Mies Van Der Rohe: The father of Minimalism!

German architect Mies van der Rohe was one of the crusaders of Modernist architecture. His architectural style is referred to as minimalism and is regarded as one of the most sought-after genres of design even today. He gave us the famous concept of “less is more”, which has led to the most thought-provoking designs until date. The architectural language of the 20th century transformed with the concept of Mies van der rohe, who started a style of architecture based on simplicity and utmost clarity. Mies believed that designs must focus more on functionality instead of on the imagery. He believed that clean and simple imagery depicts a design that is functional as well as reasonably accessible.

  • The nature of buildings by Mies van der Rohe focused on delivering seamless designs, negating the barriers between the interiors and exteriors.
  • His works showcased simple geometries and had extensive use of glass facades.
  • Achieving the maximum with the most minimal of forms was the key focus of buildings by Mies van der Rohe.

A close look at his works will help understand his ideologies through the realm of traditionalism to modernism.

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The shift from Traditionalism to Modernism

Before World War I, the traditional style of architecture was at its peak. However, the mid 19 century viewed traditionalism in architecture as a less feasible style, wherein ornamentation overshadowed the modern techniques of architecture. A wave of modern architecture was around. This is exactly when architect Mies van der Rohe began experimenting with his ideology and focused on minimalistic designs. He gave rise to a style of architecture that resonated with the needs of the industrial age. The works of Mies after World War I thus underwent a shift from the traditional neoclassical to modern.

Proceeding with his conventional neoclassical plan style, Mies began visionary ventures that soared him to wide recognition as a Master Architect with an ability to design structures in concordance with the soul of the developing modern society. Strikingly surrendering decoration out and out, he established himself as a modernist in 1921. His path-breaking ideologies were very relevant in his design proposals for the Friedrichstraße Skyscraper and the Glass Skyscraper. The Villa Wolf, Gubin built in 1926 is another of his famous modernist project. Furthermore, he proceeded with two of his spearheading ventures- the impermanent German Pavilion for the Barcelona composition (frequently called the Barcelona Pavilion) in 1929.

Subsequent to this, the rich Villa Tugendhat in Brno, Moravia, Czechia came to inception in 1930. Mies also joined the German avant-garde and began working with the famous design magazine G in 1923. Later, he joined the Bauhaus school as the director of the architectural department. This is when he developed the ideology of employing simple geometric forms functionally.

Let us now explore some of the most prominent buildings by Mies van der Rohe and try to understand the thought process and design ideologies that led to the rise of these timeless icons.

Architectural Works of architect Mies van der Rohe

1. The Seagram Building, New York

The Seagram is one of the most famous buildings by Mies van der Rohe. It is a 515 feet icon of Modernism. The smooth play of the Grey topaz glass and bronze façade are the key features of this building. It is a living example of Mies’s Modernist ideologies and minimalist style of the 1900s. The typical grey-toned glass, as well as the floor-to-roof glazing, add up to the modernist design. This 38-storied glass tower, set on a wide granite plaza helped in achieving the modernist design language.

The Seagram building also helped in breaking the monotony of New York’s imagery. Moreover, it reversed the urban idea of the city and its skyscraper. With this idea of a huge public plaza, opening into a granite-laced lobby, followed by the tall glass box (tower), a new trend got introduced to the New York’s skyline.

The Segrams Building- 02 modernist architecture

2. The Farnsworth House

Exploring the connection between people, shelter, and nature, Mies designed this weekend Retreat- Farnsworth House. The site is located on a floodplain near the Fox River. Mies designed the house as a glass pavilion raising from the ground for about 6 feet. The play of simple glass facades and basic structural frames helped achieve a rectilinear interior space. The fireplace along with the toilets and kitchen areas, placed within the open space induce an idea of barrier-free living, dining, and resting. The whole idea was to achieve a wall-free space. The glass walls and the openness in the space helped to achieve adequate daylighting and natural ventilation. Whereas, the full-length draperies channeled around the glass facades helped in achieving partial or full privacy. The Farnsworth House was a perfect example of two foremost qualities of modernism i.e Flexibility and Functionalism.

The house is also one of the best examples of Mies van der rohe buildings and his modernist vision for the new mechanical age. The concept was to create a solitary unhampered space inside an insignificant “skin and bones” system. His thoughts are expressed with clearness and straightforwardness, utilizing materials designed to communicate their character.

3. The Chicago Federal Complex

Chicago Federal Center Plaza, also called the Chicago Federal Plaza, binds together with three structures of different scales: the mid-ascent Everett McKinley Dirksen Building, the skyscraper named John C. Kluczynski Tower, and the single-storied Post Office building. High tensile steel and concrete make up the structural frame of the building. Whereas, the projecting steel I-beam mullions, form the exterior curtain walls. The exteriors, painted in black graphite, is a typical feature of Mies van der Rohe architecture. The aluminum frames and bronze-tinted glass panels balance the black facade. The whole scheme is set on a grid pattern of 28 feet. This pattern houses the granite plaza and the ground-level lobbies of the two towers.

Here, architect Mies van der Rohe tried to achieve a strong integration of each of the components of the design with the linear grids, thus establishing a sense of discipline in design.

4. The Lake Shore Drive

The Lake Shore Drive towers on Chicago’s Lakefront are High-rise towers for middle and High-income groups, designed by Mies van der Rohe. The facade mainly comprises glass and steel, two of the typical materials of Mies van der Rohe architecture. This was a radical shift from the predominant use of bricks in those times. The four towers rise above the ground with stilts. The project featured minimal rectangular towers with no hierarchy in the wall enclosures.

The key feature here is that Mies shifted the boundaries of the lobby back from the extent of the columns, thus making way for an arcade. This was an adaptation of the arcades used in ancient Greek architecture. With this kind of configuration, Mies also tried to induce a sense of free movement and openness. This became a reference point for other buildings in America with arcades at ground level.

This also implied that Mies had a basic set of values that applied to most of his works. These values included harnessing natural light, functional design, and free-flowing movement. Regardless of these common concepts, each of the buildings by Mies van der Rohe have their very own iconic imageries.

5. S.R. Crown Hall

The S.R. Crown Hall is one of the other famous examples of Mies van der Rohe architecture. It is one of the clearest expressions of his ideology. The typical features of the Crown Hall are the suspended ceilings, without the need for interior columns. This helped to use the interior space adaptively and endlessly in more than one way. Moreover, the use of steel I beams and glass panes made this project quite economical. The design elements here are appropriately proportioned, making it uniform and functional. Mies designed it to seem simple and minimal. Crown Hall also gives the impression of floating above the ground. It is reachable by travertine marble steps, cascading over the waterfall. The lower windows feature sandblasting to screen students from outside distractions. However, the upper windows freely admit light and views of the surrounding trees and sky.

6. National Gallery, Berlin

The National Gallery of Berlin is one of the iconic structures, depicting the style of buildings by Mies van der Rohe in an appropriate form. The upper structure is made up of monumental steel sections and a cantilevered rooftop plane enclosed with glass. The basic square glass structure is an amazing articulation of his thoughts, which is also adaptable inside space, characterized by linear dividers, and upheld by an external casing.

The glass structure is a minor part of the whole structure and yet acts as a grand entry point to the space used for temporary exhibitions. A huge platform working beneath the structure also serves the major part of the exhibitions. A huge window running along all the Westward opens up to a large sculpture garden. The project as a whole depicts minimalism in its purest forms.

7. Highfield House Condominium

Highfield House Condominium is the second project of architect Mies van der Rohe.  This high-rise condominium is located in Baltimore, Maryland, and came into inception in 1964. It is a 15-storied tower, set on a platform with the primary residential levels 20 ft. above the ground. The lobby is enclosed in a 36 columned frame with and two covered terrace areas to the north and south. The towers are glazed in grey tinted glass and each window has a brick paneling beneath. The subtle ornamentation, using bricks against the extensive glass facade is a contrasting feature of Mies van der Rohe architecture.

Mies contribution in Furniture design

Many architects of the Bauhaus era aimed at designing spaces that were extremely functional and impeccably manufactured for the common person. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe also delivered designs that were minimal and functional but at the same time, he also ventured into delivering futuristic and modern furniture designs. Mies, in a joint effort with Lilly Reich, created modern and futuristic furniture, utilizing mechanical innovations and advancements in industrial technologies.

His furniture went on to become famous works of art, for example, the Barcelona seat and table, the Brno seat, and the Tugendhat seat. His furniture is famous for fine artisanship, a blend of customary extravagant textures like leather against chrome frames. Mies furniture designs typically had a distinction between the supporting and supported members. Moreover, his furniture designs often had overhanging elements to induce lightness against the delicate supporting members. Like the buildings by Mies van der Rohe, his furniture designs also revolved around the concepts of functionalism and minimalism.

The Barcelona chair by Mies is one of the most influential modern and trendy pieces of furniture even today. The chair was first used in Villa Tugendhat, which was a private residence. The casing was at first intended to be darted together. However, was overhauled in 1950 utilizing stainless steel, which permitted the edge to be framed by a seamless piece of metal, giving it a smoother appearance. The ivory-colored pigskin, used for the original pieces, was also later replaced by Bovine leather.

Key Takeaway

Throughout his life, architect Mies van der Rohe created and assembled his vision of an amazing concept of “skin and bones” architecture that mirrored his objective to give the individual a spot to satisfy himself in the modern world. Moreover, Mies always aimed towards rendering free and open spaces, encased into a basic structural frame. He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the year1963.

Mies, through his notable works, brought a change of perception of architectural design. He also introduced the world to the concept of using new materials and advanced technology in architecture. The buildings by Mies van der Rohe stood as reference points over time. They have also helped us to explore the new possibilities in design as well as the concept of minimalism. Modernism in architecture was all about following the trend of functional and sleek design. Therefore, in a way also meant undoing the old concepts and imageries involved in architecture. Mies through his works showed us how the shift from traditional concepts to modern concepts is achieved. His ideology of exploring the ‘new’ aesthetics gave us iconic modern structures. His buildings stand strong as timeless beauties and have made us aware of modern ideologies and their significance.

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