Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Born 1886, Aachen, Germany
Practised in Germany and America
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was born as Maria Ludwig Michael Mies on 27 March 1886, in Aachen, Germany. He was commonly known by his surname, “Mies”.
He first worked in his tradesman father’s stone carving shop and in various design studios before moving to Berlin at age 19, in 1905.
The Berlin years: 1905-1937
In Berlin, he joined the studio of interior designer Bruno Paul. After 3 years, he began his architectural career as an apprentice in Peter Behrens’ architecture studio, where he worked from 1908-1912. By the age of 21 he had completed his first building. During his time with Peter Behrens, he worked with Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius, the latter of which would go on to develop the Bauhaus, the legendary art School. Mies would later be its third and last director.
Early in his career, during his time designing upmarket homes for Berlin’s cultural elite, Mies chose to rename himself as part of his transformation from a tradesman’s son to a rising star professional. He added “van der” and his mother’s maiden name “Rohe” (the word mies means “lousy” in German) and he used the Dutch “van der”, instead of the German form “von”, because the latter was legally restricted for use by those of genuine aristocratic lineage.
In 1913, Mies married Adele Auguste (Ada) Bruhn, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. The couple separated in 1918. He fathered 4 children during the 5-year marriage, the last of which was illegitimate, and could have been the reason for the separation.
In 1925, Mies began a relationship with fellow architect and designer Lilly Reich. The relationship and close collaboration would prove remarkably productive and last until his move to the United States in 1937.
Between 1918 and 1930, his profile and stature as an architect grew in leaps and bounds. He developed visionary and dramatic projects which fueled his rise as an architect, though many of his designs remained unbuilt.
His career in Germany culminated in two masterworks: the German Pavilion for the Barcelona exposition (often called the Barcelona Pavilion) in 1929 (which included the Barcelona chair in 1929) and the Villa Tugendhat in Brno, Czech Republic, which was completed in 1930. Both these projects were collaborations with Lily Reich.
In 1930, he was appointed as the director of architecture at the Bauhaus design school. There, he pioneered the functional application of simple geometric forms in the design of useful objects. He would ultimately serve as its last director, before the Nazis, opposed to modernism and believing it to be a centre of communist intellectualism, closed it down in 1933.
Between 1931 and 1937, Mies built hardly anything for a lack of commissions (Lemke House, Weissensee 1932 being the only known exception). The Nazis’ rejection of modernism and view that Mies’ style of building was not “German” in character, being the main causes. He was eventually forced to leave Germany for the United States of America in 1937.
The US years: 1937 – 1969
Mies settled in Chicago, where he was appointed the head of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in 1938. He would remain at the IIT until 1958.
At the IIT he thrived. He ultimately designed the IIT’s campus master plan and a total of twenty new buildings on campus, all of which still stand to this day.
The pinnacle of his career in America was the completion in 1956 of the S.R. Crown Hall building, which is the home of IIT’s School of Architecture. Crown Hall is widely regarded as his finest work, the definition of Miesian architecture and one of the most architecturally significant buildings of the 20th century Modernist movement.
His efforts in furniture design were mostly a by-product of his architectural work. His furniture is known for its fine craftsmanship and the mix of luxurious fabrics like leather, combined with modern chrome frames. He liked to distinctly separate the supporting structures of his furniture from the surfaces they supported. He often employed cantilevers to enhance the feeling of lightness created by delicate structural frames.
Mies became an American citizen in 1944. He worked from his studio in downtown Chicago for 31 years, before retiring in 1968.
During his career in the US, he designed a number of significant buildings, including the residential towers of 860–880 Lake Shore Dr (Chicago 1951), the Chicago Federal Center complex (Chicago 1974), the Farnsworth House (Plano, Illinois 1951), Crown Hall (Chicago 1956) and other structures at IIT; and the Seagram Building in New York (1958).
By 1961, he had become world-famous and he was designing buildings all over the world.
In light of the closure of the Bauhaus and Mies being driven from Germany for his modernist approach to design, it was poetic that his last building would be the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin’s Museum for Modern Art. The building was a triumph, and Mies had come full circle.
Mies died from oesophagal cancer on August 17, 1969.
With Alvar Aalto, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies is regarded as one of the pioneers of modernist architecture and one of the greatest architects of the 20th century.
Early career in Berlin (1907–1938)
- 1907 Riehl House – Residential Home, Potsdam, Germany
- 1911 Perl House – Residential Home, Zehlendorf
- 1913 Werner House – Residential Home, Zehlendorf
- 1917 Urbig House – Residential Home, Potsdam
- 1922 Kempner House – Residential Home, Charlottenburg
- 1922 Eichstaedt House – Residential Home, Wannsee
- 1922 Feldmann House – Residential Home, Wilmersdorf
- 1923 Ryder House – Residential Home, Wiesbaden
- 1925 Wolf House – Residential Home Guben
- 1926 Mosler House – Residential Home, Babelsberg
- 1926 Revolutionsdenkmal – Monument dedicated to Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde, Berlin
- 1927 Afrikanische Straße Apartments – Multi-Family Residential, Berlin, Germany
- 1927 Weissenhof Estate – Housing Exhibition coordinated by Mies, Stuttgart
- 1928 Haus Lange and Haus Esters – Residential Home and an art museum, Krefeld
- 1929 Barcelona Pavilion – World’s Fair Pavilion, Barcelona, Spain
- 1930 Villa Tugendhat – Residential Home, Brno, Czech Republic, designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2001
- 1930 Verseidag Factory –Dyeing and HE Silk Mill Building Krefeld, Germany
- 1932 Lemke House – Residential Home, Weissensee
United States (1939–1960)
- 1939–1958 – Illinois Institute of Technology Campus Master Plan, Academic Campus & Buildings, Chicago, Illinois
- 1949 The Promontory Apartments – Residential Apartment Complex, Chicago, Illinois
- 1951 Sheridan-Oakdale Apartments (2933 N Sheridan Rd ) – Residential Apartment Complex, Chicago, Illinois
- 1951 Lake Shore Drive Apartments – Residential Apartment Towers, Chicago
- 1951 Algonquin Apartments – Residential Apartments, Chicago, Illinois
- 1951 Farnsworth House – Vacation Home, Plano, Illinois
- 1952 Arts Club of Chicago Interior Renovation – Art Gallery, demolished in 1997, Chicago, Illinois
- 1952 Robert H. McCormick House – Residential Home, relocated to the Elmhurst Art Museum, Elmhurst, Illinois
- 1954 Cullinan Hall – Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
- 1956 Crown Hall, Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture– Academic Building, Chicago, Illinois
- 1956 Esplanade Apartment Buildings (900–910 Lake Shore Dr) – Residential Apartment Complex, Chicago, Illinois
- 1957 Commonwealth Promenade Apartments (330–330 W Diversey Parkway) – Residential Apartment Complex, Chicago (1957)
- 1958 Seagram Building – Office Tower, New York City, New York
- 1958 Caroline Wiess Law Building, Museum of Fine Art, Houston
- 1959 Home Federal Savings and Loan Association Building– Office Building, Des Moines, Iowa
- 1959 Lafayette Park – Residential Development, Detroit, Michigan
- 1960 Pavilion and Colonnade Apartments– Residential complex, Newark, New Jersey
Late career Worldwide (1961–69)
- 1961 Bacardi Office Building – Office Building, Mexico City
- 1962 Tourelle-Sur-Rive – Residential apartment complex of three towers, Nuns’ Island, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
- 1962 Home Federal Savings and Loan Association of Des Moines Building – Office Building, Des Moines, Iowa
- 1962 One Charles Center – Office Tower, Baltimore, Maryland
- 1963 2400 North Lakeview Apartments – Residential Apartment Complex, Chicago, Illinois
- 1963 Morris Greenwald House – Vacation Home, Weston, Connecticut
- 1964 Chicago Federal Center – Civic Complex, Chicago, Illinois
- 1960–1964 Dirksen Federal Building – Office Tower, Chicago
- Kluczynski Federal Building – Office Tower, Chicago
- United States Post Office Loop Station – General Post Office, Chicago
- 1964 Highfield House, 4000 North Charles – Originally Rental Apartments, and now Condominium Apartments, Baltimore, Maryland
- 1965 University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration – Academic Building Chicago, Illinois
- 1965 Richard King Mellon Hall – Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA
- 1965 Meredith Hall – School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Drake University, Des Moines, IA
- 1967 Westmount Square – Office & Residential Tower Complex, Westmount, Island of Montreal, Quebec, Canada
- 1968 Neue Nationalgalerie – Modern Art Museum, Berlin, Germany
- 1965–1968 Brown Pavilion, Museum of Fine Art, Houston
- 1967–1969 Toronto-Dominion Centre – Office Tower Complex, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
- 1969 Filling station – Nuns’ Island, Montreal, Quebec, Canada (closed)
- 1970 One Illinois Center – Office Tower, Chicago, Illinois (completed post-mortem)
- 1972 Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library – District of Columbia Public Library, Washington, D.C. (completed post-mortem)
- 1973 American Life Building – Louisville, Kentucky (completed after Mies’s death by Bruno Conterato)
- 1973 IBM Plaza – Office Tower, Chicago (completed post-mortem)
Buildings on the Illinois Institute of Technology Campus (1939–1958)
- 1943 Minerals & Metals Research Building – Research
- 1945 Engineering Research Building – Research
- 1946 Alumni Memorial Hall – Classroom
- 1946 Wishnick Hall – Classroom
- 1946 Perlstein Hall – Classroom
- 1950 I.I.T. Boiler Plant – Academic
- 1950 Institute of Gas Technology Building – Research
- 1950 American Association of Railroads Administration Building (now the College of Music Building) – Administration
- 1952 Mechanical Engineering Research Building I – Research
- 1952 Carr Memorial Chapel – Religious
- 1953 American Association of Railroads Mechanical Engineering Building – Research
- 1953 Carman Hall at IIT – Dormitory
- 1955 Cunningham Hall – Dormitory
- 1955 Bailey Hall – Dormitory
- 1955 I.I.T. Commons Building
- 1956 Crown Hall – Academic, College of Architecture
- 1957 Physics & Electrical Engineering Research Building – Research
- 1957 Siegel Hall – Classroom
- 1953 American Association of Railroads Laboratory Building – Research
- 1958 Metals Technology Building Extension – Research