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.
In 2013 the former IBM Building in Chicago, Mies van der Rohe’s last completed skyscraper, underwent a significant renovation as a part of the tower was converted into a hotel. In this article, originally published in Blueprint issue #338 as “Lobbying for Mies van der Rohe,” Anthea Gerrie catches up with Dirk Lohan – the Chicago architect who helped his grandfather design the building nearly 50 years ago, and who was called back in to design the new hotel’s entrance lobby.
“It’s not very Mies,” says Dirk Lohan dubiously, in one of the great understatements of the year. We are standing in the double-height reception hall of the Langham Chicago hotel with what looks like dozens of multicoloured glass balloons swimming above us and a mirror-glass frieze adding to a cacophony of glitz and dazzle.
It is indeed the very antithesis of the aesthetic of the architect known for the phrase “less is more”. But then the audacious idea of converting an office building by the most functionalist of architects into a five-star hotel was always going to be problematic.
On the surface, Mies van der Rohe‘s minimalist linear designs have little in common with the kitsch of vernacular architecture in the German countryside. Enter Joachim Brohm, who rose to prominence in the 1980s as one of the first European architecture photographers to work in colour, and now in a current exhibition draws an unexpected parallel between van der Rohe’s designs for the unrealized Krefeld Golf Club in Germany and the rudimentary constructions of vernacular post-war architecture.
In “Vernacular & Modern,” the latest exhibition at London‘s Grimaldi Gavin gallery, two of Brohm’s photo series are juxtaposed to create a new narrative on architectural context. In Typology 1979, Brohm documents a series of vernacular houses in Ruhr, Germany; while in Mies Model Study, Brohm enters the temporary installation of van der Rohe’s unbuilt golf club through a life-size model. Together, the two series contrast the highly aestheticized minimalist world of Mies van der Rohe with highly functional buildings of necessity in the German countryside.
Find the connection between vernacular and van der Rohe after the break
To celebrate the first anniversary of our US Materials Catalog, this week ArchDaily is presenting a three-part series on “Material Masters,” showing how certain materials have helped to inspire some of the world’s greatest architects.
Mies van der Rohe, famous for his saying “less is more,” was one of the preeminent modernist architects, well known for pioneering the extensive use of glass in buildings. His works introduced a new level of simplicity and transparency, and his buildings were often referred to as “skin-and-bones” architecture for their emphasis on steel structure and glass enclosure. In addition to Mies van der Rohe, glass was a major influence for many architects of the modernist movement and reshaped the way we think about and define space. Today, glass has become one of the most used building materials, but its early architectural expression is perhaps best exemplified in the works of Mies.
Bauhaus, the school of design established by Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919, has arguably been the most influential of any institution in shaping the trajectory of modern architecture. Out of this single school came an entire movement that would have lasting effects on architectural pedagogy and the design of everything from buildings to road signs. Born out of a larger cultural movement following Germany’s defeat in World War I which left the country ripe for regrowth without the previous constraints imposed by censorship, the core of Bauhaus philosophy were the principles of craftsmanship and mass production, which allowed for the movement’s rapid proliferation and a production model that would later inform contemporary design companies such as Ikea. Check out the infographic from Aram below to learn more about the movement, tracking the school from its origins in Weimar, via its canonical Gropius-designed home in Dessau, to its continuing legacy today.
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, Chicago. In this chapter, Sharoff and Zbaren provide a more detailed look into the period between 1965 and 1975, when Mies’s influence on Chicago’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.
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.
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.
In this 2009 lecture titled “Fabricating Ideology and Architectural Education,” 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:
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 real estate 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.
“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 Turner. Read on to learn about her influential life in architecture.
Congratulations on your Golden Lion 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?
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 London’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?
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…
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
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.