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Ludwig Mies van der Rohe hardly needs any introduction to readers of this blog, or indeed to anyone more than casually familiar with the history of twentieth century architecture. Still, a few words might be included here for those who haven’t yet had the pleasure. He was the third director of the legendary Bauhaus art school, after the pioneering modernist Walter Gropius and the controversial Marxist Hannes Meyer.
Descended from stonemasons, Mies entered the building trade at a young age. Prior to his tenure at the Bauhaus, he was an apprentice along with Gropius in the studio of Peter Behrens, who also later supervised a Swiss prodigy by the name of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (alias Le Corbusier). Under the German master’s tutelage, Mies gained an enduring appreciation for the Prussian classicist Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Besides Behrens, the other modern influence on Mies during this early phase of his career was the Dutchman Hendrik Petrus Berlage, through whom Europe learned of the groundbreaking designs of Frank Lloyd Wright in America.
Mies’ turn to full-fledged modernism came in the 1920s, after he came into contact with Kurt Schwitters and other members of the international avant-garde. Although his commissions earlier in the decade still came from clients whose taste was rather more traditional, Mies nevertheless began writing bold articles and manifestos for the constructivist journal G. Other contributors to this periodical were artists and critics such as El Lissitzky, Werner Gräff, and Walter Benjamin. Jean-Louis Cohen, author of The Future of Architecture (2012), details the various experiments Mies conducted around this time. In 1926, he was selected to design the monument to Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in Berlin.
Following the success of the 1927 Wießenhof exhibition, spearheaded by Mies, a number of more daring projects now opened themselves up to him. Villa Tugendhat in Brno, Czechoslovakia and the Wolf House in Gubin, Poland were only the most famous of these projects. In 1929, Mies was chosen to design the German pavilion for the world’s fair in Barcelona, which received widespread acclaim. You can read more about these works in an excerpt taken from Alan Colquhoun’s historical survey Modern Architecture (2002). […]