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Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (born Maria Ludwig Michael Mies; March 27, 1886 – August 17, 1969) was a German-American architect. He is commonly referred to and was addressed as Mies, his surname. Along with Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, he is widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of modern architecture.
Mies van der Rohe, like many of his post-World War I contemporaries, sought to establish a new architectural style that could represent modern times just as Classical and Gothic did for their own eras. He created an influential twentieth-century architectural style, stated with extreme clarity and simplicity. His mature buildings made use of modern materials such as industrial steel and plate glass to define interior spaces. He strove toward an architecture with a minimal framework of structural order balanced against the implied freedom of free-flowing open space. He called his buildings “skin and bones” architecture. He sought a rational approach that would guide the creative process of architectural design, but he was always concerned with expressing the spirit of the modern era. He is often associated with his quotation of the aphorisms, “less is more” and “God is in the details”.
Mies van der Rohe began his independent professional career designing upper-class homes, joining the movement seeking a return to the purity of early nineteenth-century Germanic domestic styles. He admired the broad proportions, regularity of rhythmic elements, attention to the relationship of the man-made to nature, and compositions using simple cubic forms of the early nineteenth century Prussian Neo-Classical architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. He rejected the eclectic and cluttered classical styles so common at the turn of the twentieth century as irrelevant to the modern times.
After World War I, Mies van der Rohe began, while still designing traditional neoclassical homes, a parallel experimental effort. He joined his avant-garde peers in the long-running search for a new style that would be suitable for the modern industrial age. The weak points of traditional styles had been under attack by progressive theorists since the mid-nineteenth century, primarily for the contradictions of hiding modern construction technology with a facade of ornamented traditional styles.
While continuing his traditional neoclassical design practice Mies began to develop visionary projects that, though mostly unbuilt, rocketed him to fame as an architect capable of giving form that was in harmony with the spirit of the emerging modern society. Boldly abandoning ornament altogether, Mies made a dramatic modernist debut with his stunning competition proposal for the faceted all-glass Friedrichstraße skyscraper in 1921, followed by a taller curved version in 1922 named the Glass Skyscraper.
Mies van der Rohe continued with a series of pioneering projects, culminating in his two European masterworks: the temporary German Pavilion for the Barcelona exposition (often called the Barcelona Pavilion) in 1929 (a 1986 reconstruction is now built on the original site) and the elegant Villa Tugendhat in Brno, Czech Republic, completed in 1930.
Mies van der Rohe joined the German avant-garde, working with the progressive design magazine G which started in July 1923. He developed prominence as architectural director of the Werkbund, organizing the influential Weissenhof Estate prototype modernist housing exhibition. Mies van der Rohe was also one of the founders of the architectural association Der Ring. He joined the avant-garde Bauhaus design school as their director of architecture, adopting and developing their functionalist application of simple geometric forms in the design of useful objects. He served as its last director.
Like many other avant-garde architects of the day, Mies van der Rohe based his architectural mission and principles on his understanding and interpretation of ideas developed by theorists and critics who pondered the declining relevance of the traditional design styles. He selectively adopted theoretical ideas such as the aesthetic credos of Russian Constructivism with their ideology of “efficient” sculptural assembly of modern industrial materials. Mies found appeal in the use of simple rectilinear and planar forms, clean lines, pure use of color, and the extension of space around and beyond interior walls expounded by the Dutch De Stijl group. In particular, the layering of functional sub-spaces within an overall space and the distinct articulation of parts as expressed by Gerrit Rietveld appealed to Mies van der Rohe.
The design theories of Adolf Loos found resonance with Mies, particularly the ideas of replacing elaborate applied artistic ornament with the straightforward display of innate visual qualities of materials and forms. Loos had proposed that art and crafts should be entirely independent of architecture, that the architect should no longer control those cultural elements as the Beaux Arts principles had dictated. Mies also admired his ideas about the nobility that could be found in the anonymity of modern life.
The bold work of American architects was greatly admired by European architects. Like other architects who viewed the exhibitions of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wasmuth Portfolio, Mies was enthralled with the free-flowing spaces of inter-connected rooms which encompass their outdoor surroundings as demonstrated by the open floor plans of the Wright’s American Prairie Style. American engineering structures were also held up to be exemplary of the beauty possible in functional construction, and its skyscrapers were greatly admired.