German-born Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was an American architect who popularized glass and steel architecture. With simplicity in mind, his Modernist buildings made him a leading figure in the International Style of architecture. His legacy can be found in the glass skyscrapers that continue to rise all over the world. For more about this pivotal designer, here are the following facts:
1. The name Mies means “lousy”.
- His birth name is Maria Ludwig Michael Mies. He rebranded himself as a cultured architect by using his mother’s surname, Rohe.
- Mies added “van der,” a title from neighboring Netherlands, for an air of sophistication. He could not use the German “von”, as it was only for true nobles.
2. He did not have formal training in architecture.
- Teenaged Mies attended vocational school and apprenticed with his father, a master mason who owned his own shop and worked on projects in their hometown.
- He worked for several designers and was eventually hired by an impressed Peter Behrens, Germany’s then-most innovative architect.
3. Mies was part of the movement that served as a precursor to the International Style.
- He was a member of the Deutscher Werkbund, an avant-garde group that promoted the blend of aesthetics and industrial progress into functional design.
- He was also an advocate of “Gesamtkultur,” a culture that idealizes an environment made from man-made (modern) materials.
4. Mies’s works after World War I heralded his future achievements.
- He spent the war as an enlisted man, constructing roads and bridges. Most of his works during the postwar period were theoretical and recorded on paper.
- He created sketches of glass buildings as early as 1919, particularly for the Friedrichstrasse Office Building. The drawings are currently displayed at the Museum of Modern Art.
5. Mies was known for his “skin and bones” architecture.
- His buildings allowed the observer to see beyond the glass and into the steel structure beneath. The simplicity of his creations linked him to the saying “less is more”.
- Mies said his designs were his desire to “keep everything reasonable and clear—to have an architecture that anybody can do”.
6. He served as director of two reputable schools.
- Mies replaced Hannes Meyer as administrator of the Bauhaus. Though students preferred Meyer’s leadership, Mies gained respect for his disciplined teaching style.
- After turning down the position for Harvard University’s architecture school, he became director for the Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute). He stayed with the school for 20 years and designed its campus.
7. Mies had many romantic partners but eventually kept to himself.
- He was married once to the daughter of an affluent financier. He then had at least four companions throughout his life, all of whom were designers or artists.
- Mies lived alone in his large Chicago apartment during his later years. He once said he had only three essentials: Dunhill cigars, martinis, and expensive clothes.
From his humble beginnings, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s revolutionary vision turned him into one of the most celebrated architects of all time. Though his style has become commonplace, his designs continue to inspire architects today and influence the urban landscape.