Happy birthday mies van der rohe. 1886 – 1969
mies was born in aachen, germany, on march 27, 1886. he worked and trained with his father, a master stonemason. at 19 he moved to berlin, worked for bruno paul, the art nouveau architect and furniture designer. at 20 he received his first independent commission, to plan a house for a philosopher (alois riehl). in 1908 he began working for the architect peter behrens. he studied the architecture of the prussian karl friedrich schinkel and frank lloyd wright.he opened his own office in berlin in 1912, and married in 1913.
after world war I, he studied the skyscraper and designed two innovative steel-framed towers encased in glass. one of them was friedrichstrasse skyscraper, designed in 1921 for a competition. it was never built, although it drew critical praise and foreshadowed his skyscraper designs of the late 40s and 50s.
in 1921, when his marriage ended he changed his name, adding the dutch ‘van der’ and his mother’s maiden name, ‘rohe’: ludwig mies became ludwig mies van der rohe.
in the 20s mies was active in a number of the berlin avant-garde circles ( the magazine ‘G’ the ‘novembergruppe’, ‘zehner ring’, and ‘arbeitsrat für kunst’) that supported modern art and architecture along with artists like hans richter, el lissitzky, and theo van doesburg, among others. during this period he made major contributions to the architectural philosophies of the late 1920s and 1930s he made as artistic director of the werkbund-sponsored weissenhof project, a model housing colony in stuttgart. the modern apartments and houses were designed by leading european architects, including a block by mies.
in 1927 he designed one of his most famous buildings, the german pavilion at the international exposition 1929 in barcelona. this small hall, known as the barcelona pavilion (he designed the famous chrome and leather ‘barcelona chair’), had a flat roof supported by columns. the pavilion’s internal walls, made of glass and marble, could be moved around as they did not support the structure. the concept of fluid space with a seamless flow between indoors and outdoors was further explored in other projects he designed for decades to come. mies began working with lilly reich, who remained his collaborator and companion for more than ten years.
barcelona pavilion, 1929.
an early masterpiece.
in 1930, mies met new york architect philip johnson, who included several of his projects in MoMA’s first architecture exhibition held in 1932, ‘modern architecture: international exhibition’, thanks to which mies’s work began to be known in the united states.
in the 30s, none of his designs were built due to sweeping economic and political changes overtaking germany. he was director of the bauhaus school from 1930 until its disbandment in 1933, shut down under pressure from the new nazi government. he moved to the united states in 1937. from 1938 to 1958 he was head of the architecture department at the armour institute of technology in chicago, later renamed the illinois institute of technology.
mies and crown hall at iit, home of the college of architecture
in the 40s, mies was asked to design a new campus for the school, a project in which he continued to refine his steel-and-glass style. he had also formed a new relationship with chicago artist lora marx that would last for the rest of his life. during this period he would become an american citizen and established professionally.
in 1944 he designed one of his most famous buildings, a small weekend retreat outside chicago, a transparent box framed by eight exterior steel columns. the ‘farnsworth house’ is one of the most radically minimalist houses ever designed. its interior, a single room, is subdivided by partitions and completely enclosed in glass.
philip johnson, seagram building.
in the 50s mies realized his dream of building a glass skyscraper. the ‘ twin towers’ in chicago were completed in 1951, followed by other high-rises in chicago, new york, detroit, toronto, culminating in 1954 with the ‘seagram’ building in new york, hailed as a masterpiece of skyscraper design. he also continued to develop a concept of open, flexible space on a much larger scale: in 1953, he developed the convention hall, innovative was the structural system that spanned large distances. in 1959 mies is bestowed the ‘orden pour le merite’ (germany) and in 1963 the ‘presidential medal of freedom’ (USA).
in 1962, he was invited to design the ‘new national gallery’ in berlin. his design for this building achieved his long-held vision of an exposed steel structure that directly connected interior space to the landscape. he returned to berlin several times while the gallery was under construction, but was unable to attend the opening in 1968.
he died in chicago on august 17, 1969. [ mies van der rohe society ] [ 2011: 125th birthday party at iit ] [ farnsworth house ] [ barcelona chair deconstructed ]