Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), a German-born architect and educator, is widely acknowledged as one of the 20th century's greatest architects. By emphasizing open space and revealing the industrial materials used in construction, he helped define modern architecture.

Born in Aachen, Germany, Mies spent the first half of his career in his native country. His early work was mainly residential, and he received his first independent commission, the Riehl House, when he was only 20 years old. Mies quickly became a leading figure in the avant-garde life of Berlin and was widely respected in Europe for his innovative structures, including the Barcelona Pavilion. In 1930, he was named director of the Bauhaus, the renowned German school of experimental art and design, which he led until 1933 when he closed the school under pressure from the Nazi Regime.

In 1938 Mies van der Rohe left Europe for the United States, to become the new director of Armour Institute in Chicago, were he later engaged the Second Chicago School of architecture. Mies' first task as director was to "rationalize" the architecture curriculum. He insisted on a back-to-basics approach to education: Architecture students must first learn to draw, then gain thorough knowledge of the features and use of the builder's materials, and finally master the fundamental principles of design and construction. Mies' second task was to expand the south side campus and was encouraged to develop plans for a newly expanded 120-acre campus. In his final Master Plan he embraced Chicago's rectilinear street grid and designed two symmetrically balanced groups of buildings. Mies' academic buildings stood in sharp contrast to the patrician campuses of the past. They embodied 20th century methods and materials: steel and concrete frames with curtain walls of brick and glass. The Master Plan created an oasis of calm that emulated the openness of the Midwestern prairie in the midst of the chaotic surrounding city. Mies' buildings are both magisterial and harmonious, and they set a new aesthetic standard for modern architecture. Indeed, Mies' designs have so pervaded our definition of architecture that it is difficult to imagine how revolutionary the campus was when it was first built. Mies went on to design some of the nation's most recognizable skyscrapers, including the Lake Shore Drive Apartments in Chicago and the Seagram Building in New York City.

Whether or not you agree with Mies' assertation that less is more, his contribution to the modern urban landscape cannot be overlooked. Mies' architecture has been described as being expressive of the industrial age in the same way that Gothic was expressive of the age of ecclesiasticism.

In 1959, the Royal Institute of British Architects awarded Mies its Gold Medal and the following year he received the AIA Gold Medal, the highest award given by the American Association of Architects. President Lyndon Johnson presented Mies with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963.

It was in 1966 when Mies began suffering from cancer of the esophagus. He died three years later in his adoptive hometown, Chicago. Family surrounded him at his deathbed and, at a memorial service in Crown Hall, the general public stood alongside the leading names in architecture to mourn the architect.

Our built environment is meant to be lived in. Mies' buildings, beyond merely affecting our lives, endow them with greater significance and beauty. His buildings radiate the confidence, rationality, and elegance of their creator and, free of ornamentation and excess, confess the essential elements of our lives. In our time, where there is no limit to excess, Mies' reductionist approach is as pertinent as ever. As we reduce the distractions and focus on the essential elements of our environment and ourselves, we find they are great, intricate, and beautiful. Less is more.

Source: Mies van der Rohe Society

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