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.
Today marks 130 years since the birth of German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. In honor of this tremendously influential figure, we're shining some light into the lesser known facts about Mies' life in order to better understand and contextualize his architecture.
For this, our colleagues at ArchDaily en Español have referred to "Vidas construidas, Biografías de arquitectos" (Constructed Lives, Biographies of Architects), a book by Anatxu Zabalbeascoa and Javier Rodríguez Marcos. This text, released by publisher Gustavo Gili, features the biographies of 20 of the world's most celebrated architects, from the Renaissance to the Modern movement. Each story is a fascinating journey into the lives of each architect, and the details allow us to understand the genesis of many works that are today considered classics.
We've chosen 20 facts that reveal the thoughts, influences and decisions that brought Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's architecture to the forefront of modernism.
In an exclusive thirty minute-long discussion with Kevin Roche, described in this interview as "arguably the greatest living architect you've never heard of," Monocle's Steve Bloomfield hears about his early years in practice through to the evolution of his design philosophy over a career which has spanned five decades.
In his book We Have Never Been Modern, philosopher Bruno Latour concludes that an inability to make humanity and nature inherently separate is one of Modernism’s most misguided tropes. Thus, contemporary designers that hope to riff on or have continuity with modernism must understand that architecture, even at its most aestheticized, is not hermetically sealed off from the outside world - and that therefore modernism is not a plateau of design, but another base camp on the road to further refinement.
Chicago has long been known for distinctive architecture, and this year’s inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial has only furthered that reputation. Although it is nearly impossible to narrow down the countless iconic structures, in celebration of the Biennial, we have compiled five Chicago buildings that highlight the many phases of the city’s architectural history.
The Barcelona Pavilion was officially only used once, and that was on the 27th of May, 1929, when King Alfonso XIII of Spain participated in a ceremony for its opening. Its role, according to an official statement by President Paul von Hindenburg, was to “present the Spirit of the New Germany: simplicity and clarity of means and intentions—everything is open, nothing is concealed.” As the first official participation of Germany in an international event since the catastrophic end of the First World War, it was a day of enormous symbolic importance, attended by diplomats, aristocrats and dignitaries. Within a few years the peace would collapse, in Barcelona as much as in Berlin, but for a moment, in May, modernity was met with optimism.
The Barcelona Pavilion was intended to embody this moment. Free of external ornament, the building was made of the most luxurious materials. Walls were fashioned of thin plates of luminous semi-precious stone, from green polished marble to golden onyx. According to Philip Johnson’s influential account, they didn’t physically limit space, but rather suggested flowing movement, and didn’t divide so much as bind; bringing the inside to the outside by continuing beyond the roofline into the garden. While the columns provided a kind of cartesian grid of points tethering the roof, the walls were positioned freely. In the courtyard was a bronze nude, arms aloft in a gesture that might be dance, might be grief, reflected in a still pool. With the asymmetrical walls, the luxurious stone, the bright light, the podium on which it sat; the pavilion was at the same time both a hyper-modernist building, and a classical ruin.
One of the first and most successful examples of urban renewal, Detroit's 78-acre Lafayette Park is known for being the world's largest collection of works by Mies van der Rohe. Now, the mid-century modern "masterpiece" is the first urban renewal project to be declared a National Historic Landmark. This is partially due to the fact that, as Ruth Mills, architectural historian for Quinn Evans Architects told the Detroit Free Press, "Lafayette Park was one of the few urban renewal projects that's done it successfully." It is now Michigan's 41st landmark.
Mecanoo and Martinez + Johnson Architecture has released their completed preliminary designs for the modernization of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library - the only library and Washington D.C. building ever designed by Mies van der Rohe. The team’s competition-winning scheme aims to improve “Mies in a contemporary Miesian way.”
“While not final, these renderings demonstrate the amazing possibilities as we work to transform this historic building into a center for learning, innovation and engagement for the District,” says the D.C. Public Library. Updated images and more information about the design, after the break.
Starting tomorrow (October 17), Chicago-based artists Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero of Luftwerk will be transforming Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House into a “canvas of light and sound” with the digital installation, INsite. “An exploration of the philosophy of Mies through light,” INsite will offer an entirely new nighttime experience at the Plano residence that highlights the architecture’s famed characteristics with an interactive light show pulsating to the original “sonic exploration” of Owen Clay Condon.
A video preview of the installation, after the break.
In Berlin, Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie has begun a new phase today with the opening of David Chipperfield’s intervention, a prologue to the imminent restoration which the famed British architect is about to undertake. Completed in 1968, the gallery was Mies’ last project and his final masterpiece; for nearly fifty years, nobody dared to touch it - until now. Marking this event is a large, site-specific installation, created by Chipperfield as an attempt to engage Mies in a spatial experiment (or perhaps a last, apologetic tribute to the 20th century master) moments before he is about to embark on a mission which will, inevitably, transform Mies’ ultimate legacy.
If you don't have access to an architecture library (and even if you do), sifting through shelves can take hours. Buying books can be even more painful — for your wallet, at least. Instead, why not browse this list of 25 books that are all free and easily accessible online? Some are well-known classics of architecture literature, but we hope you find a few surprises as well.
Five of history's most iconic modern houses are re-created as illustrations in this two-minute video created by Matteo Muci. Set to the tune of cleverly timed, light-hearted music, the animation constructs the houses piece-by-piece on playful pastel backgrounds. The five homes featured in the short but sweet video are Le Courbusier's Villa Savoye, Gerrit Rietveld's Rietveld Schröder House, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, Philip Johnson's Glass House and Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater.
The creative minds behind Luftwerk have turned to Kickstarter to crowdfund a project that would transform Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House into an immersive light show. Similar to their installation at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater residence in 2011, artistic duo Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero plan to illuminate the “structural minimalism and transparency” of the house in a way that would offer a new perspective of the modern masterpiece.
Check out a video of the proposed light show and Luftwerk’s work at Fallingwater, after the break...
Where do you receive inspiration? Nalina Moses asked the question to nine contemporary residential architects, asking each to choose one residence that had left an impression on them. The following answers were first published on the AIA’s website in the article “Homing Instinct."
When nine accomplished residential architects were asked to pick a house—any house—that has left the greatest impression on them as designers, most of their choices ran succinctly along the canon of American or European Modern architecture. Two—Alvar Aalto’s Villa Mairea and Pierre Chareau’s La Maison de Verre—were even tapped twice.
If the houses these designers chose weren’t surprising, the reasons they chose them were. Rather than groundbreaking style or technologies, what they cited were the moments of comfort, excitement, and refinement they offered: the restful proportions of a bedroom, the feel of a crafted wood handrail, an ocean view unfolding beyond an outdoor stair.
Richard Kelly illuminated some of the twentieth century’s most iconic buildings: the Glass House, Seagram Building and Kimbell Art Museum, to name a few. His design strategy was surprisingly simple, but extremely successful.
Lighting for architecture has been and still often is dominated by an engineering viewpoint, resigned to determining sufficient illuminance levels for a safe and efficient working environment. With a background in stage lighting, Kelly introduced a scenographic perspective for architectural lighting. His point of view might look self-evident to today’s architectural community, but it was revolutionary for his time and has strongly influenced modern architecture.
Read more about Richard Kelly’s remarkable, and unsung, contribution to architecutre, after the break.
This review of Detlef Mertins' book "Mies" - by Thomas de Monchaux - originally appeared in Metropolis Magazine as "Mies Reconsidered". According to de Monchaux, Mertins reveals the modernist master as a voracious reader who interpreted a wide variety of influences to arrive at his stripped-down style.
The quintessential page of the 528 that make up Detlef Mertins’s monumental new monograph on Ludwig Mies van der Rohe—entitled simply Mies (Phaidon, 2014)—is 155. There, you will find a reproduction, a page within a page, of page 64 of Romano Guardini’s 1927 book Letters from Lake Como—a book about modernity and human subjectivity—with Mies’s own annotations penciled in the margins, in a surprisingly ornate and delicate hand.
And there, you will find Mertins’s notes on Mies’s notes on Guardini: “Of all the books in Mies’s library, Guardini’s Letters is the most heavily marked. Mies highlighted passage after passage with bold and rapid margin strokes and wrote key words diagonally and in large script across the first pages of many of the chapters: Haltung (stance), Erkenntnis (knowledge), Macht (power).” Mertins’s vivid marginality, his attention to the divine details along edges, recalls the experience of reading the Talmud, that commentary on Jewish law and scripture in which, by marking and emending earlier readers’ marks and emendations, generations of rabbis enacted an intimate conversation across time and space.
Read on for more insight into Mies' influences.
In the year 1940, Armour Institute and Lewis Institute merged in Chicago to create the Illinois Institute of Technology. The merging of these two schools called for a new master plan for the university, and Mies van der Rohe was commissioned for the job. Mies’ plan for the IIT campus was one of the largest projects he ever conceived and he developed it for twenty years. Today the campus contains 20 of his works, including the famous Crown Hall. Enjoy the video and don't forget to check our AD Classics on the IIT Master Plan and Buildings.
When emigrating from Germany in 1938 to head Chicago’s Armour Institute, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was challenged with two tasks: first reform the schools curriculum to his “back-to-basics” approach and then develop plans for a newly expanded 120-acre campus for the creation of Illinois Institute of Technology, a product of the Armour Institute and Lewis Institute merger. Mies was able to exceed both challenges and the outcomes have had a lasting influence on Chicago and modernism for the past 75 years. In celebration of this legacy and Mies’ 127th birthday, IIT was complied this comprehensive video that features Mies’ contribution to the modern landscape of their campus and city.