Furniture Designer: Born March 27, 1886 in Aachen, Germany, as Ludwig Mies, he is known as one of the foundering masters of Modern Architecture. He looked for rational design expressed through a minimum of materials allowing the structure to define the space. Using modern materials, he defined open interior spaces with industrial steel and plate glass. With the idea that buildings should be “skin and bones” architecture he is famous for the observations, “less is more” and “God is in the details”.
Beginning his understanding of design he worked at his father’s stone-carving shop along with some local design firms before moving to Berlin to work at the office of interior designer Bruno Paul.
His architectural apprenticeship began in Peter Behrens studio where he stayed from 1908 to 1912. Here he worked alongside Walter Gropius, founder of the famous Bauhaus and Le Corbusier, famous in their own right as leaders of the Modernist Design Movement.
It was during this time that his talent as a designer was recognized by Berlin’s cultural elite who began to provide him with independent commissions. Seeking to distinguish himself from his tradesman’s beginning he added “van der” and his mother’s surname “Rohe” to his name becoming Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
As he began to design upper class homes, he shunned the day’s common use of eclectic and cluttered classical styles and instead embraced the simplicity of early Nineteenth Century German domestic styles characterized by broad proportions, incorporation of rhythmic elements along with an awareness of manmade to natural materials following Karl Schinkel’s use of simple cubic volumes.
World War I and its aftermath led to a re-examination of architects of that time wishing for their built projects to typify an expression of a new social order rather than an out-dated and discredited social system. Progressive in their thinking, they looked to architectural solutions that incorporated rational problem-solving expressed through materials and structure rather than a disconnected ornate façade layered over the structure of the building.
As Mies continued to experiment in this direction, his architectural design became known as a leader in giving expression to the spirit of this new emerging modern society.
It was in 1921, that he abandoned completely his traditional neoclassical designs and produced the all glass Friedrichstrabe skyscraper. This was followed by an even taller version ,the Glass Skyscraper in 1922.
After his next two projects the German Pavilion for the Barcelona exposition, 1929 and an elegant villa in Brno, Czech Republic, 1930, he found his commission opportunities dwindle after the worldwide depression after 1929. Though he served briefly as the last director for his friend’s Walter Gropius Bauhaus, it was closed in 1933 due to Nazi pressure. They decided that both the school and his architectural style to not be “German” in character.
Discontent to remain, he relocated to Chicago, Illinois to serve as the head of Chicago’s Armour Institute of Technology (later renamed the Illinois Institute of Technology – ITT). Here, he would develop the Second School of Chicago influencing the architectural community in North America and Europe for decades to come.
He designed new buildings for the school’s campus most notably Crown Hall as well as the residential towers of 860-880 Lake Shore Drive, the Chicago Federal Center complex, the Farnsworth House and the Seagram Building in New York.
Exploring the relationship between materials and structure, he strove to define a building with as little ornamentation as possible allowing materials to express themselves.
Along with his impressive body of architectural works he also designed modern furniture pieces incorporating his design ideas of modernity. Using new industrial technologies he produced the “Barcelona” chair and table, the “Brno” chair and the “Tugendhat” chair. Working closely with the interior designer and his companion, Lilly Reich he mixed high end materials like leather with chrome frames that employed structural elements similar to that of a building. His use of cantilevering connections allowed for a feeling of lightness reinforced by delicate structural frames much as the same design techniques he employed in revealing the interior space of The Farnsworth House.
Remaining in Chicago throughout his career in the United States, he died on August 17, 1969. The main body of his work is on display at the Museum of Modern Art as well in the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago.