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Mies van der Rohe 1886 - 1969

“The long path from material through function to creative work has only one goal: to create order out of the desperate confusion of our time.”

Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe

Mies van der Rohe, also known as Ludwig, who was born in Aachen Germany, is regarded as one of the most pioneering and respected Architects of the modern movement in the 20th Century.

Political and World events led Mies to leave Germany during the rise of the Nazi party and leave for the USA, where his architectural form was allowed to flourish and develop into the style that he is known for to this day.

His education and development as a major architect was influenced by two other notable Modern Architects, Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier whom he met at the offices of Peter Behrens during his time working on the construction and design of the AEG Turbine Factory in Berlin, Germany.

During the 1920s while he was still in Germany, he became the director of the Bauhaus School of Art, Architecture and Design in 1930. When Mies took over, the School was under increasing political pressure from the Nazi party, eventually leading to its closure in 1933 and for Mies to leave Germany and resettle in Chicago.

Mies's style embraced the needs of the developing industrial age by rejecting the fussy unnecessary decorative forms of the Beaux Arts that dominated many public buildings across Europe and the USA during the 19th and early 20th Century.

Mies had already started working on the question of mass housing for expanding cities and had created a proposed two glass and steel skyscraper in 1921 and 1922 that would not look outdated if they were both constructed today. The projects themselves were never completed for various reasons, but plans and mock ups of the projects exist.

Glass Skyscraper Project 1922, concept building for a site in Berlin
Friedrichstrasse Skyscraper Project 1921 - Modelmakers Richard Sturgeon, Derek Conde, Von Robinson, John Utley © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Before establishing himself in the USA as a predominant force in modern architecture, he designed the Barcelona Pavillion. A building that at the time was not recognised as the architectural masterpiece that it is seen today, further details of this can be found in the link above.

Work in the USA

Mies moved to the USA in 1937, where his most notable work and influence on Modern Architecture was established. He was quickly successful in obtaining the post of director of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Architecture, a position he held for over 20 years.

Style and Construction

Mies rejection of unnecessary ornamentation continued throughout his career, his use of open framed, exposed steel girders, specifically I beams dominated the majority of his work, and used the concept to build the framed construction into the style of the building making it part of its fabric as well as its frame.

Axonometric Projection of the Farnsworth House clearly showing Mies I Beam Construction that dominated his building design throughout his career

Mies simplified his design principles down to the following rules :-

Simple architectural design using a few formal elements.

Simplicity seen inside as well as outside the buildings design.

Logical construction principles influenced by the materials used, mostly glass, steel

and brickwork.

Seagram Building

Although Mies van der Rohe made a number of landmark buildings throughout his career, one building stands out as being more influential in Architectural circles and having had more of an impact in how modern cities have evolved though the mid to late 2oth century.

Completed in 1958, the Seagram Building was Mies van der Rohes first attempt at office building construction and over time became the blueprint for successive modern skyscrapers.

Amongst its notable features, one predominant one being the steel and non glass framed curtain wall construction, is the way Mies set the building back from the main street by the use of a plaza set 100 feet back from the street edge. By doing this, Mies distinguished the buildings orientation to the rest of the surrounding architecture.

I Beam use on the external surfaces of the Seagram showing they are only decorative and non load bearing

Mies also used the use of vertical I beams on the external drops of the building, illustrated above, although building regulations stipulated that all structural steel should be protected with fireproof concrete.

Building Aesthetics

International style of design and aesthetics require a uniform style to the building, therefore the office window blinds were designed to be lowered in 3 positions, fully open, half open and fully closed to avoid irregularity,

At the time of completion in 1958, it was the most expensive skyscraper in the world due to its use of expensive materials including marble, bronze and travertine limestone

In conclusion, throughout his career Mies expanded the Modernist definition with very specific construction techniques, the use of steel framed buildings with external glass sheeting to create a light and functional style of architecture. He also delighted in the use of lavish and expensive materials, ones that appear not to serve any structural purpose apart from decorate which is against the purist form of Modern Architecture. However, purism within an aesthetic style especially Modern Architecture has its downside, for this reason, copy cat buildings of the Seagram Building developed the reputation of representing an upended shoebox look, which repeated itself across many cities in the USA and world throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

But there can be no doubt that Mies van der Rohes contribution to Modern Architecture has been to shape the Modern City that we all know and recognise today.

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