The German-American architect Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe was one of the most influential representatives of the International Style. Believing that “less is more”, he designed rational and minimalist skyscrapers, houses, and furniture.
About his life
Born in Germany in 1886, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe broke new ground with his architectural designs, starting as a draftsman before striking out later on his own. During World War I, Mies served in the German military, becoming then a well-known architect in Germany, creating such structures as the German Pavilion for the 1929 Barcelona Exposition, and acting as the third and last Bauhaus director. In the late 1930s, Mies emigrated to the United States, where he created such well-known Modernist works as the Lake Shore Drive Apartments and the Seagram Building. He died in 1969.
A multifaceted body of work
Before Mies emigrated to the United States, he had already realized several remarkable architectures: the Urbig House (1917, Potsdam, Germany), the Afrikanische Strasse (1925, Berlin, Germany) to fill Berlin’s growing need for middle-class housing, the Weissenhofsiedlung (1927, Stuttgart, Germany) composed by 20 buildings (now with 11 surviving) and, designed by Mies and other 17 architects, the Barcelona Pavillion (demolished in 1930) at the 1929 World’s Fair, later rebuilt on the same site in the 198os; the Lange and Esters Houses (1930, Krefeld, Germany), the Bauhaus Berlin (1930, Berlin, Germany), formerly a derelict factory that the students renovated under Mies’ direction, the Villa Tugendhat (1930, Brno-Brno-sever, Czech Republic), and the Lemke House (1933, Berlin, Germany), the last house designed in Germany by Mies.
After he arrived in the United States, Mies wasted no time getting to work, designing the Illinois Institute of Technology, then known as the Armour Institute (Chicago, United States), the Promontory Apartments (1949, Chicago, United States), which is also the first example of an International Style tower in the United States, the Farnsworth House (1947-1951, River Road Plano, United States), considered one of the best examples of American modernism, the Lakeshore Apartments (1949-1951, Chicago, United States), composed of a pair of steel-fronted towers, the Crown Hall (Chicago, United States), which was the home of the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the Seagram Building (New York, United States), setting with its making the tone for skyscraper construction in the years to come, and the Lafayette Park (Detroit, United States), built on the site of a slum and intended to prevent the middle-class from fleeing to the suburbs.
In his late years, he designed the New National Gallery or Neue Nationalgalerie (Berlin, Germany) opened in 1968 which cantilevers a primary exhibit hall over a glassy central pavilion. The characteristic open interior space defies the traditional, heavily-partitioned museum experience.
Mies, often collaborating with Lilly Reich, designed modern furniture pieces using the then-new industrial technologies, creating pieces that have become popular classics, such as the Barcelona chair and table, the Brno chair, and the Tugendhat chair. His furniture is known for its 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 the delicate structural frames.
Identifying Mies’ style
Mies van der Rohe and his designs were deemed nothing less than visionary, placing him at the forefront of modern architecture: not only did he set the standard for all modernist design, but brought European modernism to America. He is often associated with the aphorisms:
Less is more
as well as
God is in the details
Mies’s attitude towards architecture and design was shaped by some avant-garde art schools, which blossomed in the 1920s, including the Bauhaus, embodied by the works of Walter Gropius; the Dutch De Stijl group, with its clean lines and geometric forms; the Russian Constructivism, which favored applied art with a social purpose; the design concepts of the Czech-born architect Adolf Loos (1870-1933), who had worked alongside Louis Sullivan (1856-1924), a member of the first Chicago School of Architecture, absorbing his hostility to ornamentation; the American Prairie Style building designs of Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).
He pioneered the extensive use of glass in buildings. His works introduced a new level of simplicity and transparency, and his buildings were often referred to as “skin-and-bones” architecture for their emphasis on steel structure and glass enclosure.