Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) is unanimously considered one of the fathers of modern architecture and one of the most influential architects of the 20th century.
The son of a stone carver, Mies was born in Aachen, German Empire, on August 27, 1886. At birth, his name was just Ludwig Mies, but he “ennobled” it in the early 1920s by adding the Dutch suffix “van der” coupled with his mother’s maiden surname Rohe.
As was common at the time, Mies never formally graduated in architecture and was trained in the profession during a four-year apprenticeship at the studio of famed German architect Peter Behrens.
The Twenties were also the years in which Mies passed from a rather traditional style to a strongly innovative one, transforming the hesitant modernism of Behrens, which was still interbred with classicism, to a wholly modern architectural language. Among the few buildings designed by Mies in that period still existing today there are the Lange and Esters houses in Krefeld, Germany; the Tugendhat House in Brno, Czech Republic; and the German Pavilion in Barcelona, Spain (rebuilt in 1986);
In the same period, he also worked as director of the Deutscher Werkbund association and then as director of architecture at the Bauhaus school of art and architecture.
After the rise to power of the Nazis and Adolf Hitler, who was openly hostile to modern architecture and to the Bauhaus school, in 1937 Mies moved from Germany to the United States were was appointed head of the architecture school at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Mies deeply influenced the American architectural scene for over three decades, both through his academic activity and a series of architectural masterpieces such as the Seagram Building in New York City, the Chicago Federal Center, the Farnsworth House, the Lake Shore Drive high-rise buildings, and several buildings of the IIT’s campus – all in or near Chicago. In the mid-1960s, almost thirty years after leaving Germany, Mies also designed the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin which, opened to the public in September 1968, was his last work.
A heavy smoker for most of his life, Mies van der Rohe died of esophageal cancer on August 17, 1969, aged 83.
Mies van der Rohe’s signature.
Cover image courtesy of the Chicago History Museum.
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