Design Profession: Architect, Furniture Designer
Building Types: Commercial, Educational, Residential
One of the world's most respected Modern architects, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was born Ludwig Mies in the ancient city of Aachen, Germany, in 1886. (He added van der Rohe, his mother's maiden name, in 1921.) As a child attending Catholic school, Mies was taught the writings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, which became a source of inspiration for his architectural philosophy later in life. The son of a master mason who owned a stone cutting shop, Mies was introduced to masonry at an early age and gained a strong knowledge of materials and their capabilities. After attending two years of trade school, he left at the age of fifteen to work as an apprentice to local architects in Aachen.
With no formal architectural training, Mies moved to Berlin in 1905 and began working for architect Peter Behrens in 1908, during a period when industrial architecture flourished. Behrens became Mies' mentor and teacher, sharing with him a respect for detail and an appreciation for classical order. During his time with Behrens' firm, the Dutch de Stijl (DaDa) art movement gained momentum and began to influence Mies' work.
It wasn't until after World War I, when Mies started his own firm, that his design innovations received recognition. His work on the Weissenhofsiedlung housing project for the 1927 Werkbund exhibition in Stuttgart was one of the first examples of his "less is more" philosophy. This project symbolized Mies' design aesthetic-steel beams and glass walls with no adornment- which became known as the "International style." It also introduced him to the international architectural community. Mies gained additional recognition for his design of the German Pavilion at the Barcelona International Exhibition in 1929, which featured his iconic chrome and leather Barcelona chairs and glass and chrome tables, designed specifically for the space.
Mies was appointed the director of the Bauhaus in 1930 and served as such until it closed in 1933. In order to escape the growing hostility of the Nazi regime, Mies moved to the United States in 1937 and settled in Chicago. There he was asked to become director of architecture at the Armour Institute, which became the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in 1940. Mies designed many buildings for the IIT campus including his masterwork, Crown Hall, which introduced the glass curtain wall to the American architectural vocabulary. In 1951 Mies completed one of his best known buildings, the glass Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois.
While at IIT, Mies partnered with landscape architect Alfred Caldwell and planner Ludwig Hilberseimer on an urban renewal redevelopment project in Detroit, Michigan, called Lafayette Park. Today it is considered one of the few successful urban renewal projects of the twentieth century. Built between 1956 and 1963, and based on the "superblock" planning concept, the 193-acre residential complex contains the largest concentration of residential buildings designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in the world.