Architecture depends on its time. It is the crystallization of its inner structure, the slow unfolding of its form. – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
In 1951, Mies van der Rohe designed the Core House, a participative design structure which could be completed by its inhabitants.
This flexible model challenged certain architectural concepts, explored new industrial technologies, and proposed a modular system to improve the quality and affordability of housing.
In a 2011 article by Luciana Fornari Colombo, entitled “Mies van der Rohe’s Core House - a Theoretical Project on the Essential Dwelling,” she states:
"The Core House can be considered an outstanding example of a theoretical project, that is, of a project undertaken independently, as a self-imposed challenge. This type of project allows the architect to more freely test and develop generic architectural ideas for no one and nowhere in specific, which are able to inspire future designs. In this sense, theoretical projects are not only unbuilt projects. They provide an appropriate opportunity to put architecture in front of its disciplinary limits."
According to Myron Goldsmith, who collaborated in the design of the Core House, as quoted in Fornari’s article; “the main ideas that Mies van der Rohe speculated and tested in this project were: architecture as background for people, absolute minimum use of elements, how far one could go in a unified space (what had to be closed, what could be opened), how far one could go in simplifying the unconventional living idea and how to live within it.”
What exactly is the Core House?
In 1945, the magazine Arts and Architecture announced an extraordinary opportunity for experimentation in domestic architecture: the twenty year “Case Study Houses” Program. The aim was to provide solutions for the design and construction of simple, inexpensive architectural models worldwide. Subsequently, the program addressed a need to help people rebuild their lives in the post-war era in the United States, as millions of soldiers returned to their homes after World War II.
Six years later, Mies van der Rohe designed the Core House (1951) as a personal research project, without any financial support from a client. Myron Goldsmith and students of the Illinois Institute of Technology were involved in the design process. The project consisted of a square space enclosed with a glass façade with four exterior H-shaped columns supporting the flat roof. The interior space was free to be arranged around the service core, utilizing furniture, partitions and curtains as opposed to installing permanent walls.
Fornari states, “The Core House was intended to adapt to different families and sites. To accomplish that, the house could be built with sides in 40, 50 or 60 feet square (12.19, 15.24 or 18.28 meters) and receive different service core arrangements.” Fornari also says, “opened in all directions to the surrounding nature through large glass panels, the house has minimal visual obstructions... besides the slender columns. These columns are dislocated from their usual position, the corners, emphasizing the sense of space continuity and creating the perception of the roof as a light floating plane.”
For a rough idea of how individuals could adapt the design, Mies van der Rohe also proposed some variations in the size of the models and arrangement of the service core. (Now we have Archilogic!)
The following year, the Chicago Daily Tribune published an important article on the Core House, written by Anne Douglas (1952) entitled “Dinner in Yesterday’s Bedroom – It’s Possible in this Flexible Plan,” in which Mies is quoted:
“...A dozen people have come to us in the last few years and asked for a modern house in the range of $30,000 to $40,000. We told them it was difficult to work out individual houses, for the work has no relation to the cost of the house... Since there seems to be a real need for such homes, we have attempted to solve the problem.”
Although the project has not gained much attention in the discussion of the Case Study Houses program or architectural theory in general, Fornari concludes her article by stating:
“Besides innovating and influencing later designs as much as many built works, the Core House can also be considered a crystalline exemplar of modern architecture, expressing the historical and cultural context in which it was developed. Still, as it happens to outstanding works of art, this project transcends its own generation. After many decades, this house did not lose its innovating qualities, offering, still today, a modern appeal to the daily need of shelter. Besides all the influences and repercussions it had, the value of this work also lies in itself, in its purifying and resolving effect in the fundamental questions of architecture. This unique proposal represents the achievement of a beautiful vitreous apparition, almost immaterial and infinite.”
Once the exclusive domain of programmers, code is now being used by a new generation of designers, artists, and architects, eager to explore how software can enable innovative ways of generating form, and translating ideas. Archilogic has built Mies van der Rohe’s design on the web. Click through the configurations and choose your favourite layout.
And if you’re ambitious, using the software’s built-in tools, you can alter the interior layout of the house, and even insert furniture or art.
Participate in the process of design and show us your ideas!
- Douglas, A (1952). “Dinner in Yesterday’s bedroom – It’s possible in this flexible plan.” Retrieved from archives.chicagotribune.com.
- Colombo, L.F (2011). "Mies van der Rohe’s Core House, a Theoretical Project on the Essential Dwelling." Retrieved from vitruvius.com.br.
- Van der Rohe, M (1952). ‘The Core House’ Retrieved from Moma.org