Mies Van der Rohe: The Architect
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The Architect’s Architect. 27th March 2011.
Today would be the German architect’s 125th birthday had he have lived that long (he died, wheelchair-bound at age 85). Mies has been in, out and back in vogue. In the 1980’s, Robert Venturi famously turned Mies’s famous words, “less is more” into, “less is a bore”. Most commonly referred to by his surname, Mies was a German-American architect. An architect contemporaneous with Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer, he is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of modern architecture.
Mies created architecture of extreme clarity and simplicity. He was working at a time of enormous advances in technology – particularly in building structures – allowing greater use of steel and larger areas of glass.
Mies didn’t go to college, but was fortunate to begin his training as an architect as an apprentice in the studio of architect Peter Behrens (1908-1912) where he worked alongside Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier.
His talent as an architect was quickly recognised and he secured several independent architectural commissions. His move from construction apprentice to architect was rapid. Infact he quickly became an architect in demand by the upper classes of post-war Germany where he was known for his ability to design traditional, ornamental neoclassical homes which were so in vogue at the time.
Using his neo-classical commissions for financial support, Mies started to work on more visionary projects. The German Pavilion for the 1928 Barcelona Exposition established him as an architect capable of making buildings that accorded with the spirit of the emerging modern pre-war society.However the worldwide depression in the early 1930 meant that architectural commissions fell away. Mies took the position of architect director of the faltering Bauhaus. The rise of fascism throughout the 1930’s meant that Mies built very little and he finally left Germany in 1937 and settled in Chicago.
As a modern architect in Chicago, Mies had the opportunity to develop his ideas. He was appointed head architect at the Armour Institute of Technology and also accepted private commissions as an architect. One of these was to design a weekend retreat for Dr Edith Farnsworth. Farnsworth House (1946-1951) would become one of Mies’s most iconic works.
In 1958 Mies sealed his position as the world’s leading modernist architect by designing the Seagram Building in New York. Mies was not only an architect: he was also a furniture designer, designing, amongst others, the Barcelona Chair and daybed.