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Less is more: Design Principle of Mies Van Der Rohe

Iftikar Ahmed

27th March, ON THIS DAY

“What finally is beauty? Certainly, nothing can be calculated or measured. It is always something imponderable, something that lies between things.”

― Mies Van Der Rohe

German Architect Mies van der Rohe was born today on the date of 27 Mar’1886.  He was frequently addressed and referred to by his last name, Mies. One of the pioneering masters of modern architecture, along with Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

In the same way that Classical and Gothic architecture represented their respective eras, Mies, like many of his post-World War I contemporaries, aimed to create a new architectural style that could do the same for modern times. He developed a significant 20th-century architectural style that was incredibly concise and clear. His more sophisticated structures utilised contemporary materials to define interior areas, such as industrial steel and plate glass. With his designs, he aimed for a basic framework of structural order counterbalanced with the suggested freedom of open space. He referred to his constructions as “skin and bones architecture.” He was recognised for using the aphorisms “less is more” and “God is in the details,” seeking a rational way to direct the creative process of architectural design.

A memorial to the assassinated Spartacist revolutionary leaders Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, commissioned by Eduard Fuchs, president of the German Communist Party in Germany designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, built by Wilhelm Pieck, and inaugurated on June 13, 1926, later destroyed by the Nazis
Courtesy: Bundesarchiv

Mies was well-known and well-established in his area when he immigrated to the United States in 1938. Mies found it difficult to get work in his own Germany after the Nazi Party’s ascent and the closure of the Bauhaus. He ultimately made the decision to immigrate to America in 1937, where he lived in Chicago and rose to the position of president of the Illinois Institute of Technology. During his 20 years at IIT, Mies created what is now referred to as “the second Chicago school of architecture,” a design for straightforward, rectilinear high-rise structures that is exemplified by works like the Seagram Building

The Seagram Building as viewed from across Park Avenue
Courtesy: Ken Ohyama

and 860-880 Lakeshore Drive. In addition to this new skyscraper type, he also continued to refine his low-slung pavilion typology, which he had previously tried in projects like the Barcelona Pavilion; his fully transparent Farnsworth House, finished in 1951, is undoubtedly the most enduring example in this category. He created the Barcelona Pavilion, one of his most well-known structures, as the German Pavilion for the 1929 World Exhibition in Spain. It is an outstanding illustration of his style.

The Barcelona Pavilion, Barcelona
Courtesy: Ashley Pomeroy

Mies did not use a specific design aesthetic when creating his structures. Philosophy came first for him. A building’s appearance was solely a product of its time and construction. I am not interested in the development of civilization, he continued. “I’m curious about our culture. We are a part of it. After much time spent working, contemplating, and analysing, I firmly feel that architecture can only depict this culture we are in and nothing else.”

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