Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (27 March 1886-17 August 1969, German), born Maria Ludwig Michael Mies is one of the most renowned 20th century architects, being one of the pioneers of modern architecture. He was one of the first to establish the 20th century architectural steel-and-glass style characterized by extreme clarity, fluidity and simplicity. (Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, 2008)
Design and Influences
Mies’ advanced structural techniques and Prussian approach were developed under Peter Behren’s influence. Meanwhile, his steel-and-glass designs or post and lintel construction were borrowed from Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Some of his designs also show the application of principles of the Dutch De Stijl Group as well as Russian Constructivism. (Glass Block Architecture, 2008)
Mies’ creations are characterized by contemplative, neutral spaces based on the principle of material honesty and structural integrity. His works are commonly described as “skin and bones,” consistent with his dictum, “Less is more”. (Glass Block Architecture, 2008)
Mies got his first training from his father who was a master stonemason. At 19, he decided to move to Berlin to join the art nouveau architect and furniture designer, Bruno Paul. His career as an architect began when he worked for Peter Behrens in 1908 who exposed him to progressive German culture and to current theories of design. He admired the cubic compositions of Prussian neo-classical architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. (Schulze, 1985)
Mies made his debut using his design for the Friedrichstrasse Skyscraper in 1921. Although this design drew critical praise for Mies, it was never built. Soon, he became active in the avant-garde circles along with artists Hans Richter and Theo Van Doesburg, all supporting modern art and architecture. He became part of the design magazine G, co-founded the architectural association, Der Ring, and became the Director of Bauhaus design school. He also became the artistic director of the Weissenhof Project, a model housing colony in Stuttgart. (Schulze, 1985; Sharp, 1991)
Mies’ name as an architect started to become known in the United States in 1930 when he met Architect Philip Johnson from New York. In 1932, Johnson included his works in the first architecture exhibition of MoMA entitled “Modern Architecture: International Exhibition”. Unfortunately, despite the big break, the economic and political changes in Germany got in the way of his success. None of Mies’ designs were built during that decade, and Bauhaus School of which he was the director, was shut down by the Nazi government. He left Germany and headed to Illinois where he was appointed as head of Chicago Armour Institute of Technology’s architectural school. Thereafter, he was commissioned to design buildings including the still presently standing Alumni Hall, Chapel and the SR Crown Hall of IIT’s School of Architecture. (Schulze, 1985)
It was Meis who designed the influential Farnsworth House which until present is considered as one of his and Architecture’s greatest works. The retreat house is an all-glass building with pristine white structural frame without solid exterior walls. It can be considered as the ancestor of the hundreds of the next modernist glass houses created after it. His other notable works include the Seagram Building, McCormich House, Neue Nationalgalerie Art Museum in Berlin, and other high rises in Chicago, New York, and Detroit, all demonstrating Mies’ characteristic modernist open-space approach to architecture. (Schulze, 1985)
Mies achieved the Orden Pour Le Merite award in Germany in 1959. In the next year he became a recipient of the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal. He also received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 . (Glass Block Architecture, 2008)
Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe. (2008). Retrieved 09 April 2009 from http://www.designboom.com/portrait/mies/bg.html.
Glass Block Architecture. (2008). Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe. Retrieved 09 April 2009 from http://www.greatbuildings.com/architects/Ludwig_Mies_van_der_Rohe.html
Schulze, Franz (1985). Mies Van Der Rohe, a Critical Biography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Sharp, Dennis (1991). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Architects and Architecture. New York: Whitney Library of Design.