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Spotlight: Mies van der Rohe

Mies van der Rohe with smoke, 1957; photographed for Life magazine. Image Courtesy of Frank Scherschel/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Mies van der Rohe with smoke, 1957; photographed for Life magazine. Image Courtesy of Frank Scherschel/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (27 March 1886 - 17 August 1969) is one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, known for his role in the development of the most enduring architectural style of the era: modernism. Born in Aachen, Germany, Mies' career began in the influential studio of Peter Behrens, where Mies worked alongside other two other titans of modernism, Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier. For almost a century, Mies' minimalist style has proved very popular; his famous aphorism "less is more" is still widely used, even by those who are unaware of its origins.

Mies began to develop this style through the 1920s, combining the functionalist industrial concerns of his modernist contemporaries and an aesthetic drive toward minimal intersecting planes - rejecting the traditional systems of enclosed of rooms and relying heavily on glass to dissolve the boundary between the building's interior and exterior. The decade was bookended by his proposal for the Friedrichstraße skyscraper, an unrealized all-glass tower designed in 1921 which cemented his fame within the architectural avant-garde, and by his 1929 German Pavilion at the Barcelona Exposition (more commonly known as the Barcelona Pavilion) which remains one of his most well-known and popular works.

ArchDaily logo, 860-880 Lake Shore Drive © ArchDaily
ArchDaily logo, 860-880 Lake Shore Drive © ArchDaily

In 1930, Mies took over from Hannes Meyer as director of the Bauhaus - the school founded by and most commonly associated with Walter Gropius - serving as its leader until it was forced to close in 1933 under pressure from the Nazi government. In 1932, the work of Mies formed a cornerstone of the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition on "The International Style" curated by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock, an exhibition that not only reinforced Mies' role as a leader of the modernist movement, but also brought the movement itself to a wider, more international audience.

The Farnsworth House. Image © Greg Robbins
The Farnsworth House. Image © Greg Robbins

After the closure of the Bauhaus and the continued rise of the Nazis in Germany, Mies found work in his home country increasingly difficult. He eventually decided to emigrate to the United States in 1937, where he settled in Chicago and became the head of the Illinois Institute of Technology. During his 20 years at IIT, Mies developed what became known as 'the second Chicago school of architecture', a style of simplified, rectilinear high-rise buildings exemplified by projects such as 860-880 Lakeshore Drive and the Seagram Building. Alongside this new skyscraper typology, he also continued to develop his low-slung, pavilion typology that he first tested in projects like the Barcelona Pavilion - with his entirely transparent Farnsworth House, completed in 1951, probably the most enduring example in the United States. At times, Mies was also able to combine both of these typologies into one composition, as he did in the three-building complex of the Chicago Federal Center.

Seagram Building. Image © Flickr User Tania Udaondo
Seagram Building. Image © Flickr User Tania Udaondo

Check out all of Mies' classic designs featured on ArchDaily through the thumbnails below, and more coverage of Mies through the links below that.

Barcelona Pavilion. Image © Gili Merin Chicago Federal Center. Image © Samuel Ludwig Neue National Gallery in Berlin. Image © Guillermo Hevia Garcia The Farnsworth House. Image © Greg Robbins Seagram Building. Image © Flickr User Tania Udaondo 860-880 Lake Shore Drive. Image © Hagen Stier Crown Hall, part of the IIT Master Plan and Buildings. Image © Hagen Stier The Museum of Fine Arts Houston. Image © Wikimedia Commons / MFAH archives Villa Tugendhat. Image © Mr Hyde / Wikimedia Commons Lafayette Park. Image © Jamie Schafer Landhaus Lemke. Image © www.archikey.com / David IBM Building. Image © Bluffton University

Infographic: Celebrating Mies van der Rohe

From Mad Men to Mies: Why Modernism Holds Sway

Mies, the Modernist Man of Letters

Material Masters: Glass is More with Mies van der Rohe

Last Is More: The Miesian Lesson

Thanks for the View, Mr. Mies: Lafayette Park Detroit

Cite:Rory Stott. "Spotlight: Mies van der Rohe" 27 Mar 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <http://www.archdaily.com/350573/happy-127th-birthday-mies-van-der-rohe/>