Posted on November 9, 2008 - by

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Mies Van Der Rohe

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
(1886-1969)

Birthplace: Aachen, Germany

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe started out working in stonemasonry with his father, then at age 19 he took an apprenticeship with the art nouveau furniture designer, Bruno Paul, in Berlin. In 1908 his career led him to the office of Peter Behrens, an architect whose designs are widely regarded to have predated their time, paving the way for the modern movement.

Van der Rohe set up his own Berlin office in 1912, then following WW1 he took to the study  of skyscraper construction. He designe two glass-encased, steel-framed towers, one of which was the Friedrichstrasse skyscraper, which he designed in 1921 for a competition. The project was never realised but the innovative design earned him critical recognition and was the perfect foundation for his future career in architecture.

The avant-garde circles of 1920s Berlin were a great appeal to Van der Rohe, he joined several organisations that were in support of modern art and architecture, such as the ‘Novembergruppe’ and ‘Arbeitsrat für Kunst’. These affiliations led to his appointment as artistic director of the Werkbund-sponsored Weissenhof project, a housing complex of modern apartments in Stuttgart, designed by the leading European architects of the time.

Van der Rohe then went on to design the German Pavilion for the 1929 Barcelona Exposition, for which he also conceived the hugely iconic and still highly desirable, chrome and leather ‘Barcelona chair’. To this today Knoll International still own the rights to produce Van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair, stool and day bed under license. Quite simply, if it isn’t made by Knoll, it’s a copy.

After meeting New York architect Philip Johnson in 1930, a collection of Van der Rohe’s designs were featured at the New York Museum of Modern Art’s first architecture exhibition in 1932, introducing his work to the American public. Soon the German economic and political climate soured so severely that none of Van der Rohe’s designs were built during the 1930s. From 1930 he worked as Director of the Bauhaus school, until it was shut down by the Nazis in 1933 for being ‘degenerate’.

With little opportunity left for him in Germany, and to avoid further oppression of his work, Van der Rohe emigrated to the U.S. and set up a practice in Chicago in 1937. From there he worked on projects such as the awe-inspiring steel-and-glass structure of the Illinois Institute of Technology campus, where he was the Director of Architecture from 1938 to 1958.

After attaining American citizenship he began working on the ‘Farnsworth House’. This transparent box framed by eight exterior steel columns, built just outside Chicago, was conceived as a weekend retreat destination for city residents. Thought to be one of the most extreme examples of minimalist house building in history, it is made up of a single room, enclosed entirely in glass subdivided by partitions. Throughout the 50s Van der Rohe developed on this style of open, flexible space and took it to a far greater scale, leading him eventually to design the glass skyscrapers of the Chicago ‘Twin Towers’. Further high rises followed in Toronto and Detroit, and finally in 1954 came the ‘Seagram’ building in New York, which is universally regarded as a masterpiece of modern architecture.

With his 1962 design for the new Berlin National Gallery, Van der Rohe achieved his ambition of creating a steel structure that could connect interior space to the outside landscape. While the gallery was being built he visited the Berlin site on many occasions but was ultimately not able to attend the 1968 opening due to ill health. He died in Chicago on August 17th 1969.

Find Me The Original Barcelona Chair Video

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