Last Is More: The Miesian Lesson

Courtesy of The Images Publishing Group

The following is an excerpt from Last Is More: Mies, IBM and the Transformation of Chicago. The Langham Hospitality Group commissioned architectural photojournalists Robert Sharoff and William Zbaren to document the transformation of eminent architect Mies van der Rohe‘s IBM Building — the last skyscraper he designed — into The Langham, . In this chapter, Sharoff and Zbaren provide a more detailed look into the period between 1965 and 1975, when Mies’s influence on ’s skyline was at its most pervasive.

The construction of the IBM Building occurred midway through a legendary period in Chicago architecture—the decadelong building boom between 1965 and 1975, when Mies’s influence on the city’s skyline was at its most pervasive.

During these years, numerous Miesian structures by firms such as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, C. F. Murphy Associates, and Loebl, Schlossman & Bennett were erected, and the city’s reputation as the founder of American modernism was finally and firmly established. The best of those buildings continue to dominate the skyline.

Invisible Cities and the Curtain Wall: The Last Remnant of Modernism

The National September 11 Memorial entry pavilion appears camouflaged against the backdrop of neighbouring glass curtain walls. Image © Joe Woolhead

Few of the architectural principles developed in the 20th century have been as widely accepted as the curtain wall, with the technology going from an implied feature of Le Corbusier’s Five Points of Architecture to the go-to facade treatment of architects worldwide. In this article, originally published on Australian Design Review as “Invisible Cities – The Last Remnant of Modernism,” Annabel Koeck argues that the curtain wall, initially prized for its glassy transparency, is now making buildings and even entire cities invisible thanks to its sheer ubiquity – at the expense of architectural expression.

Norwegian architects Snøhetta, based between Oslo and New York, designed the glass structure for the The National September 11 Memorial entry pavilion, which appears camouflaged against the backdrop of neighbouring glass curtain walls that define the New York skyline. Admittedly, Snøhetta’s pavilion was conceived by a very different brief, one defined by timidity and subtlety; yet paradoxically it was the curtain wall that facilitated this. Looking over the South Pool towards an array of glazed elevations that dominate the skyline it is ironic that a Modernist technique – the curtain wall – could now spell the end for architectural diversity in cities.

Luftwerk to Illuminate Mies’ Farnsworth House this Weekend

© Kate Joyce, Courtesy of Luftwerk

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.

David Chipperfield’s “Sticks and Stones” Toys with Van Der Rohe’s Bones in Berlin

© Gili Merin

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.

ArchDaily’s Most Useful Articles of All Time

As summer draws to an end and we enter into the last quarter of 2014, we decided to round-up a selection of the most useful we’ve published over the past three years. Ranging from The 40 Architecture Documentaries to Watch in 2014 to The 10 Most Overlooked Women in Architectural History, we’ve also brought together app guides, career tips, and city guides. Alongside links to open-source files and cut-out people, we’ve also featured book recommendations, study tips, and links to our complete coverage of some of the world’s major architectural events and prizes. Delve into our collection and discover what our readers have found most useful!

The Berlage Archive: Elia Zenghelis (2001)

In this 2001 lecture titled “Architecture is Propaganda,” seminal architect, educator, and co-founder of OMA Elia Zenghelis discusses the development of ideologies that shape architectural discourse vis-a-vis architectural education. Arguing that architectural education is motivated by religious, socio-political, and economic principles, Zenghelis makes the case that the war-torn 20th century has been an era of upheaval and conflict, resulting in the loss of historical context and a confused state for artists and architects. Proposing the idea that architecture is a servant of power, and is thus intrinsically intertwined with political and societal trends, Zenghelis urges a return to a contextualized understanding of architectural history in order for contemporary architects to develop a sensitive and nuanced approach to their practice. 

Discussing his relationships and collaborations with former students and colleagues Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, and Peter Eisenman, as well as the political and architectural legacy of such giants as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, Elia Zenghelis provides a compelling conversation about the inherent role of architecture in political discourse.

Don’t miss the other lectures in The Berlage Archive series

Homes You Cannot Live in: The New Cost of Architectural Antiques

The Farnsworth House by Mies Van Der Rohe, 1951. Plano, Illinois. Image Courtesy of

What is the true value of architecture in today’s society? According to this article by Anna Katz, rare pieces of architectural history have recently soared in value. Katz discusses the booming world of architecture at auction, featuring pieces by Mies Van Der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright among others. The article gracefully compares some of the most important architecture of our time against current prices, exploring the catalyst of rising values in architecture of the recent past, while deliberating on the pitfalls of owning a delicate piece of architecture history. Read the story in full on Blouin Art Info.

Interview: Phyllis Lambert on Winning the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement

Phyllis Lambert, 1959, during her studies at the Institute of Technology. Image Courtesy of Ed Duckett

“Architects make architecture; Phyllis Lambert made architects,” Rem Koolhaas said of his decision to award Phyllis Lambert with this year’s Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale. In an interview published on iconeye.com, the website for Icon Magazine, the 87-year-old founding director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) discusses her career, Mies van der Rohe, and the state of contemporary architecture with the editor of Icon, Christopher TurnerRead on to learn about her influential life in architecture.

Congratulations on your for Lifetime Achievement. How did you learn that you’d been awarded the honour?

Thank you very much. I got a phone call from the curator, Rem Koolhaas, telling me and I had to wait for weeks as it went before the board, unable to tell anybody – then I got an official letter. Isn’t it wonderful?

What Can Be Learnt From The Smithsons’ “New Brutalism” In 2014?

Alison and Peter Smithson (year unknown)

Sheffield born Alison Gill, later to be known as Alison Smithson, was one half of one of the most influential Brutalist architectural partnerships in history. On the day that she would be celebrating her 86th birthday we take a look at how the impact of her and Peter Smithson’s architecture still resonates well into the 21st century, most notably in the British Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. With ’s Robin Hood Gardens, one of their most well known and large scale social housing projects, facing imminent demolition how might their style, hailed by Reyner Banham in 1955 as the ”new brutalism”, hold the key for future housing projects?

Luftwerk Launches Kickstarter Campaign to Transform Mies’ Farnsworth House into Visual Spectacular

© Luftwerk

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…

Hydraulic Stilts Considered to Protect Farnsworth House

Mies van der Rohe’s . Image © Greg Robbins

In recent years, Mies van der Rohe‘s famous glass-walled Farnsworth House has been under a grave threat from flooding by the Fox River which runs right past it. In the past 18 years, the house has been flooded three times, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage, and now its owners the National Trust for Historic Preservation are considering plans for a permanent solution – among which is a plan to install hydraulic stilts which would lift the entire house out of harm’s way in the event of a flood.

Read more about the plans after the break

Light Matters: Richard Kelly, The Unsung Master Behind Modern Architecture’s Greatest Buildings

Seagram Building, New York.

Richard Kelly illuminated some of the twentieth century’s most iconic buildings: the 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.

Mies, the Modernist Man of Letters

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

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.

Infographic: The Bauhaus, Where Form Follows Function

UPDATE: In honor of the 81st anniversary of the day the closed in 1933, we’re re-publishing this popular infographic, which was originally published April 16th, 2012.

From the “starchitect” to “architecture for the 99%,” we are witnessing a shift of focus in the field of architecture. However, it’s in the education system where these ideas really take root and grow. This sea change inspired us to explore past movements, influenced by economic shifts, war and the introduction of new technologies, and take a closer look at the bauhaus movement.

Often associated with being anti-industrial, the Arts and Crafts Movement had dominated the field before the start of the Bauhaus in 1919. The Bauhaus’ focus was to merge design with industry, providing well designed products for the many.

The Bauhaus not only impacted design and architecture on an international level, but also revolutionized the way design schools conceptualize education as a means of imparting an integrated design approach where form follows function.

Happy Birthday Mies Van der Rohe!

A big happy birthday goes out to Ludwig (1886-1969), who would have turned 128 years old today. Mies, who studied under influential figures such as Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, helped to develop the most enduring architectural style of the 20th Century: modernism.

Among his most famous accomplishments are his seminal Barcelona Pavilion; his work as the head of The Bauhaus school; and, after the Nazi ascension in Germany forced him to emigrate, his leadership at 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. Mies’s minimalist style proved very popular; his famous aphorism ‘less is more’ is still widely used, even by those who are unaware of its origins. All of this makes him one of the most influential architects of the modernist movement and the 20th century.

ArchDaily logo, 860-880 Lake Shore Drive © ArchDaily

To celebrate him we have changed our logo to a Mies doodle (above) and have rounded up our great Mies coverage of the past. See the extensive list after the break!

Mecanoo, Martinez + Johnson Selected to Redesign Mies’ MLK Memorial Library

© Mecanoo with Martinez + Johnson Architecture

Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has named Mecanoo architecten and Martinez + Johnson Architecture winners of a competition to reinvent ’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library – the only library and D.C. building ever designed by the legendary architect. The Netherlands- and D.C.-based team aims to resurrect the neglected building by improving “Mies in a contemporary Miesian way.” This includes opening up the boxy interiors to enhance flow and increase natural light and, most dramatically, sculpting two rooftop terraces by topping the historic landmark structure with a four-story, mixed-use addition.

We will keep you posted with more details as they come available. In the meantime, scroll through the renderings and presentation that landed Mecanoo and Martinez + Johnson the commission, after the break.

Shortlisted Concepts Unveiled for MLK Jr. Memorial Library Renovation

© STUDIOS Architecture with The Freelon Group

Preliminary designs have been released by three shortlisted teams competing to renovate ’s historic Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in – the only library and D.C. building ever designed by the legendary architect. Preview each proposal and learn how you can submit your feedback to the D.C. Public Library before they make their decision, after the break.

AD Classics: Lafayette Park / Mies van der Rohe

© Jamie Schafer

Situated at the eastern edge of Downtown Detroit, Lafayette Park constitutes the world’s largest collection of buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe. The 78-acre complex was completed in 1959, just after Crown Hall and the Seagram Building. It is not as well known as many Mies projects of that decade, however, many critics argue the project deserves greater recognition. One of the first examples of urban renewal, it is a testament to the development’s design that it remains a vibrant neighborhood more than fifty years after its construction.