Spotlight: Mies van der Rohe

  • 27 Mar 2015
  • by
  • ArchDaily Architecture News mini
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.

Barcelona Pavilion. Image © Gili Merin

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

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

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

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

Infographic: Celebrating Mies van der RoheFrom Mad Men to Mies: Why Modernism Holds SwayMies, the Modernist Man of LettersMaterial Masters: Glass is More with Mies van der RoheLast Is More: The Miesian LessonThanks for the View, Mr. Mies: Lafayette Park Detroit

Cite: Stott, Rory. "Spotlight: Mies van der Rohe" 27 Mar 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed 24 May 2015. <>
  • Hector

    Mies “studied” under Gropius and Lecorbusier…? “Studied under”… I don’t think so…Peter Behrens maybe…

    • Vanessa Quirk

      Thank you Hector – I’ve corrected the text!

  • Jason Wagner

    ArchDaily gets things like that wrong all the time.

    Mies famously hated Gropius and only cooperated with him when he needed to in order to advance his own career.

    And the German avant guarde generally disliked Le Corbusier, joking that he was a “great painter”. Meaning that he was shallow and fanciful, and not intellectual. Or in truth, they were an intense group of functionalists, and Le Corbusier was not. But Mies was not a functionalist at heart either and had a generally positive view of Le Corbusier. But regardless, they only ever interacted with each other on a few occasions, so all that can really be said about them is that they were both prominent architects during the same time period.

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  • kk

    i think archdaily is only running their website adding watever and however, there must ppl who knws only to run or develop the website.. they are truly not contributing to architecture…

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  • PeterG

    Hey Jason, obviously you don’t know that they all worked together in the office of Peter Behrens! Gropius took him as last Bauhaus director, there was no ‘hate’ between them, but controversy.

    • Vanessa

      Charlotta, the Pacific NW is one of the most beautiful plceas on earth; if I could I would live there full-time. The Canadian side as well. Beautiful post, darling one…

  • Yijun Wu

    Really want to see a film talking about the stories between Mies, Corbu and Gropius. It’s just a topic like “Velvet Goldmine”: you know, the ambiguous and mystery relation between David Bowe, Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger. XD

    • Yerri

      It would seem an obvious stnmateet, Nick, but one that took a little time to learn. When you are so involved in a project, it’s often hard to step back and s…

  • justine

    I am looking for an architec who can draw me a triple storage hotel which need to have a dinning, auditorium,conference hall and boardrooms.