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MIES VAN DER ROHE, LUDWIG
MIES VAN DER ROHE, LUDWIG
GERMANY
(March 27, 1886 - August 17, 1969) was an architect and designer.

Career in Germany


Born in Aachen, Germany, he worked in the family stone-carving business before he moved to Berlin and joined the office of Bruno Paul. He entered the studio of Peter Behrens in 1908 and remained until 1912.

A physically imposing, deliberative, and reticent man, Mies renamed himself as part of his transformation from a stonecutter's son to a member of Berlin's cultural elite. In the 1910s and 1920s, under Behrens' influence, Mies developed and pursued the single design approach that would occupy him for the rest of his long career. It was based on advanced structural techniques and Prussian Classicism. He also developed a sympathy for the aesthetic credos of both Russian Constructiviism and the Dutch De Stijl group. He borrowed from the post and lintel construction of Karl Friedrich Schinkel for his designs in steel and glass.

Mies worked with the magazine "G" which started in July 1923. He made major contributions to the architectural philosophies of the late 1920s and 1930s as artistic director of the Werkbund -sponsored Weissenhof project. During this period he designed some seminal buildings, including the Barcelona Pavilion and the elegant Villa Tugendhat in Brno, Czech Republic, now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In the 1930s Mies served briefly as Director of the Bauhaus, at the request of his friend and competitor Watler Gropius, and presided over its closing due to political pressure. He built very little in that decade (his major built commission was Philip Johnson's New York apartment) because of the economic downtown, and he was persona non grata. He fled reluctantly in the late 1930s as he saw the Nazis growing in power. When he arrived in the United States in 1937, he was already well-known.

Career in America

Mies settled in Chicago where he was appointed as head of the architecture school at Chicago's Armour Institute of Technology (later renamed Illinois Institute of Technology - IIT). One of his conditions for taking this position was that he would be able to redesign the campus. Some of his most famous buildings still stand there, including Crown Hall, the home of IIT's School of Architecture.

In 1944, he became a naturalized citizen. From 1946 to 1950 Mies van der Rohe built the Farnsworth House for Dr. Edith Farnsworth, a doctor in Chicago. It was the first home Mies built in the United States. The house is rectangular with eight steel columns set in two parallel rows. Suspended between columns are two concrete slabs (one the floor, the other the roof) and a simple, glass-enclosed living space and porch. All the exterior walls are glass, and the interior is entirely open except for a wood paneled area containing two bathrooms, a kitchen and service facilities. Besides the glass, the building is bright white. (The Farnsworth House is sometimes confused with Philip Johnson's Glass House.)During 1951-1952, Mies designed and built the McCormick House, located in Elmhurst, Illinois (15 miles west of the Chicago Loop), for real-estate developer Robert McCormick as a summer home. Conceptually based on one floor of his famous Lake Shore Drive towers, it served as a prototype for a series of row-hourses to be built in Melrose Park, Illinois, even though they were never realized. The house exisits today as a part of the Elmhurst Art Museum.

In 1958 Mies van der Rohe built what has been regarded as the ultimate expression of the International Style of architecture, the Seagram Building in New York. Mies was chosen by the daughter of the client, Phyllis Bronfman Lamert, who has become an architectural figure in her own right. The Seagram Building is a large glass work, but controversially, the architect chose to set the structure back, include a massive plaza and fountain, and create an open space in Park Avenue. Mies had to argue with the Bronfman's bankers about exploiting all of the plat. More controversially Mies included external I-beams that were not structurally necessary but that 'expressed' the structure, touching off a conversation about whether Mies had or had not committed the crime of ornamentation. Philip Johnson had a role in designing the plaza and the Four Seasons restaurant. The Seagrams Building is said to also be the first major 'fast-track' construction process, when design and construction are done concurrently. Mies designed and built many modern high-rises in Chicago's downtown and elsewhere. Some of his credits include the Federal Building (1959), the IBM Building (1966) and 860-880 Lake Shore Drive (1948-52), the first building to use an all glass and steel curtain wall in its construction, the hallmark of the modern skyscraper. (Ironically, Mies himself lived in a pre-World War II building during his whole residence in Chicago.) Two last major projects were the Toronto-Dominion Centre in 1967 in Toronto, Ontario, the first of the bank skyscrapers to be built in that city, and the Neue Nationalgalerie art museum in Berlin.

Famous for his dictums 'Less is More' and 'God is in the details', Mies attempted to create contemplative, neutral spaces through an architecture based on material honesty and structural integrity. Over the last twenty years of his life, Mies achieved his vision of a monumental 'skin and bone' architecture. His later works provide a fitting denouement to a life dedicated to the idea of a universal, simplified architecture.

One of Mies' grandsons, Dirk Lohan, is also an architect. Lohan designed his grandfather's grave in Graceland Cemetery.