Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886 – 1969) German architect and designer

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Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886 – 1969) was a German architect and designer. He was born in the city of Aachen.

Education

Between 1900 and 1902, he worked as a stonemason in his family’s Aachen business and as a trainee on construction sites.

Biography

Early Years

Between 1906 – 1907 he studied at the Staatliche Kunstschule des Kuntsgewerbe Museums, Berlin.

In 1903-04, he was an apprentice to a group of architects in Aachen who specialised in wooden structures. He worked as a draughtsman in an Aachen stucco decorating studio.

He moved to Berlin in 1905 and worked for the Berlin borough of Rixdorf, furnishing the council chamber.

Between 1905 and 1907, he worked as an apprentice to architect and furniture designer Bruno Paul in Berlin, where he studied wooden furniture design. He created furniture for all of his early homes, including the Werner residence.

He designed everything for the Tugendhat house from 1928 to 1930 with the help of Lilly Reich.

Exterior Villa Tugendhat designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich.
Exterior Villa Tugendhat designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich.

In 1907—08, he ran his architecture firm in Berlin. He worked in Peter Behrens’ office in Neubabelsberg, Berlin.

1908—11; around this time, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Hans Meyer, Jean Kramer, and Peter Grossman worked on AEG projects and the German embassy in St. Petersburg in the Behrens office.

By adding his mother’s maiden name, he changed his name from Mies to the more distinguished-sounding Mies van der Rohe in 1913.

In 1913, he established a practice in Berlin and served in the military from 1914 to 1915. He was interested in Expressionism in architecture from his early work, which was inspired by Karl Friedrich Schinkel. He later became a creator of the International Style.

1920s

In 1921, he co-founded the architects’ organisation Der Ring. He joined the Deutscher Werkbund, where he served as vice-president from 1926 to 1932.

He was the Novembergruppe’s director of architecture exhibitions from 1921 to 1925.

From 1923 to 1924, he was co-editor of the journal G; from 1923 to 1925, he was chairman of the Zehnerring. In 1926, director of the Werkbund exhibition ‘Die Wohnung in Stuttgart, where he oversaw the Weissenhof-Siedlung building project, which opened in 1927.

Mies began work on the 1927 MR cantilever curved-legged chair in the mid-1920s, presenting the finished product (with and without arms) at the Weissenhof exhibition (alongside Mart Stam’s and Marcel Breuer’s cantilever chairs), where models were fitted with iron-yarn belting fabric or special wickerwork by Lilly Reich; the chairs were included in Reich’s installation at the 1927 Berlin “Mode der Industrie”.

Tubular Steel Cantilever Chair MR 20 by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1927
Tubular Steel Cantilever Chair MR 20 by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1927

Mart Stam created the cantilever design; as Mies assistant, Sergius Ruegenberg recalled, “Mies came back from Stuttgart in November 1926 and told us about Mart Stam’s idea for a chair.” Mies drew the chair… and said, “Ugly, those fittings [referring to the pipe joints] are really ugly.” If he’d just rounded them off—there, that looks better,’ he said as he drew a curve. A simple curve from his hand on the Stam sketch had resulted in a new chair!’

In 1927, Mies patented the cantilever tubular steel chair. The chairs were first manufactured by Berliner Metallgewerbe Joseph Miller, a Neubabelsberg locksmith, then by Bamberg Metallwerkstatten. After 1929, by Thonet.

Mies’ furniture designs were licenced to Knoll in the 1940s, and their deft marketing turned his 1920s and 1930s pieces into status symbols. Mies also created a tubular stool with a leather sling and a low table with a round glass top as companion pieces. The Barcelona chair, which he designed for the 1929 Barcelona exhibition, is still in production, as is the rest of his furniture.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Barcelona Stool in Original Leather, 1965
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Barcelona Stool in Original Leather, 1965

Joseph Müller invented it, which was costly to produce. The first version was made up of separate chromium-plated elements assembled with lap joints and chrome-headed bolts. For added support, leather straps were added.

The Tugendhat House in Brno, commissioned in 1929—30, produced a variant of the Barcelona chair with arms and several other pieces, including a rosewood desk on steel tubular legs and a low vitrine serving as a room divider. Mies met Lilly Reich in 1927. She was involved in designing much of the furniture usually attributed solely to Mies, including the 1930 chaise-sofa shown at the 1931 Berlin ‘Deutsche Bauausstellung,’ and reissued by Knoll in the early 1960s.

At the 1927 Weissenhof exhibition, Mies and Reich designed the ‘Velvet and Silk Cafe.’ He was the director of the German contribution to the Barcelona exhibition from 1928 to 1929, where he designed the German National Pavilion and the AEG Pavillion.

1930s

He was a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts from 1931 to 1938.

He was the last director of the Bauhaus in Dessau from 1930 to 1932. He was the director of the Bauhaus in Berlin until the Nazis closed it down in 1932.

He and Lilly Reich were the directors of the Deutscher Werkbund exhibition ‘Der Wohnung’ in Berlin in 1931. He created the 1934 ‘Deutsches Volk, Deutsche Arbeit’ exhibition as well as the (unrealised) German National Pavilion project for the 1935 ‘Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles.’

In 1937, he visited New York and was named director of the Armour Institute in Chicago. He left Germany in 1938 to live permanently in Chicago. He brought Bauhaus colleagues Ludwig Hilberseimer and Walter Peterhans to the United States as the head of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology (formerly the Armour Institute) from 1939 to 1959.

Lilly Reich briefly worked with Mies in Chicago in 1939. After his partnership with Reich ended, neither of them made any more furniture. Mies’ apartment in a neo-classical apartment house was sparsely furnished with Japanese tatami mats and drawings by former Bauhaus colleague Vasilii Kandinskii.

Architecture

His buildings and unrealised structures included;

  • 1907 Villa Riehl in Neubabelsberg, 
  • 1911 Villa Perls in Zehlendorf, 
  • 1912, Kroller house (project), 
  • 1913 villa on the Heerstrasse, 
  • 1913 Villa Werner in Zehlendorf, 
  • 1921 glass skyscraper project, 
  • 1914 Villa Urbig in Neubabelsberg, 
  • 1922 Villa Eichstaedt in Wannsee, 
  • 1923 reinforced-concrete office building (project), 
  • 1923 brick country house project, 
  • 1923 concrete country house project, 
  • 1924—26 Villa Mosler in Neubabelsberg, 
  • 1925—26 Wolf house in Guben, 
  • 1926 Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht memorial in Berlin, 
  • 1926 apartment on the Afrikanische Strasse in Berlin and at the Weissenhof in Stuttgart, 
  • 1928 Langein Krefeld house, 
  • 1928 Esters house in Krefeld, 
  • 1928-30 Tugendhat house in Brno, 
  • 1932 Lemcke house in Weissensee, 
  • 1932—33 chimney and factory building for the silk industry in Krefeld, 
  • 1934 country house projects, 
  • 1934 ‘Mountain House for the Architect’ project, 
  • 1946-50 Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, 
  • 1953 Mannheim Opera House project, 
  • 1942—56 buildings at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, 
  • 1953 Chicago convention hall project, 
  • 1954—58 Seagram building (with Philip Johnson) in New York, and 
  • 1962— 68 New National Gallery in Berlin. 

Furniture

The furniture credited to Mies, all completed by 1930 (except for a tuxedo-type sofa for Knoll in the 1960s), included, with the original catalogue numbers of Bamberg Metallwerkstatten in Berlin-Neukölln; 

  • chair (MR1), S chair (MR10), 
  • S chair with arms (MR20), S chair with upholstery cushions (MR30), 
  • S chair with upholstery cushions and arms, Bruno chair (MR50), 
  • Tugendhat chair (MR6O), Tugendhat chair with arms (MR70), 
  • Barcelona stool with flat leather sling (MR80), 
  • Barcelona chair (MR90), tubular lounge chairs with cushions (MR100 and MR110), side chair (LR120), 
  • round side tables with a notched-glass top (MR130, MR140), 
  • glass tables (MR150, LR500, LR510), coffee tables (LR520, LR530), and beds (LR600, LR610, LR620).

Exhibition Designs

He was in charge of the 1927 ‘Weissenhof-Siedlung’ project exhibition in Stuttgart. He and Lilly Reich designed stands at the 1927 Berlin ‘Exposition de la Mode,’ 1931 Berlin ‘Deutsche Bauausstellung,’ and 1943 Berlin ‘Deutsches Volk und Deutsche Arbeit’ exhibition. He designed the German Pavilion and ‘Sede’ stand at the 1929 “Exposicion Internacional de Barcelona,” where his designs included two chairs, situated at right angles to an onyx wall Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain to use as Modern thrones. 

Exhibitions

His work was the subject; 

  • Of one-person 1936, 1948, and 1960 ‘Mies van der Rohe’ exhibitions at the New York Museum of Modern Art, and 
  • 1977 ‘Furniture and Furniture Drawings from the Design Collection and Mies van der Rohe Archive’ at the New York Museum of Modern Art. 
  • Work included in the 1982 ‘Shape and Environment: Furniture by American Architects’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Ludwig Mies van der ROHE Barcelona stool in Original Leather, 1965. (n.d.). Retrieved May 04, 2021, from https://www.1stdibs.com/furniture/seating/stools/ludwig-mies-van-der-rohe-barcelona-stool-original-leather-1965/id-f_844713/

Woodham, J. M. (2006). A dictionary of modern design. Oxford University Press.

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