Mies van der Rohe

Lud­wig Mies van der Rohe hardly needs any in­tro­duc­tion to read­ers of this blog, or in­deed to any­one more than cas­u­ally fa­mil­i­ar with the his­tory of twen­ti­eth cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture. Still, a few words might be in­cluded here for those who haven’t yet had the pleas­ure. He was the third dir­ect­or of the le­gendary Bauhaus art school, after the pi­on­eer­ing mod­ern­ist Wal­ter Gropi­us and the con­tro­ver­sial Marx­ist Hannes Mey­er. Des­cen­ded from stone­ma­sons, Mies entered the build­ing trade at a young age. Pri­or to his ten­ure at the Bauhaus, he was an ap­pren­tice along with Gropi­us in the stu­dio of Peter Behrens, who also later su­per­vised a Swiss prodigy by the name of Charles-Édouard Jean­ner­et (ali­as Le Cor­busier). Un­der the Ger­man mas­ter’s tu­tel­age, Mies gained an en­dur­ing ap­pre­ci­ation for the Prus­si­an clas­si­cist Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Be­sides Behrens, the oth­er mod­ern in­flu­ence on Mies dur­ing this early phase of his ca­reer was the Dutch­man Hendrik Pet­rus Ber­lage, through whom Europe learned of the ground­break­ing designs of Frank Lloyd Wright in Amer­ica.

Mies’ turn to full-fledged mod­ern­ism came in the 1920s, after he came in­to con­tact with Kurt Schwit­ters and oth­er mem­bers of the in­ter­na­tion­al av­ant-garde. Al­though his com­mis­sions earli­er in the dec­ade still came from cli­ents whose taste was rather more tra­di­tion­al, Mies nev­er­the­less began writ­ing bold art­icles and mani­fes­tos for the con­struct­iv­ist journ­al G. Oth­er con­trib­ut­ors to this peri­od­ic­al were artists and crit­ics such as El Lis­sitzky, Wern­er Gräff, and Wal­ter Ben­jamin. Jean-Louis Co­hen, au­thor of The Fu­ture of Ar­chi­tec­ture (2012), de­tails the vari­ous ex­per­i­ments Mies con­duc­ted around this time. In 1926, he was se­lec­ted to design the monu­ment to Rosa Lux­em­burg and Karl Lieb­knecht in Ber­lin. Fol­low­ing the suc­cess of the 1927 Wießenhof ex­hib­i­tion, spear­headed by Mies, a num­ber of more dar­ing projects now opened them­selves up to him. Villa Tu­gend­hat in Brno, Czechoslov­akia and the Wolf House in Gu­bin, Po­land were only the most fam­ous of these projects. In 1929, Mies was chosen to design the Ger­man pa­vil­ion for the world’s fair in Bar­celona, which re­ceived wide­spread ac­claim. You can read more about these works in an ex­cerpt taken from Alan Colquhoun’s his­tor­ic­al sur­vey Mod­ern Ar­chi­tec­ture (2002).

portriat-of-german-born-american-architect-ludwig-mies-van-der-rohe-1886-1969-as-he-sits-in-a-chair-in-his-home-chicago-illinois-1956 mies-van-der-rohe_casa-de-campo-de-ladrillo-1924-mies-van-der-rohe portriat-of-german-born-american-architect-ludwig-mies-van-der-rohe-1886-1969-as-he-peers-from-between-a-model-of-his-26-story-twin-apartment-buildings-located-at-860-on-the-right-and-880-lake

In any case, just as Mies was be­gin­ning to make a name for him­self, Gropi­us asked Mies to step in and re­place Mey­er over at the Bauhaus in Des­sau. At the time, Mey­er was em­broiled in a scan­dal con­cern­ing his com­mun­ist sym­path­ies. He ex­ited, along with many of his left-wing stu­dents, to plan new cit­ies in the USSR. (Eva For­gacs has writ­ten ex­cel­lently about the polit­ics that sur­roun­ded this de­cision). With the rise of Hitler in 1933, Gropi­us’ icon­ic Des­sau build­ing was com­mand­eered by the Nazis and the school moved to Ber­lin. Mies’ choice to stay in Ger­many, and in­deed col­lab­or­ate with the fas­cist au­thor­it­ies, has been chron­icled at length by Elaine Hoch­man in her 1989 study Ar­chi­tects of For­tune. Co­hen dis­misses this book as a bit of journ­al­ist­ic sen­sa­tion­al­ism, but its charges are worth tak­ing ser­i­ously. Sibyl Mo­holy-Nagy, for her part, nev­er for­gave him for this. “When [Mies] ac­cep­ted the com­mis­sion for the Reichs­bank in Ju­ly 1933, after the com­ing to power of Hitler, he was a trait­or to all of us and to everything we had fought for,” she wrote. In a 1965 let­ter, she fur­ther re­but­ted the his­tor­i­an Henry-Rus­sell Hitch­cock:

Mies van der Rohe seemed to be wholly a part of that slow death when he fi­nally ar­rived in this coun­try in 1937. His first scheme for the cam­pus of the Illinois In­sti­tute of Tech­no­logy is pain­fully re­min­is­cent of his deadly fas­cist designs for the Ger­man Reichs­bank, and the Krefeld Fact­ory of 1937 proved the old Ger­man pro­verb that he who lies down with dogs gets up with fleas. Yet he was the only one of the di­a­spora ar­chi­tects cap­able of start­ing a new life as a cre­at­ive de­sign­er fol­low­ing World War II, be­cause to him tech­no­logy was not a ro­mantic catch­word, as it had been for the Bauhaus pro­gram, but a work­able tool and an in­es­cap­able truth.

Per­son­ally, I am in­clined to agree with the judg­ment of Man­fredo Tafuri and his co-au­thor Francesco Dal Co. Mies was for the most part apolit­ic­al; i.e., “not con­nec­ted with any polit­ic­al ideo­logy.” Either way, as Mo­holy-Nagy her­self noted, he en­joyed great fame and prestige throughout the post­war peri­od, in which he con­sol­id­ated the form­al prin­ciples of the in­ter­na­tion­al style of the twen­ties and thirties, des­pite his op­pos­i­tion dur­ing those dec­ades to form­al­ism or “prob­lems of form.” However, Tafuri was right to deny this ap­par­ent vari­ance: “There is noth­ing more er­ro­neous than the in­ter­pret­a­tion of Mies van der Rohe in his late works as con­tra­dict­ing the Mies of the 1920s, or the read­ing of his late designs as re­nun­ci­at­ory in­cur­sions in­to the un­ruffled realm of the neoaca­dem­ic.” In many ways, it was only dur­ing this later phase of his ca­reer that Mies was able to real­ize the pro­gram­mat­ic vis­ion he laid out between 1921 and 1923. One need only take a look at the apart­ments he de­signed in Chica­go or Lake Point Tower, posthum­ously real­ized by his pu­pils John Hein­rich and George Schip­por­eit, to see the em­bod­i­ment of the spec­u­lat­ive of­fice build­ing and the sky­scraper he en­vi­sioned back in the 1920s. Really, it is a shame that Mies’ sig­na­ture style has lent it­self so eas­ily to im­it­a­tion, be­cause the fea­tures which seem rep­lic­able con­ceal the subtler secret of their pro­por­tions.

At any rate, you can down­load a num­ber of texts which deal with the work of Mies van der Rohe be­low. Fol­low­ing these there are a num­ber of im­ages, sketches and de­lin­eations of vari­ous proven­ance (most come from MoMA’s col­lec­tion), as well as pho­to­graphs of both Mies and build­ings which were real­ized. Texts on Mies writ­ten by Co­hen, Colquhoun, and Tafuri/Dal Co fin­ish these off.



ludwig-mies-van-der-rohe-german-american-1886-1969-unrealized-project-for-a-brick-country-house-neubabelsberg-potsdam-1924Early the­or­et­ic­al projects

Jean-Louis Cohen
Architecture since 1890
(New York, NY: 2012)

Van Does­burg forged a close con­nec­tion between the Neth­er­lands and Ger­many not only through his pres­ence on the door­step of the Bauhaus but also through his par­ti­cip­a­tion in the Con­gress of Re­volu­tion­ary Artists held in Düsseldorf in 1922. There he foun­ded a short-lived “Con­struct­iv­ist In­ter­na­tion­al” to­geth­er with Hans Richter and El Lis­sitzky. In Ju­ly 1923 Richter, Lis­sitzky, and Wern­er Gräff, who had at­ten­ded Van Does­burg’s lec­tures at the Bauhaus, pub­lished the first is­sue of the journ­al G, sub­titled Ma­ter­i­al zur ele­ment­are Gestal­tung [Ma­ter­i­als for Ele­ment­al Form Cre­ation]. Its pro­gram was to dis­sem­in­ate im­ages of the tech­no­lo­gic­al world and to pro­pose an ar­chi­tec­ture based on the Sach­lich­keit, or ob­jectiv­ity, of con­struc­tion sys­tems. Van Does­burg pub­lished his own mani­festo “Zur ele­ment­ar­en Gestal­tung” [On Ele­ment­al Form Cre­ation] in G. One of the prin­cip­al sup­port­ers of and con­trib­ut­ors to G was Lud­wig Mies van der Rohe, who pub­lished his the­or­et­ic­al project for a Con­crete Of­fice Build­ing in the same is­sue that car­ried Van Does­burg’s mani­festo. It was ac­com­pan­ied by his own mani­festo “Bürohaus” [Of­fice Block], a first ex­pres­sion of his the­or­et­ic­al po­s­i­tions, in which he de­clared that “Ar­chi­tec­ture is the spa­tially ap­pre­hen­ded will of the epoch,” draw­ing on the ideas of Ber­lage, the pre­curs­or he most ad­mired, and Behrens, who had con­sidered ar­chi­tec­ture the “rhythmic in­cor­por­a­tion of the spir­it of the time.” A few months later, Van Does­burg in­vited Mies to par­ti­cip­ate in the De Stijl ex­hib­i­tion at the Galer­ie de l’Ef­fort mo­d­erne.

Be­gin­ning in 1921, Mies con­ceived sev­er­al icon­o­clast­ic projects. In a com­pet­i­tion entry for a Glass Of­fice Build­ing on the Fried­rich­stra­ße in Ber­lin, he sub­mit­ted a design for a glass prism with a tri­an­gu­lar plan. The an­gu­lar volume con­sisted en­tirely of a cur­tain wall, without base or cor­nice, which ap­peared to ex­tend the glaz­ing of the nearby train sta­tion over the en­tirety of its 80-meter (260-foot) struc­ture. A rad­ic­al re­sponse to New York’s Flatiron Build­ing — which the Ber­lin Da­daists had il­lus­trated in their journ­al — Mies’ project seemed to ma­ter­i­al­ize Al­fred Stieglitz’s pho­tos of Man­hat­tan con­struc­tion sites. Ac­cess to the up­per floors was provided by a cent­ral el­ev­at­or core, while nar­row canyons lined with glass al­lowed light to pen­et­rate to the in­teri­or of the site. The trans­par­ent façades re­veal­ing stacks of of­fices called to mind a bee­hive — a meta­phor­ic­al term Mies used to identi­fy the build­ing in the com­pet­i­tion. In 1922 he elab­or­ated a second ver­sion of the project in which the an­gu­lar facades gave way to a more flu­id and sinu­ous out­line, praised by crit­ics for its “Goth­ic power.”

After his Con­crete Of­fice project, which was an ab­stract in­ter­pret­a­tion of the palazzo block that Peter Behrens had built earli­er for Man­nes­mann, Mies con­ceived a con­crete “Coun­try House” (1923), about which he would de­clare, “We know no forms, only prob­lems of con­struc­tion.” The house ex­ten­ded ho­ri­zont­ally across the site and re­flec­ted Mies’ aware­ness of Wright’s houses. His Brick Coun­try House, de­signed the same year, was more pro­voc­at­ive. An as­semblage of brick ele­ments, the house con­sisted of or­tho­gon­al volumes joined in a free-flow­ing con­tinuum. For Mies, this “series of spa­tial ef­fects” was the res­ult of “the wall [los­ing] its en­clos­ing char­ac­ter and [serving] only to ar­tic­u­late the house or­gan­ism.”

Up to this point, Mies’ only real com­mis­sions were for bour­geois houses, for which he em­ployed a tra­di­tion­al­ist lan­guage. He was able to im­pose more rad­ic­al views upon his cli­ents only after 1925. Ini­tially, he used brick in an aes­thet­ic, ex­press­ive way, as in the Wolf House in Guben and es­pe­cially in the Monu­ment to Karl Lieb­knecht and Rosa Lux­em­burg (1926) in Ber­lin, a sculp­tur­al in­ter­pret­a­tion of a wall evok­ing the ex­e­cu­tion of the two Sparta­cist lead­ers. Be­gin­ning with his houses for the tex­tile in­dus­tri­al­ists Her­mann Lange (1928–1929) and Josef Es­ters (1928) in Krefeld, his use of brick ceased to be load bear­ing. These two op­u­lent homes, whose facades brought to mind the factor­ies of the neigh­bor­ing Ruhr re­gion, had steel struc­tures, which made it pos­sible to su­per­im­pose very dif­fer­ent floor plans on two dif­fer­ent levels: large rooms to dis­play the own­ers’ col­lec­tions on the ground floor, bed­rooms above.

Mies soon ap­plied him­self to a more rad­ic­al an­ni­hil­a­tion of tra­di­tion­al do­mest­ic space. The first build­ing to un­der­go such treat­ment, the Ger­many Pa­vil­ion at the 1929 Bar­celona In­ter­na­tion­al Ex­pos­i­tion, did not have much of a pro­gram bey­ond its ce­re­mo­ni­al pur­pose. The lat­ent fluid­ity of his Brick Coun­try House began to be palp­able in this se­quence of open rooms rest­ing on a po­di­um and evok­ing the garden struc­tures of Karl Friedrich Schinkel, which Mies ad­mired. Its stone and glass par­ti­tions defined a free-flow­ing space and were clearly dis­tinct from the load-bear­ing steel frame — des­pite a few in­vis­ible com­prom­ises. The dom­in­ant ele­ment was a wall of golden onyx, in­ten­ded as a back­drop for the king of Spain’s re­cep­tion by Ger­man of­fi­cials. In this space — un­reg­u­lated by any axi­al sys­tem, open to di­ag­on­al views, and de­signed to ac­com­mod­ate vis­it­ors’ move­ments — the only per­cept­ible sym­metry was the ho­ri­zont­al one between floor and ceil­ing, mak­ing the ver­tic­al space of the pa­vil­ion prac­tic­ally re­vers­ible.

The prom­ise of a new type of do­mest­ic space first glimpsed in Bar­celona was brought to fruition in the house of Fritz and Grete Tu­gend­hat (1928-1930) in Brno, Czechoslov­akia. Perched on a hill over­look­ing the city, the house re­pro­duced the flu­id floor plan of the Bar­celona Pa­vil­ion, but this time areas had well-defined pur­poses, as if the par­ti­tions between rooms had been erased once the plan was com­pleted. Ac­cord­ing to the crit­ic Paul West­heim, Mies con­ceived the house as “a cir­cu­la­tion route lead­ing from room to room ac­cord­ing to [the own­ers’] style of liv­ing.”

West­heim con­tin­ued: “[T]he home must be con­sidered en­tirely as a kind of busi­ness that, like any oth­er busi­ness, is based on the prin­ciple of an ar­tic­u­la­tion of vari­ous func­tions. No room should be isol­ated and cut off from the oth­ers. Even more, con­tinu­ity between the rooms is to be pur­sued. The en­tire space is to be ar­ranged or­gan­ic­ally, ac­cord­ing to its en­vis­aged uses.” As at Bar­celona, the liv­ing room, which over­looked the city, was backed with an onyx wall. The din­ing room was defined by a cyl­indric­al par­ti­tion of rose­wood. In 1930, thanks to his very pub­lic suc­cess in Bar­celona, Mies was named dir­ect­or of the Bauhaus in Des­sau, where he would rad­ic­ally change the ped­agogy of ar­chi­tec­ture.

ludwig-mies-van-der-rohe-concrete-office-building-project-berlin-germany-letter-with-view-of-building-1923 ludwig-mies-van-der-rohe-friedrichstrasse-skyscraper-project-berlin-mitte-germany-floor-plan-1921ludwig-mies-van-der-rohe-friedrichstrasse-office-building-project-berlin-mitte-germany-perspective-sketch-1929


Between the wars
The spir­itu­al­iz­a­tion of tech­nique

Alan Colquhoun
Modern Architecture
(New York: 2002)

Al­though no one ar­chi­tect in the Ger­many of the 1920s dom­in­ated the pro­fes­sion­al scene as Le Cor­busier did in France, the repu­ta­tion of Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) in the sphere of aes­thet­ics seems to have been equal to that of Gropi­us in the sphere of or­gan­iz­a­tion. A man of few, if weighty, words, Mies was not only an as­tute self-pub­li­cist, but an ar­chi­tect with the abil­ity to re­duce every prob­lem to a kind of es­sen­tial sim­pli­city — a sim­pli­city that con­tin­ues to give rise to con­flict­ing in­ter­pret­a­tions of his work to this day.

In Mies’ work, two op­pos­ing tend­en­cies struggled for dom­in­ance. One could be de­scribed as the en­clos­ure of func­tion in a gen­er­al­ized cu­bic con­tain­er not com­mit­ted to any par­tic­u­lar set of con­crete func­tions — a tend­ency partly de­rived from his early al­le­gi­ance to neo­clas­si­cism. The oth­er was the ar­tic­u­la­tion of the build­ing in re­sponse to the fluid­ity of life. This second tend­ency, however, sel­dom in­volved him in fig­ur­al shap­ing, as it did the Ex­pres­sion­ists, nor did it align Mies with what Behne called “func­tion­al­ism.” Fol­low­ing a con­struct­iv­ist or neo­plas­ti­cist lo­gic, neut­ral forms could cre­ate sys­tems flex­ible enough to re­spond to any ima­gin­able life situ­ation, every build­ing tak­ing on a unique con­fig­ur­a­tion while be­ing made from sim­il­ar ele­ments. It was such a pro­cess that Mies ad­op­ted when he aban­doned the house as a single pa­vil­ion and broke it up in­to its ba­sic ele­ments. I will dis­cuss here the houses Mies pro­duced between the wars, in which he at­temp­ted to re­con­cile these con­flict­ing ideas — neo­clas­sic­al ob­jec­ti­fic­a­tion on the one hand and Neo­plas­ti­cist frag­ment­a­tion on the oth­er.

Mies’ ar­chi­tec­tur­al form­a­tion was re­mark­ably sim­il­ar to Le Cor­busier’s, though their re­sponse to the con­di­tions of mod­ern­ity that they both re­cog­nized could hardly have been more dif­fer­ent. Both had been trained in craft schools and had climbed in­to the pro­fes­sion­ally and so­cially high­er sphere of ar­chi­tec­ture and the “fine arts”; both changed their names; both worked their way through a form­at­ive peri­od of neo­clas­si­cism (in the design of fur­niture as well as that of houses) based on the ex­ample of the same two mas­ters — Bruno Paul and Peter Behrens; in both cases, their Mod­ern­ist work fol­lowed on without in­ter­rup­tion from their neo­clas­sic­al work and was strongly in­flu­enced by it. But, where­as Le Cor­busier de­signed only two neo­clas­sic­al houses be­fore mov­ing on to oth­er ex­plor­a­tions (though he con­tin­ued to design Em­pire style in­teri­ors for sev­er­al years), Mies’ “Bie­der­mei­er” peri­od las­ted from 1907 to 1926 and was the basis of a suc­cess­ful ar­chi­tec­tur­al prac­tice. He was over 40 when he com­pleted his first mod­ern­ist-con­struct­iv­ist build­ing, the Wolf House in Guben (1925–1927).

All Mies’ neo­clas­sic­al houses are sym­met­ric­al two-storey prisms, some­times with minor ap­pend­ages. These houses, es­pe­cially the Riehl House (1907) [116], bor­rowed heav­ily from the il­lus­tra­tions of eight­eenth-cen­tury ver­nacu­lar–clas­sic­al houses in Paul Mebes’ book Um 1800 of 1905. The Riehl House dif­fers from the oth­ers in its sit­ing. Like Le Cor­busier’s Mais­on Jean­ner­et and Favre-Jac­ot at La Chaux-de-Fonds (and like Gi­ulio Ro­mano’s Villa Lante on the Gi­an­nicolo in Rome which might have in­flu­enced both Le Cor­busier and Mies) it is sited on a steep in­cline. One of its gable ends is front­al­ized by means of a log­gia and plunges un­ex­pec­tedly down to con­nect with a long re­tain­ing wall. This might be called the build­ing-as-dam type, and is a vari­ant of the Stadtk­rone, tend­ing to be shown tower­ing above the view­er, in the Wag­n­er­schule man­ner. It is also found in oth­er projects by Mies: the com­pet­i­tion scheme for the Bis­mar­ck Monu­ment of 1910 (which prob­ably had its ori­gin in Schinkel’s Schloss Ori­anda project of 1838), the Wolf House, the Tu­gend­hat House (1928-1930), and the Moun­tain House project of 1934.

hans-richter-werner-graeff-ludwig-mies-van-der-rohe-g-zeitschrift-fu%cc%88r-elementare-gestaltung-no-5-6-april-1926 hans-richter-werner-graeff-ludwig-mies-van-der-rohe-g-zeitschrift-fu%cc%88r-elementare-gestaltung-no-4-march-1926 g_material_zur_elementaren_gestaltung_3_jun_1924

When he re­sumed his prac­tice in Ber­lin after the First World War, Mies met the ex­per­i­ment­al film­maker and Da­daist Hans Richter and joined his circle of artists and writers, which in­cluded van Does­burg and El Lis­sitzky. Mies’ con­ver­sion from mi­met­ic ec­lecticism to Con­struct­iv­ist ab­strac­tion dates from this first en­counter with the Ber­lin av­ant-garde. In 1922, Richter, El Lis­sitzky, and the artist and film­maker Wern­er Gräff foun­ded the journ­al G: Ma­ter­i­al zur Ele­ment­ar­en Gestal­tung [G: From Ma­ter­i­al to Form]. It was here that Mies pub­lished his earli­est Con­struct­iv­ist projects to­geth­er with brief po­lem­ic­al art­icles in which he took a strongly anti-form­al­ist po­s­i­tion: “We know no forms, only build­ing prob­lems. Form is not the goal but the res­ult of our work.”

These early Con­struct­iv­ist projects in which Mies ex­plored some of the fun­da­ment­al prob­lems posed by new tech­niques and ma­ter­i­als, com­prise two Scheerbar­tian glass sky­scrapers (1921-1922), an eight-storey of­fice block in re­in­forced con­crete (1922), and two single-storey houses — a Con­crete Coun­try House (1923) and a Brick Coun­try House (1924). The houses in this group, to­geth­er with the little-known Less­ing House project (1923), sum­mar­ize the dia­lectic in Mies’ work. In the Con­crete Coun­try House the cube is dis­solved in­to a spread-eagled, swastika-like form; in the Less­ing House the cube is broken up in­to smal­ler cubes, in­ter­lock­ing with each oth­er in ech­el­on; in the Brick Coun­try House the cubes are re­placed by a sys­tem of planes. This pro­gress­ive frag­ment­a­tion and ar­tic­u­la­tion, in which the ex­tern­al form of the house re­flects its in­tern­al sub­di­vi­sion, be­trays the in­dir­ect in­flu­ence of the Eng­lish free­style house, Ber­lage, and Wright, but its im­me­di­ate an­cest­or is De Stijl.

The Wolf House, and the Lange and Es­ters houses, both built in Krefeld in 1927, ex­plore the Less­ing type. Built of the loc­al build­ing ma­ter­i­al, brick, they are broken up in­to in­ter­lock­ing cubes to form roughly pyr­am­id­al com­pos­i­tions of two and three storeys. The prin­cip­al rooms on the ground floor are opened up to each oth­er to form se­quences in ech­el­on. The bed­room floors are set back to provide roof ter­races.

The Tu­gend­hat House at Brno in the Czech Re­pub­lic marks a new stage in Mies’ de­vel­op­ment. No longer in brick, it is rendered and painted white. Its or­gan­iz­a­tion res­ults from a site con­di­tion that re­calls that of the Riehl House. Built against a steep slope, the house con­sists of a mono­lith­ic cu­bic mass with a set-back, frag­men­ted up­per floor, through which one enters from the street to des­cend to the liv­ing room on the floor be­low. The liv­ing room is an enorm­ous space di­vided by fixed but freest­and­ing screens. The mono­lith­ic volume of the house is wedged solidly in­to the slop­ing ground. The south and east sides of the liv­ing area are fully glazed with floor-to-ceil­ing, mech­an­ic­ally re­tract­able, plate-glass win­dows, open­ing to a pan­or­amic view. Thus, the in­flec­ted space, which in the Brick Coun­try House ex­tends out to in­fin­ity, is here con­tained with­in a cu­bic volume. But at the same time, this volume is made totally trans­par­ent. Clas­sic­al clos­ure and the in­fin­ite sub­lime are com­bined by means of mod­ern tech­no­logy.

Con­tem­por­an­eous with the Tu­gend­hat House is the Ger­man Pa­vil­ion for the Bar­celona In­ter­na­tion­al Ex­pos­i­tion of 1929, known as the Bar­celona Pa­vil­ion. Here, the en­clos­ing cube is dis­pensed with and the en­tire space is defined in terms of in­de­pend­ent ho­ri­zont­al and ver­tic­al planes. But in­stead of dis­ap­pear­ing in­to in­fin­ity, the wall planes turn back on them­selves to form open courts which clamp the build­ing to the two ends of the site. Sited astride one of the ex­hib­i­tion routes, the pa­vil­ion was not so much a dam as a fil­ter.

In both the Tu­gend­hat House and the Bar­celona Pa­vil­ion, in con­trast to the Brick Coun­try House, the roof is sup­por­ted by an in­de­pend­ent grid of columns. At first sight this looks like an oddly be­lated dis­cov­ery of the prin­ciple of the free plan. But at second glance the columns seem too slender to carry the roof without some help from the wall planes (their slen­der­ness is en­hanced by their re­flect­ive fin­ish). Rather than columns they seem more like signs mark­ing the mod­u­lar grid.

Wolf house

Krefeld houseshistorisches-foto-der-vereinigten-seidenwerke-ag-krefeld verseidag-1933-nach-einem-entwurf-von-mies-van-der-rohe-gebaut-fotografiert-am-22-1-1941-von-erich-schmidt-krefeld

Villa Tugendhat

Barcelona pavilion

Barcelona pavilion covered in Die Form

Between 1931 and 1935, Mies de­signed a series of houses which ad­ap­ted the Bar­celona Pa­vil­ion plan-type to do­mest­ic use. The first was a mod­el house in the 1931 Ber­lin Build­ing Ex­pos­i­tion. This was fol­lowed by a series of un­built projects, in­clud­ing the Ul­rich Lange House (1935), for single-storey houses with­in closed courts. These designs be­come more and more in­tro­ver­ted. In one sense they can be seen to be fol­low­ing the same Medi­ter­ranean pro­to­types as oth­er av­ant-garde ar­chi­tects of the 1930s — in this re­spect Le Cor­busier’s en­closed garden at Poissy makes an in­ter­est­ing com­par­is­on. But they also sug­gest that Mies (or his cli­ents) might have been with­draw­ing in­to a private world, un­con­sciously re­act­ing to a threat­en­ing polit­ic­al situ­ation. In spite of this tend­ency to­wards en­clos­ure, however, the more elab­or­ate projects of this peri­od, such as the Hubbe House, were left par­tially open to give framed views of nature. In­deed, the nat­ur­al land­scape is om­ni­present in Mies’ sketches at this time, sug­gest­ing that the main func­tion of the house had be­come that of fram­ing a view in which nature is ideal­ized. Mies later ac­know­ledged this dis­tan­cing ef­fect: “When you see nature through the glass walls of the Farns­worth House it gets a deep­er mean­ing than from out­side. More is asked from nature be­cause it be­comes part of a great­er whole.”

Ac­cord­ing to a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion, Mies’ min­im­al­ist dis­til­la­tion of ar­chi­tec­ture was the res­ult of a deep en­gage­ment with the craft of build­ing. Cer­tainly, Mies was ob­sessed by cer­tain craft-like as­pects of ar­chi­tec­ture, but he was more con­cerned with ideal­iz­ing and me­di­at­ing tech­niques of graph­ic rep­res­ent­a­tion than with con­struc­tion. As is clear from his writ­ings, Mies real­ized that the tra­di­tion­al re­la­tion­ship between the crafts­man and his product had been des­troyed by the ma­chine. His cri­ter­ia were ideal and visu­al, not con­struc­tion­al — not even “visu­al–con­struc­tion­al.” It is true that un­like, for in­stance, Le Cor­busier, Mies dis­plays the ma­ter­i­al­ity of his build­ing ele­ments, but he as­sembles these ele­ments like mont­ages; their con­nec­tions are nev­er vis­ible. Even more than that of the oth­er mod­ern­ists, Mies’ work runs counter to the “tec­ton­ic” tra­di­tion.

Re­cently, in a jus­ti­fied re­ac­tion against the myth of Mies-the-con­struct­or, crit­ics have in­ven­ted a post­mod­ern Mies — one who primar­ily op­er­ated with sur­faces and ef­fects, with­in the end­less play of the sig­ni­fi­er. But this in­ter­pret­a­tion errs in the op­pos­ite dir­ec­tion. It ig­nores Mies’ fear of post-Ni­et­z­schean chaos and it also as­sumes that an aes­thet­ic of ma­ter­i­als and their eph­em­er­al ap­pear­ance (as sig­ni­fied by the Ger­man word Schein) is in­com­pat­ible with a be­lief in found­a­tion­al val­ues. Mies’ con­cep­tion of ar­chi­tec­ture fol­lowed the dia­lect­ic­al tend­ency of Ger­man Ideal­ism to think in terms of op­pos­ites.

Ac­cord­ing to the Neo­pla­ton­ic aes­thet­ics that in­flu­enced his think­ing, the tran­scend­ent­al world is re­flec­ted in the world of the senses (Mies was fond of quot­ing St Au­gustine’s dictum: “Beauty is the ra­di­ance of truth”). When mod­i­fied by the concept of the “will of the epoch,” this be­came the basis of his be­lief that the spir­itu­al could only be­come act­ive in the world in a his­tor­icized form, that is to say in the form of tech­no­logy. Such prob­lems of sur­face and depth, the con­tin­gent and the ideal, also lay be­hind the anti-form­al­ism of Mies’ art­icles in G in 1923. These did not rep­res­ent a “ma­ter­i­al­ist” phase (later to be ab­jured) as most com­ment­at­ors claim; they re­flec­ted a topos of mod­ern­ist aes­thet­ics de­rived from Ger­man Ro­man­ti­cism, ac­cord­ing to which the forms of art should, like those of nature, re­veal an in­ner es­sence and not be im­posed from the out­side.To in­quire in­to Mies’ philo­soph­ic­al back­ground is, of course, in no way to sug­gest that his ar­chi­tec­ture was an “ex­pres­sion” of philo­soph­ic­al ideas. For Mies, it was pre­cisely the auto-ref­er­en­ti­al­ity of the work of ar­chi­tec­ture that gave it ac­cess to the world of spir­itu­al mean­ing. Mies’ mod­ern­ism and his ideal­ism were per­fectly com­pat­ible.


b8qxpomiiaancw8Postwar projects

Manfredo Tafuri and
Francesco Dal Co
A History of Modern
Architecture (1979)

The ca­reer of Mies van der Rohe was of a dif­fer­ent his­tor­ic­al im­port­ance from those of Per­ret, Gropi­us, and Mendel­sohn. The very fact that he did not flee Nazi Ger­many un­til 1937 gives cause for re­flec­tion. Nor is it ir­rel­ev­ant that Philip John­son, his fu­ture col­lab­or­at­or, was at the time sup­port­ing a pro-Nazi polit­ic­al line and in an art­icle pub­lished in 1933 poin­ted to Mies as a po­ten­tial lead­ing fig­ure in the ar­chi­tec­ture of the Third Reich. Let there be no un­cer­tainty: the per­son­al ideo­logy of Mies was not con­nec­ted with any polit­ic­al ideo­logy. For Mies the world is what it is; it is not giv­en to us to change it in its struc­tures. The Zeit­geist is a cat­egor­ic­al im­per­at­ive, and each and every par­tic­u­lar mani­fest­a­tion of it is, in the long run, equi­val­ent to every oth­er. “The ex­i­gency of our time of real­ism and func­tion­al­ism must be sat­is­fied,” he had writ­ten in 1924, af­firm­ing however the “grandeur” of the im­per­at­ive that leads to an­onym­ity. Ex­actly that an­om­al­ous col­loc­a­tion with­in mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture made it pos­sible for Mies to real­ize him­self in the United States with the same su­preme in­dif­fer­ence that had guided his at­ti­tude be­fore then.

Yet in his cel­eb­rated first speech at the Illinois In­sti­tute of Tech­no­logy in 1938, he de­clared in reply to the lac­on­ic in­tro­duc­tion made by Wright: “Thus true edu­ca­tion is con­cerned not only with prac­tic­al goals but also with val­ues. By our prac­tic­al aims we are bound to the spe­cif­ic struc­ture of our epoch. Our val­ues, on the oth­er hand, are rooted in the spir­itu­al nature of men. Our prac­tic­al aims meas­ure only our ma­ter­i­al pro­gress. The val­ues we pro­fess re­veal the level of our cul­ture. Dif­fer­ent as prac­tic­al aims and val­ues are, they are nev­er­the­less closely con­nec­ted. For to what else should they be re­lated if not to our aims in life?” Those ap­par­ently con­ven­tion­al words seem to con­tra­dict his own fam­ous dis­tinc­tion between the “what” and the “why.” Their hid­den side, like that of the en­tire per­son­al­ity of Mies, can only be com­pre­hen­ded by link­ing the res­ults of his European ef­forts with the works he cre­ated in his new home.

Im­me­di­ately after hav­ing as­sumed the dir­ec­tion of the ar­chi­tec­tur­al sec­tion of the Illinois In­sti­tute of Tech­no­logy (then the Ar­mor In­sti­tute) Mies was asked to design the new cam­pus of the uni­versity. His first ideas date from 1939, and work was be­gun in 1942. The cam­pus is situ­ated in a chaot­ic slum area close to the cen­ter of Chica­go. Mies im­me­di­ately posed the prob­lem of how to ac­cen­tu­ate even more the isol­a­tion of the vast rect­angle of the cam­pus, while main­tain­ing an ax­is of sym­metry for the build­ings that would define the cent­ral open area but at the same time pro­gress­ively lib­er­ate those to­ward the peri­phery from the geo­met­ric­al im­per­at­ive thus cre­ated. This ba­sic idea was main­tained in suc­cess­ive plans, al­though Mies had to give up his goal of a cam­pus en­tirely without streets. As the unit of con­trol he es­tab­lished a single mod­ule of 24 × 24 feet with a height of 12 feet. This is clearly seen in the brick­work of cer­tain walls and in the glass pan­els framed by the ex­posed steel struc­ture and is im­pli­cit in the pla­ni­met­ric prin­ciple gov­ern­ing the en­tire com­plex. Only in the lib­rary and the ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing was the mod­ule ex­pan­ded to meas­ure 64 × 64 × 30 feet. In this way he en­sured that this purely ideal unit would be ap­plied in all sub­sequent build­ings, wheth­er real­ized by Holabird & Root, by Skid­more, Ow­ings & Mer­rill, or by him­self in col­lab­or­a­tion with oth­er firms. With that es­tab­lished, all his at­ten­tion could be con­cen­trated on the de­tails of the blocks he him­self was to real­ize, keep­ing as a fixed prin­ciple the iden­ti­fic­a­tion of the total form of the build­ings with the na­ked geo­met­ric­al schema. With ref­er­ence to the labor­at­ory for min­er­alo­gic­al and me­tal­lur­gic­al re­search and to the Alumni Me­mori­al, John­son could speak of a philo­sophy of the bei­nahe nichts, the “al­most noth­ing,” which brings to mind such her­met­ic aph­or­isms of Mies as “less is more” and “the Good Lord is in the de­tails.” It would be mis­lead­ing to in­ter­pret this as con­cen­tra­tion on the pur­ity of the tech­no­lo­gic­al factor or, even worse, to speak in gen­er­al­ized terms of a “new clas­si­cism.”

Seagram Building

For the In­sti­tute com­plex Mies cre­ated one set of his mas­ter­pieces in 1952-1956, Crown Hall, the ar­chi­tec­ture school. It is a pure prism set on a rect­an­gu­lar ground plan with its roof and at­tic sus­pen­ded from four par­al­lel steel frames so as to ob­tain a totally un­en­cumbered in­teri­or space. Here were com­bined two themes, both tried first in works very dif­fer­ent from this and from each oth­er: the house for Dr. Edith Farns­worth in Pi­ano, Illinois, built in 1950, and the projects for the so-called Fifty-Fifty House of 1951 and for the Na­tion­al Theat­er in Man­nheim, Ger­many, in 1953. Those three designs, like Crown Hall, end up as mere geo­met­ric ob­jects lif­ted off the ground and en­clos­ing ab­so­lutely free in­teri­or spaces. For all three the prin­ciple of sus­pen­ded roofs and at­tics is linked to struc­tur­al in­ven­tions. The glass of the walls of the Farns­worth house is in­ter­rup­ted only by eight painted-white steel piers that raise its volume above the ground and render meta­phys­ic­al its con­tact with the rich nat­ur­al wooded site. But the per­fectly square Fifty-Fifty House is sus­pen­ded by four sup­ports that have been placed in the middle of the sides in such a way as to seem­ingly elim­in­ate any ma­ter­i­al­ity from its mass. The design Mies pro­posed for the Man­nheim theat­er, like Crown Hall or the more com­plex project of 1954 for a con­ven­tion hall in Chica­go, fea­tured a single vast space in which the vari­ous in­tern­al func­tions would not de­tract from the ab­so­lute­ness of the en­clos­ing volume. Much has been writ­ten that seeks to de­cipher the sig­ni­fic­ance of such im­plac­able pur­ism, tak­ing sides for or against the flex­ib­il­ity or — de­pend­ing on the crit­ic — the con­stric­tion of the “free” spaces de­signed by Mies.

Per­haps we can trace its ori­gins. “Less is more”: be­hind the re­duc­tion to min­im­al­ist signs is the quest for value. God is re­sus­cit­ated from the Ni­et­z­schean ashes, even if hid­den in the min­im­um ele­ment, the de­tail. The re­duc­tion to the sign is, in any event, faith­ful to the doc­trine of the ele­ment­ar­ist av­ant-garde. In all of the build­ings by Mies we have men­tioned so far these “signs” are ob­vi­ous: for ex­ample, the sus­pen­sion of the at­tic above the ground and the clear dis­tinc­tion between struc­tures and volumes. In these re­spects Mies was still with­in the trend ex­pressed by the re­view G, the ab­stract films of Hans Richter, and his own Bar­celona Pa­vil­ion. But the val­ues — the what — are not to be con­fused with the facts, the how. In this Mies re­mained per­fectly faith­ful to the Wit­tgen­stein of the Tractatus Lo­gi­co-philo­sophi­cus even if, like Wit­tgen­stein him­self, he found him­self con­strained, in or­der to jus­ti­fy the autonom­ous uni­verse of the laws of lo­gic, to ad­mit a mys­tic­al pre­sup­pos­i­tion that is con­nec­ted with those laws in prob­lem­at­ic man­ner. The “facts” pos­sess the lan­guage of ex­ist­ence. The lan­guage of the signs must not be con­fused with them lest it be­tray both the “facts” and the “val­ues.” To quote Karl Kraus: “Since the facts have the floor, let any­one who has any­thing to say come for­ward and keep his mouth shut.” Si­lence is, there­fore, a “sym­bol­ic form” in a sense all its own, and be­cause of this the link of Mies with De Stijl is no more than ap­par­ent. Moreover, his Amer­ic­an works go bey­ond the simple strip­ping bare of the void, as in the signs that defined the Bar­celona Pa­vil­ion. Even if only “ex­posed,” the signs take on body again, but they no longer ar­tic­u­late them­selves. In this, Mies was the most re­morse­less crit­ic of Mo­holy-Nagy and Lis­sitzky. If all the in­cor­por­ated value is in the “will” to make the sign re­main sign, to speak only of the re­nun­ci­ation that makes it pos­sible to dom­in­ate the des­tiny im­posed by the Zeit­geist by in­ter­ject­ing it as “duty,” then ar­tic­u­lat­ing the signs — at­tempt­ing to make them “speak” — can only lead to be­tray­ing the value, re­du­cing the lan­guage of signs to in­stru­ment of pub­li­city. This is what Mo­holy-Nagy and Lis­sitzky were forced to do, not hav­ing wished — by force of their own pro­gram­mat­ic in­tent — to go all the way in ac­cept­ing the sep­ar­a­tion between the lan­guage of forms and the lan­guage of ex­ist­ence. Mies, however, did go the full way in that dis­tinc­tion. His spaces, in that sense, are not “ac­cess­ible,” do not speak of the “free­dom” that they seem­ingly prom­ise. On the con­trary, Crown Hall and the Fifty-Fifty House as­sume in them­selves the in­eluct­ab­il­ity of ab­sence that the con­tem­por­ary world im­poses on the lan­guage of form. But this does not sig­ni­fy “re­nun­ci­ation of form.”

Mies de­clared that the task of art is to im­pose or­der on the ex­ist­ing chaos. His IIT cam­pus is an oas­is of or­der ir­re­pro­du­cible with­in the met­ro­pol­it­an chaos. The in­flex­ib­il­ity of its geo­met­ric­al laws demon­strates that if “or­der is chaos,” then form in­tro­duces it­self in­to it as a mute and un­as­sail­able mir­ror of that chaos. With this one can also ex­plain the so-called clas­si­cism of Mies, his “re­turn to Schinkel.” The es­sence of the clas­sic­al, Olympi­an peace, is not to­tal­ity achieved; quite the op­pos­ite, it is pre­cisely con­scious re­nun­ci­ation of the vi­tal flux of change — of the Eros — in or­der to dom­in­ate it in­tel­lec­tu­ally. Be­hind the ex­posed con­crete web of the Promon­tory Apart­ments of 1949 in Chica­go or the steel skel­et­ons form­ing the frame­work for the uni­form glassed walls of the two Chica­go res­id­en­tial sky­scrapers — the Lake Shore Drive Apart­ments of 1951 and the Com­mon­wealth Prom­en­ade Apart­ments of two years later — lives just such a re­turn to the spir­it of Goethe’s Wei­mar. No longer is there a plur­al­ity of signs but the en­tire edi­fice ap­pears as neut­ral sign. The will to dom­in­ate chaos is en­tirely con­tained in the in­tel­lec­tu­al act that takes its dis­tance from the real so as to af­firm its own pres­ence. In the in­teri­or of chaos the per­fect si­lence is dis­quiet­ing. It in­tro­duces rup­tures that are po­lem­ic­al to the ex­tent that the dis­tance which the build­ing as ar­chi­tec­ture in­ter­poses between it­self and its con­text is her­met­ic­al. In the Seagram Build­ing of 1954-1958, an of­fice sky­scraper on Park Av­en­ue in the heart of mid-Man­hat­tan, Mies re­peated on an­oth­er scale the op­er­a­tion he had car­ried through in Chica­go with the IIT cam­pus. Here again he ad­op­ted the cur­tain wall and the con­tinu­ous glass face. But the ex­posed met­al parts are in bronze, the pan­el­ing in pol­ished marble, and the heat-proof glass is brown. All this ac­cen­tu­ates the volu­met­ric unity of the prin­cip­al prism con­nec­ted with two lower par­al­lelepipeds to its rear.

Here the ab­so­lute­ness of the ob­ject is total. The max­im­um of form­al struc­tur­al­ity is matched by the max­im­um ab­sence of im­ages. That lan­guage of ab­sence is pro­jec­ted on an ul­teri­or “void” that mir­rors the first void and causes it to res­on­ate: the small plaza paved in travertine that sep­ar­ates the sky­scraper from Park Av­en­ue con­tains two sym­met­ric­al foun­tains. This is no place for re­pose or con­tem­pla­tion: Mies said that the two basins should be filled right up to their brims to pre­vent the pub­lic from sit­ting on their edges. The plaza is in­ten­ded to be the pla­ni­met­ric in­ver­sion of the sig­ni­fic­ance of the sky­scraper: two voids an­swer­ing each oth­er and speak­ing the lan­guage of the nil, of the si­lence which — by a para­dox worthy of Kafka — as­saults the noise of the met­ro­pol­is.

That double “ab­sent struc­ture” stands aloof from the city in the very act of ex­pos­ing it­self to it. Re­nun­ci­ation — the clas­sic­al Entsagung — is defin­it­ive here. To ar­tic­u­late this re­nun­ci­ation Mies takes a step back­ward and re­mains si­lent. The void as sym­bol­ic form — ul­ti­mate act of the European myth of Reas­on — has been re­duced to a phantom of it­self. Vic­tory over an­guish no longer has at its dis­pos­al the “lan­guage of the soul,” as in the Kand­in­sky of the first ab­stract wa­ter­col­ors. Nor is the ho­mo­gen­eous bronze and brown-glass mass of the Seagram Build­ing in any way akin to the white-on-white square of Kasimir Malevich. Des­pite everything, the Miesian ab­sence is con­tra­dic­tion in­ter­jec­ted. The Amer­ic­an ar­chi­tects grasped this very well when they ad­op­ted the urb­an mod­el of the Seagram Build­ing — a pris­mat­ic sky­scraper with fore­court — and re­peated it in the Chase Man­hat­tan Bank Build­ing and the Uni­on Carbide Build­ing, but even more when they made use of it to get the old zon­ing law re­formed. In 1961 a new zon­ing code for New York City sanc­tioned ex­tra height for sky­scrapers set back from the street in such a way as to provide open pub­lic plazas on their lots. The res­ult was a rap­id change in the pan­or­ama of Lower Man­hat­tan and a good stretch of Sixth Av­en­ue, es­pe­cially in front of Rock­e­feller Cen­ter. At the feet of the lu­cid glass prisms of the Ex­xon Build­ing, the new Mc­Graw-Hill Build­ing, the Celanese Build­ing, little plazas [piazz­et­tas] huddle all in a line. They are ad­orned with sculp­ture and foun­tains that are quite without any real func­tion, sit­ting there in the most ab­so­lute dis­order like so many use­less out­door wait­ing rooms. What is tra­gic in the Seagram Build­ing is re­peated as a norm in these in the form of farce. The com­pact cur­tain wall de­vised by Mies like­wise proved an easy for­mula for whole­sale re­pro­duc­tion. It would be wrong to con­sider this to be con­trary to the in­ten­tions of Mies. But it would also be wrong to re­duce his in­ten­tions to just that.

The su­preme in­dif­fer­ence of the trans­planted Ger­man mas­ter made him an easy prey for spec­u­lat­ive op­er­a­tions passing them­selves off as cul­tur­al, as in the La­fay­ette Park quarter of De­troit. There Mies col­lab­or­ated with Lud­wig Hil­ber­seimer to can­cel a plan for slum clear­ance which called for a low-cost hous­ing de­vel­op­ment. That worthy project was re­placed with a tidy al­tern­a­tion of tall slabs and low blocks provid­ing res­id­en­tial ac­com­mod­a­tions in a land­scaped set­ting for mem­bers of the middle- and up­per-in­come brack­ets. But bey­ond all that, once the “lan­guage of si­lence” had been achieved, noth­ing re­mained but to re­peat it al­ways and anew. In the Neue Na­tion­algaler­ie built between 1962 and 1968 in West Ber­lin, the mu­seum it­self is un­der­ground. As in the Bar­celona Pa­vil­ion, the real ar­chi­tec­tur­al fo­cus is the empty space. In oth­er works — an ex­traordin­ary project of 1957-1958 for re­struc­tur­ing the tip of Man­hat­tan with three res­id­en­tial sky­scrapers isol­ated from the dis­orderly dregs of the hous­ing be­hind them, the Charles Cen­ter of 1964 in Bal­timore, and the Fed­er­al Court Build­ing in the Fed­er­al Cen­ter in Chica­go — Mies cal­ib­rated to the point of para­dox in­fin­ites­im­al vari­ations in­side his de­cor­tic­ated volumes which, not only meta­phor­ic­ally, con­strain chaos to re­flect it­self in them. The uni­fied sur­faces of the ex­ter­i­or of the Fed­er­al Court Build­ing uni­formly con­ceal a greatly varie­gated in­teri­or where the double-height walls of the courtrooms are dis­posed between two rib­bons of of­fices. But the per­fectly ho­mo­gen­eous, vit­reous ex­panse is also a mir­ror in the lit­er­al sense: the “al­most noth­ing” has be­come “big glass,” al­though im­prin­ted not with the her­met­ic sur­real­ist ploys of Duch­amp, but re­flect­ing im­ages of the urb­an chaos that sur­rounds the time­less Miesian pur­ity. Once again a re­turn to ori­gins.

Kurt Schwit­ters, the great friend of Mies in his Ber­lin years, threw in­to his “Merz” pic­tures all sorts of scraps and the most un­likely ob­jects, trans­form­ing his col­lages in­to “uni­verses of af­fec­tion.” While the art of Rauschen­berg and the new Amer­ic­an Dada in the fifties and six­ties warmed over the themes of the neg­at­iv­ist av­ant-garde, Mies was sit­ing his Merzbau plumb in the cen­ter of the met­ro­pol­is, a con­struc­tion that has no need to dirty it­self with the shift and flux of phe­nom­ena. It ac­cepts them, ab­sorbs them, re­stores them to them­selves in a per­verse multi-du­plic­a­tion, like a Pop Art sculp­ture that ob­liges the Amer­ic­an met­ro­pol­is to look at it­self re­flec­ted — and Mies was not one to ac­cen­tu­ate the hor­ror of the im­age thus pro­duced — in the neut­ral mir­ror that breaks the city web. In this, ar­chi­tec­ture ar­rives at the ul­ti­mate lim­its of its own pos­sib­il­it­ies. Like the last notes soun­ded by the Doc­tor Faus­tus of Thomas Mann, ali­en­a­tion, hav­ing be­come ab­so­lute, test­i­fies uniquely to its own pres­ence, sep­ar­at­ing it­self from the world to de­clare the world’s in­cur­able mal­ady.

Neue Nationalgalerie: Models and floor plans

4 thoughts on “Mies van der Rohe

  1. Pingback: ‘Miestake’ at Charnel-House | Architecture Here and There

  2. “not con­nec­ted with any polit­ic­al ideo­logy.”

    translates as, without political conscience … this phrasing by Tafuri, and your consent, is stupid considering the nature of your blog. My guns are with Moholy, both of them.

    Philip Johnson, another confirmed architect with fascist sympathies, had stated the case about Mies’ lack of politics, Nazis Smatzies, Mies would work for anyone, but every famous architect needs their billionaire sociopath capitalists to get there, same difference. Jean-Louis Cohen as the second order historian building a career on the backs of the most famous, including Mies, is no exception.

Leave a Reply