History Lesson: Mies van der Rohe

“Less is more.” This is a quote that can be applied to any number of situations where simplicity equals success, but it was German-American architectural pioneer Mies van der Rohe who said it first.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, born in Germany in 1886, is regarded as one of modern architecture’s trailblazers along with names such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Alvar Aalto. What we know as “Mid-Century Modern” design would not exist without Mies’s contributions.

He spent the first half of career in his native country, received his first commission at the age of 20 and quickly became a leading member of Berlin’s thriving art and design community in the wake of the First World War.

People across Europe praised Mies for his innovation. His use of steel and glass materials in a submission to a 1921 skyscraper design contest would later become staples of modernist architecture. Eight years later, he received the offer to design Germany’s pavilion in the 1929 World Fair in Barcelona.

However any discussion of Mies’s career would not be complete without mention of his influence as an educator. In 1930, the Bauhaus school of art appointed Mies as its director. He served as director until the school closed in 1933 under pressure from the Nazi regime.

He continued educating architects when he came to Chicago in 1938 as the director of the Department of Architecture at Armour Institute. There he was tasked with implementing a more rational, back-to-basics curriculim.

When Armour Institute and the Lewis Institute combined to form the Illinois Institute of Technology, Mies was the one architect chosen to develop plans for a new 120-acre campus. The plans for this campus would be Mies’s legacy: steel and concrete frames with curtains of glass, an embodiment of modernism and a reflection of a new generation of architects.

Mies van der Rohe’s contributions to modern architecture can be seen anywhere there are sleek, glass-lined offices and apartments. His work as a designer and educator continue to influence aspiring students and anyone who appreciates architecture.

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