Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig

Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig
born Ludwig Mies (1886-1969)
   architect; deemed the best builder of his generation. Born to a master mason in Aachen, he added his mother's family name, van der Rohe," to his own when he began his career. Combining a rudimentary education with his father's train-ing in building materials, he assisted on construction projects and thereafter counseled that "education must begin with the practical side of life." At fifteen he attached himself to some architects in Aachen and in 1905 took an appren-ticeship with Berlin's* Bruno Paul, a furniture designer influenced by Jugendstil. When Peter Behrens* hired him in 1908, he polished his education under Ger-many's foremost modern architect. While Miles was lured by his employer's monumental, neoclassical style, he was especially inspired by Behren's ideas on industrial design. Although Behrens assigned him to supervise one of his better-known projects—the German embassy in St. Petersburg—Mies opened his own Berlin office in 1912. Before World War I he designed a palatial home near The Hague in Holland and several neoclassical villas around Berlin. As an en-listed man, he spent the war building bridges and roads in the Balkans.
   At war's end Mies returned to Berlin and joined the Novembergruppe.* Lead-ing its architectural section, he arranged exhibits of advanced architectural con-cepts that included his own skyscraper ideas. He discarded neoclassicism and was soon designing the glass, steel, and reinforced-concrete structures for which he became famous. His shift to towers of glass laid the basis for the skyscrapers built over the next several decades. What distinguished his work from that of contemporaries was an ability to produce giant architectural designs of over-whelming precision and simplicity. Long before it became a motto, he coined his saying less is more." Yet because of Germany's precarious economic sit-uation, he was unable to design a single important building by the mid-1920s.
   From 1925 Mies joined several well-publicized projects, including brick villas and low-cost housing projects. His 1926 monument to Karl Liebknecht* and Rosa Luxemburg* triggered appointment as vice president of the German Werk-bund, an organization devoted since 1907 to integrating art and industry. As director of the Werkbund's 1927 Stuttgart exhibition, he oversaw the Weissenhof development, a project that included several blocks of buildings by Mies, Beh-rens, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius,* J.J.P. Oud (a leading Dutch architect), Bruno Taut,* and Victor Bourgeois (a Belgian modernist). In contrast to his colleagues, Mies was less focused on social questions than on aesthetic issues. His Stuttgart success led the Republic to hire him to design the German pavilion for the 1929 International Exposition at Barcelona. A glass-tower project, the pavilion was praised for its purity and perfection; many still esteem it the most beautiful modern building ever constructed. In 1930 he became director of the Bauhaus.* He found a school plagued by chaos; his iron-handed authority soon reestablished a respected Kunstgewerbeschule. Threatened in 1932 by a growing NSDAP presence, he moved the school from Dessau to Berlin. After Hitler's* seizure of power, Mies struggled to maintain the Bauhaus, but finally closed it in July 1933.
   Mies worked in Berlin until 1937, designing homes and projects that rarely went beyond his remarkable sketches; his flat-roofed buildings were anathema to the Nazis. In 1937 he went to Chicago to lead the Illinois Institute of Tech-nology's architecture school (then the Armour Institute). Remaining until his death, he trained many of America's best architects. Despite his time with the Novembergruppe, he was quite unpolitical. After World War II, when he was told that an architect of some repute had remained in Nazi Germany, Mies retorted that he could give a damn about the man's politics; what concerned him was the fact that he was a rotten architect!
   REFERENCES:Blake, Master Builders; Blaser, Mies van der Rohe; Drexler, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; Schulze, Mies van der Rohe.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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