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Meet Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a Pioneer of Modernist Architecture

Written by Kelly Weimert on Wednesday, March 27th, 2019 at 4:06am.

Source: miessociety.org

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, commonly referred to as Mies, was a German-American architect who, along with architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Gropius, is considered among the pioneers of modernist architecture. Mies began his career as an apprentice at the Peter Behrens’ design studio where he learned design theories and techniques working alongside the likes of Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius.

After years spent honing his design chops with prominent architects and designers, Mies became the director of famed German art and architecture school, Bauhaus. However, Nazism ultimately closed the school, leading him to move to the United States. Once in the U.S., Mies accepted a position as head of the architecture program at the Armour Institute of Technology in Chicago, now called the Illinois Institute of Technology.

During his career, Mies aimed to establish an architectural style that represents modern times, focusing on clarity and simplicity. He believed that architecture should blur the line between the interior and exterior, negating the feeling of being completely enclosed. His buildings incorporated modern materials, like plate glass and industrial steel, to create minimal structures with expansive, open floor plans that maximize spatial utility.

Mies worked for over 30 years as an American architect, creating prominent buildings in Chicago and beyond that are still very much revered today.

Chicago Federal Complex - Chicago

Chicago Federal Complex Chicago Mies van der Rohe
Source: connectingthewindycity.com

The Chicago Federal Complex includes three buildings of various sizes: the mid-rise Everett McKinley Dirksen Building, the high-rise John C. Kluczynski Building, and the single-story Post Office Building. Mies designed the complex with structural framing comprised of high-tensile bolted steel and concrete.


Farnsworth House - Chicago

Farnsworth House Chicago Mies van der Rohe
Source: wikipedia.org

Built in 1951, Mies designed the Farnsworth House as a weekend retreat for Dr. Edith Farnsworth. Exploring the relationship between people and nature, the house includes a glass pavilion that’s elevated six feet above a floodplain, surrounded by forest and prairies.


860-880 Lake Shore Drive - Chicago

860 880 Lake Shore Drive Chicago Mies van der Rohe
Source: wikipedia.org

860-880 Lake Shore Drive includes four high-rise apartment buildings that Mies designed for developer Herbert Greenwald. The towers feature steel and glass facades with an open and expansive ground-floor configuration that Mies would incorporate into many future designs.


S.R. Crown Hall - Chicago

SR Crown Hall Chicago Mies van der Rohe
Source: arch.iit.edu

Home to the Illinois Institute of Technology's College of Architecture, S.R. Crown Hall was pegged by Time Magazine as "one of the world's most influential, inspiring, and astonishing structures." The National Historic Landmark features an open, column-free main floor plan that illustrates Mies' penchant for creating highly adaptable, universal spaces.


National Gallery - Berlin

National Gallery Berlin by Mies van der Rohe
Source: berlinpass.com

Mies’ last work was the New National Gallery in Berlin. The building is considered the epitome of Mies’ architectural style, with an upper pavilion featuring precisely composed steel columns and an overhanging roof plane with a glass enclosure. The simple pavilion, with its transparent walls, expresses Mies' belief that interior spaces should be flexible and expansive.


Fun Facts About Mies

    • Mies is responsible for coining the phrase “less is more”
    • He dubbed his designs as “skin and bones” architecture
    • "Miesian" is a term used to describe architecture that was inspired by or built in Mies' style
    • Mies was also a modern furniture designer, creating finely-crafted pieces that mix traditional luxe fabrics with modern chrome frames


Looking for a home with the "Miesian" feel? Check out our curated list of Mid-Century Modern homes for sale near you.

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