierced with windows, and all Historicist references were expunged.
Mies and other members of Der Ring were elected to the Deutscher Werkbund in 1926, which, as a result, shifted ground from its historical mission to promote good industrial design and crafts to become a bullying pressure-group promoting the ‘new architecture’, i.e. that approved by Mies and his circle. As Vice-President of the Werkbund and Director of the proposed Weissenhofsiedlung Exhibition in Stuttgart (1927), he consolidated his reputation as leader of the avant-garde. The exhibition, for which he designed the master-plan and the long apartment-block on the highest land, contained temporary structures as well as over twenty permanent buildings, including villas, designed by leading German and other Modernists, including Bourgeois, Le Corbusier, Oud, and Stam. Predominant motifs were long horizontal strips of windows, smooth white walls, and flat roofs: the image of the cult of International Modernism had been found. Mies was also able to exhibit his tubular-steel chair, the earliest of several later variations that were to place him among the foremost furniture designers of C20. For the International Exposition, Barcelona (1928–9), shortly after he completed the Lange House, Krefeld, Mies designed the German Pavilion with a flat roof supported on steel columns clad in chromium-plated casings and walls of onyx and marble (some of which projected beyond the roof). This little building (demolished 1929, reconstructed 1983–4), exquisitely and expensively detailed, won immediate approval and became one of the most admired paradigms of the late 1920s. It was furnished with Mies's ‘Barcelona Chair’, consisting of a chromium-plated frame with black leather upholstered back and seat. Then followed the Tugendhat House, Brno, Czechoslovakia (1930), with a single storey on the street-frontage and two storeys facing the garden. The living-room was a continuous space with chromium-cased steel columns and free-standing panel, derived from the Barcelona design, while the full-height windows could be fully lowered out of sight, enabling the interior space to extend into the garden terrace. Every detail of the house was purpose-made, designed by the architect.
In 1930 Mies was appointed to run the Dessau Bauhaus on Gropius's recommendation following the dismissal of Hannes Meyer, and emphasized instruction within a more clearly-defined pedagogic structure, but the mayhem of mismanagement over the previous years had done the damage, and in 1932 the National Socialist majority in the Dessau Town Council closed the institution. Mies attempted to reconstitute the Bauhaus in a disused factory at Berlin-Steglitz, but it shut in 1933. It has been widely claimed that Mies left Germany because of Nazi hostility to his work, but Mies remained in Germany for five more years, and was one of the signatories of the Proclamation by leading German artists urging voters to support Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) following the death of President (from 1925) Paul von Hindenburg (1847–1934). Mies and Gropius both joined the Visual Arts section of the Nazi-sponsored Reich Culture Chamber, and submitted designs (predictably decorated with Swastikas) for architecture competitions; some Modernist designs for Autobahn service stations by Mies were personally approved by Hitler. Indeed Mies attempted to show that Modernism was apolitical, but this was a complete reversal of his position a decade earlier, and his apostasy did not go unnoticed. However, it is becoming clear that Hitler (who was uninterested in tedious doctrinal disputes among architects) saw Modernism as suitable for factories, bridges, airports, Autobahn structures, and so on, while a stripped Neo-Classicism was to be used for State and Party purposes, (because of its austerity, power, and simplicity), and a vernacular style for housing (especially in the country), a position not much differing from the official line in many other countries (including the democracies) of the period. Furthermore, Mies's gnomic remark that architecture is ‘the will of the epoch translated into space’ was used, almost verbatim, by Hitler, many of whose ex cathedra sayings were very close to those spouted by the Bauhäusler. It soon became apparent, however, that there was not going to be much architectural work in an economy geared increasingly to war, and Mies decided to leave Germany to pursue his career. In 1938 he settled in Chicago, IL, where he became Director of the Architecture Department of the Armour Institute (later Illinois Institute of Technology). From 1940 he redesigned the campus and buildings, placing rectangular blocks on an overall grid, exposing the steel frames, and designing all the junctions with his customary meticulous care (he claimed ‘God is in the detail’). He invented a sophisticated language of metal-and-glass architecture, shown to best effect at the Farnsworth House, Fox River, Plano, IL (1946–50), in which the terrace-slab, floor-slab, and roof-slabs were all raised from the ground and carried on steel stanchions of I section. This open glass-sided pavilion idea with impeccable detailing was used by Mies on several occasions, e.g. Crown Hall, IIT, Chicago (1952–6), and the National Gallery, Tiergarten, Berlin (1962–8). The Lake Shore Drive Apartments, Chicago (1950–1) had steel frames, while the huge Seagram Skyscraper, NYC (1954–8—with Philip Johnson (who did much to promote the Authorized Version of Mies's careeer) and Kahn & Jacobs), was clad in bronze and glass. Mies's influence cannot be overstated, and, with Le Corbusier and Gropius, he completed what might be regarded as the Trinity of Modernism. His impact worldwide is clear, and his metal-and-glass fronted buildings have been extensively (and often unintelligently) copied.
Blaser (1977, 1996, 1997);
P. Carter (1999);
J-L. Cohen (1996);
Cuito (ed.) (2002d);
Hitchcock & and P. Johnson (1995);
Hochman (ed.) (1989);
P. Johnson (1978);
Riley & Bergdoll (eds.) (2002);
Schulze (1985, 1989);
Zukowsky (ed.) (1986, 1993, 1994);
Zukowsky et al. (eds.) (1987)
Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig
MIES VAN DER ROHE, Ludwig
(b. 27 March 1886 in Aachen, Germany; d. 17 August 1969 in Chicago, Illinois), architect whose work in the 1940s and 1950s established the modernist style that came to dominate design in the 1960s and 1970s.
Born Maria Ludwig Michael Mies, Mies van der Rohe was the only child of Michael Mies, a stonemason, and Amalie Rohe, a homemaker. After studying in the local cathedral school from 1897 to 1900, he attended a craft school for the better part of two years before going to work as a carpenter's apprentice and later as a journeyman brickmason. Mies van der Rohe's formal experience as an architect began in 1905, when he went to work in the office of Bruno Paul in Berlin. A later employer, Peter Behrens, counted among his studentsWalter Gropius and Le Corbusier. In 1910 Behrens took his protégés to see a Berlin exhibition of the American Frank Lloyd Wright's work, an event that had a profound effect on Mies van der Rohe.
Mies van der Rohe remained with Behrens until 1912, at which point he established his own practice. He married Adele Auguste Bruhn on 10 April 1913 and had three children, but theirs was not a happy marriage, and they separated in 1921. Drafted into the army engineer corps late in 1915, Mies van der Rohe saw no action in World War I. For him, the true action lay afterward, as his modernist style first came into its own during the years of the postwar Weimar Republic. Nonetheless, he was stymied somewhat by the inflationary German economy of the 1920s and launched his more memorable projects—the Weissenhofsiedlung project (1927) and the Tugendhat House in Brno, Czechoslovakia (1928–1930), toward the end of the decade. Also in the late 1920s he became involved with the designer Lilly Reich, who would remain his professional and personal companion for the rest of his life. By this point he had added his mother's maiden name to his own, becoming known as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe from the 1920s onward.
Though he did not suffer under the Nazis—he even won a competition to design the new Berlin Reichsbank in 1933—Mies van der Rohe nonetheless immigrated to the United States in 1938 and became a U.S. citizen in 1944. For twenty years, until his retirement in 1958, he served as director of the school of architecture at Armour Institute of Technology (today known as IIT, the Illinois Institute of Technology), in Chicago. During those two decades Mies van der Rohe largely defined the architectural styles that would prevail in the 1960s, creating a wide array of buildings that fell into one of two basic types: skyscrapers and large-scale, but low-slung structures dedicated to special uses.
Exemplary of the first type are the twin towers of the Lake Shore Drive apartment houses in Chicago (1948–1951) and the Seagram Building in New York City (1954–1958). In both cases, the idioms that Mies van der Rohe created—revolutionary as they were in the 1940s and 1950s—proved so influential that the structures now seem commonplace, which is ironically the greatest possible testament to their success. Both projects are of the type that might be easily dismissed as "glass boxes," a reflection of the fact that today it is hard to imagine a time when such architecture seemed unusual. Yet the projects were not only unusual but were also a necessary response to the ornate styles that continued to prevail through the middle of the twentieth century, despite the progress made by Wright in the articulation of his Prairie School, an architectural style marked by the use of natural textures and open planning.
Located at 860 and 880 Lake Shore Drive, gazing out over Lake Michigan, the Lake Shore Drive apartments site consists of two identical twenty-six-story apartments located so close to each other (just forty-six feet separate them) that from certain angles they appear to be a single, L-shaped building. The people of Chicago in the early 1950s nicknamed them the "glass houses," and at a glance, it is easy to see why. Each building is all steel and glass, based on twenty-one-foot grids in which four window units are separated by three mullions of steel, painted black. Like Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe viewed the job of the designer as a responsibility that extended far beyond the mere creation of a building to house the activities of human beings. Experienced in furniture design from his early days in Germany, Mies van der Rohe had a strong sense for the spaces that the residents and workers in his buildings would occupy, and a key feature of the Lake Shore Drive project is the attention to detail that extends to the lobby. There one finds furniture composed of simple, ascetic lines reflective of a mid-century modernism that today bears the taint of an outmoded futurism, but which was once daring in its audacious simplicity.
As important as interior spaces were to Mies van der Rohe, an equally important consideration was external space. The Seagram Building in New York, which many buildings in midtown Manhattan resemble, is at 375 Park Avenue. The building is a thirty-eight-story tower that became the model for office buildings of the 1960s. With the Seagram tower, Mies van der Rohe introduced American corporate architecture to an inherently American—that is, New World—concept that predates Columbus: the plaza. So influential were designs incorporating open space in front of buildings that in 1961 New York's political leaders rewrote zoning laws to encourage the development of similar spaces in other parts of the city.
With the Lake Shore Drive apartments and the Seagram Building, the latter completed in the year of his retirement, Mies van der Rohe set the tone for the architecture of the next quarter century. To a less noticeable extent, though still to a significant degree, he did the same with his low-rises, including the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois (1950); Crown Hall, on the IIT campus (1956); and the New National Gallery in West Berlin (1962–1968). These buildings, like his high-rises, exemplified his famous dictum—he seems to have coined the phrase, which has permeated modern culture—that "less is more." Rather than design these buildings to enhance a specific function, he intended them to be suitable for many activities. This innovation would prove highly influential on the designs of the 1960s, especially because it comported with clients' desires to cut costs and retain resale value.
Mies van der Rohe belonged to the 1960s inasmuch as his ideas sounded a keynote for the art of the decade in no less a way than that of Andy Warhol in the realm of the visual arts or the Beatles in music. That these visual and musical exemplars were men much younger than he, whose work bore the influence of psychedelia and later movements, says much about how architectural design's impact lagged behind that of other arts. To be an influential architect of the 1960s, given the costs and the time involved in erecting large skyscrapers, one must necessarily have begun work on the vision in the 1950s or even earlier. The architects of the 1960s, by contrast, among them Mies van der Rohe's student Philip Johnson, would have an impact on later decades.
Mies van der Rohe's activity in the 1960s seems confined primarily to finishing projects begun in the early part of the decade or even in the 1950s. Among these were the Bacardi Office Building in Mexico City (1957–1961); the American Federal Savings and Loan Association in Des Moines, Iowa (1960–1963); the Berlin National Gallery; and the Toronto Dominion Center in Canada (1963–1969). Additionally, the Federal Center in Chicago, begun in 1959, would not be completed until 1973, long after Mies van der Rohe's death. He spent much of his last decade collecting awards, of which there were many, including a Presidential Medal of Freedom from John F. Kennedy in 1963. Mies van der Rohe died in Chicago and was buried in Graceland Cemetery.
In appreciating the effect that Mies van der Rohe had on the architecture of the 1950s and the 1960s, it is important to understand that the great designing minds of that time—with Mies van der Rohe's among the greatest—were eager to develop a language that bore no relation to the past. The aim of these mid-twentieth-century designers, in other words, was almost the opposite of that which has permeated the twenty-first-century world, in which the rapid acceleration of technology has engendered a longing for the permanence of the past.
Mies van der Rohe, whose career bridged a period in which the Panama Canal and the space program represented the greatest technological triumphs, sought to create an ahistorical architecture. On the one hand, he rejected the creations of the past, but his work already was rooted deeply enough in the mid- to late twentieth century that he recognized the short shelf life of futurism. Reminiscing on the medieval buildings of his hometown that he had glimpsed in his youth, Mies van der Rohe told John Zukowsky of the Art Institute of Chicago, "I was impressed by the strength of these buildings because they did not belong to any epoch.… All the great styles passed, but … they were still as good as on the day they were built."
Most of Mies van der Rohe's correspondence is housed in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, and collections of his drawings can be found in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin, the Canadian Center of Architecture in Montreal, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Notable biographical and critical works include Arthur Drexler, Mies van der Rohe (1960); Franz Schulze, Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography (1985); and David Spaeth, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1985). Also significant are Peter Blake, The Master Builders (1960), which discusses Mies van der Rohe along with Le Corbusier and Wright; Philip Johnson, Mies van der Rohe (1978), an important work by a distinguished protégé; and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and John Zukowsky, Mies Reconsidered: His Career, Legacy, and Disciples (1986). An obituary is in the New York Times (19 Aug. 1969).
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), Germanborn American architect, was a leading exponent of the International Style. His "skin and bones" philosophy of architecture is summed up in his famous phrase "less is more."
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was born in Aachen on March 27, 1886. He attended the cathedral school until he was 13 years old and spent the next 2 years at a trade school. He had no formal architectural training but acted as a draftsman for a manufacturer of decorative stucco, and from 1905 to 1907 he was employed by Bruno Paul, the Berlin furniture designer.
In 1908 Mies joined Peter Behrens (the employer of Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius), who was one of several enlightened German architects attempting to link the ideals of the British Arts and Crafts movement, as propagated in Germany by Hermann Muthesius, to machine production. Behrens designed buildings and products for the German electrical industry AEG but also reverted to the esthetics, concepts, and architectural expression of the early-19th-century neoclassicist Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Thus it is not surprising that Mies's early domestic architecture, notably the Perls House (1911) at Zehlendorf near Berlin, with its hipped roof and axial plan, could have been designed by Behrens, or even by Schinkel a hundred years earlier. Mies supervised the construction of the German Embassy in St. Petersburg before leaving Behrens's office in 1912.
During 1910 and 1911 Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural projects were published by Ernst Wasmuth of Berlin. Mies acknowledged his debt to Wright ("The encounter [of Wright] was destined to prove of great significance to the European development."), but he was also strongly influenced after World War I by the de Stijl movement of Theo van Doesburg and Gerrit Rietveld. This Dutch movement had developed from the cubistderived tradition of painters Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. Mies's brick country house project (1923) and his brick monument to Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg (1926; destroyed) in Berlin were essays in the de Stijl idiom. Even the plan of the German Pavilion (1929; destroyed) at the International Exposition in Barcelona, Spain, had the geometry of a de Stijl painting. The travertine podium, chrome-plated steel structural columns, green marble dividers, and gray glass of the pavilion, as well as the reflecting pool with a sculpture by George Kolbe and the famed Barcelona chair, stool, and table by Mies, gave the building a timeless quality of inexorable perfection.
Mies also designed the furniture for some of his other buildings, such as the tubular dining and lounge chairs for the second Deutscher Werkbund Exposition of 1927 in Stuttgart. He was director of this exposition and broad-mindedly invited Behrens, Le Corbusier, Gropius, J. J. P. Oud, Bruno Taut, Hans Poelzig, and others to contribute. "I have refrained," said Mies, "from laying down a rigid program, in order to leave each individual as free as possible to carry out his ideas." His own contribution was a row of apartments, steel-framed, finished in stucco, and with horizontal bands of windows.
In 1930 Mies designed the Tugendhat House at Brno, Czechoslovakia—a house evolved from the Barcelona pavilion—and for it he created the Tugendhat chair and the Brno chair. That year he became director of the Bauhaus, the famed German school of art which revolutionized 20th-century design. The growing strength of Nazism in Germany during the early 1930s forced the Bauhaus to move from Dessau to Berlin. Mies closed the school in 1933 but stayed on in Germany, trying to effect a change in the country's politics.
The American Years
Forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1937, Mies went to the United States; he became an American citizen in 1944. His work, and that of other modern architects, had been introduced to the American architectural scene by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock in an exhibition held in 1932 at New York City's Museum of Modern Art and in its catalog, The International Style: Architecture since 1922.
Mies's philosophy of architecture, which was to dominate his designs in the United States, was exemplified in his revolutionary projects of 1919 and 1920-1921 for glass skyscrapers in Berlin. They were to be "new forms from the very nature of new problems." His 1922 project for a reinforced-concrete office building epitomized all the ideals of the International Style; volume rather than mass, simplicity of surface treatment with no ornamentation, and horizontal emphasis (except in tall structures). Mies stated, "Reinforced concrete structures are skeletons by nature. No gingerbread. No fortress. Columns and girders eliminate bearing walls. This is skin and bones construction."
In 1938 Mies became director of architecture of the Illinois Institute of Technology (formerly the Armour Institute), an office he held until he resumed private practice in 1958. In his brief inaugural address he stated that "true education is concerned not only with practical goals but also with values…. Education must lead us from irresponsible opinion to true responsible judgment…." He ended by quoting St. Augustine: "Beauty is the splendor of Truth."
A grid of 24-foot squares was the basis of Mies's Illinois Institute of Technology campus plan (1939-1940). Vincent Scully (1961) described it as a veritable "Renaissance townscape … conceived … upon a modular system of fixed perspectives" and compared it to a streetscape by the mannerist architect Giacomo da Vignola. The horizontal lines of perspective and the low vertical structural rhythm are common to both Renaissance spaces. Mies considered Crown Hall (completed 1956) on the campus, which houses the School of Architecture and Design, with its main floor an undivided space measuring 120 by 220 feet, his finest creation.
Particularly noteworthy among the residences and apartments that Mies built in and near Chicago are the Farnsworth house (1950) in Plano, Ill., and the pair of glass-sheathed apartment towers (1949-1951) on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. He also designed Federal Center (1964), a three-building complex in the heart of Chicago's commercial area. In New York City he collaborated with Philip Johnson on the Seagram Building (1956-1958), a 38-story tower of gray and bronze glass, which was the ultimate realization of Mies's 1919 project for a glass-walled sky-scraper. He died in Chicago on Aug. 18, 1969.
Mies, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Le Corbusier are the paternal triumvirate of 20th-century architecture. Mies's Werkbund apartment block of 1927 was a low-cost housing project of high-caliber design that has rarely been equaled even in the 1960s and early 1970s, when architects were desperately trying to solve the pressing need of well-designed housing. His Barcelona pavilion of 1929 was an esthetic contribution to 20th-century spatial design, comparable to Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie house and Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye.
A selection of drawings by Mies van der Rohe from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art is in Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: Drawings (1969). Biographies include Philip C. Johnson, Mies van der Rohe (1947; rev. ed. 1953); Ludwig Hilberseimer,Mies van der Rohe (1956); and Arthur Drexler, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1960). Mies van der Rohe is discussed in Peter Blake, The Master Builders (1960; rev. ed. 1963); Vincent Scully, Modern Architecture (1961); and John Jacobus, Twentieth-century Architecture: The Middle Years, 1940-65 (1966). □