CLOSE
The Seagram Building in New York City // Getty Images
The Seagram Building in New York City // Getty Images

9 Minimalist Facts About Architect Mies van der Rohe

The Seagram Building in New York City // Getty Images
The Seagram Building in New York City // Getty Images

You may not know much about Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, but you definitely know his style. The German-born architect pioneered the simplistic steel-and-glass skyscraper, and the open urban plaza that abutted it. Every boring shiny glass skyscraper you’ve ever seen is a Mies knockoff. The design may seem banal now that it’s commonplace, but in the early- to mid-20th century, Mies’s minimalism was radical, and his work became foundational for modern architecture.

Mies van der Rohe was born 130 ago on March 27. In honor of his birthday, here are nine things you might not know about the iconic architect.

1. HE BEGAN HIS CAREER AS A STONEMASON. 

He started working with his father, a stonemason, on construction sites in his hometown of Aachen before becoming an architectural apprentice at age 15. 

2. HE GOT HIS START EARLY IN LIFE. 

Mies got his first independent commission, a German residence called the Riehl House, when he was just 20 years old, finishing it in 1907. However, he wouldn’t come up with the tall glass-and-metal aesthetic that became his calling card until the 1920s, when he created a pair of designs for “crystal tower” skyscrapers without any masonry on their facades. (They were never built.)

3. HE HAD NO FORMAL EDUCATION. 

Mies in 1961. Image Credit: Getty Images

The Mies family wasn’t wealthy, and he couldn’t afford higher education. He went to Catholic school as a boy, then spent two years in trade school with the goal of joining his father’s masonry business. He never went through any formal architectural training—instead, he served as an apprentice to leading German designers and architects. He would later go on to play a major role in American architectural education, serving as the director of the architecture program at the Armour Institute of Technology in Chicago (now the Illinois Institute of Technology). 

4. HE ADOPTED A NEW NAME AS HE GOT MORE FAMOUS. 

Born Maria Ludwig Michael Mies, he added his mother’s maiden name, Rohe, as his career began to take off. Many of his contemporaries, such as the architect Le Corbusier, used pseudonyms, and he wanted to reinvent himself from a provincial stonemason’s son into a cosmopolitan architect. The “van der” part of his name, a Dutch title, he simply added to give himself a more distinguished air. (The German “von” was unavailable, since it was only for nobles.)  Another reason for his name change? Mies means lousy in German.

5. HIS CATCHPHRASE WILL SOUND FAMILIAR. 

Mies was fond of aphorisms. His most famous one, which he used to sum up his architecture philosophy, was “Less is more.” While the phrase is inextricably linked with Mies by now, he actually took it from industrial designer Peter Behrens, who he apprenticed under in the early 1900s in Berlin. 

6. ARCHITECTURE CRITICS LOVE HIM … MOSTLY. 

The Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois. Image Credit: Carl M. Highsmith via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The late New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp called Mies’s Seagram Building in New York City—the quintessential modern office building, seen in the image at the beginning of this article—“the millennium's most important building” in 1999. But like any artist who garners outsized praise, Mies also has his detractors. “At one time or another his work and influence have been blamed for everything from urban decay to the continued vigor of American capitalism,” as New Criterion editor Roger Kimball explained in a 1989 book review. 

7. HIS FAVORITE NEW YORK CITY BUILDING WAS NOT A BUILDING. 

He loved to go see the George Washington Bridge when he was in New York, and in 1963, he declared it “the most modern building in the city.”

8. HE WAS IN PLAYBOY

Mies was one of many famous designers to appear—clothed—in Hugh Hefner’s magazine. During its early years, Playboy covered architecture’s biggest names in features and interviews, insinuating that being knowledgable about good design was an essential (and seductive!) part of contemporary manhood. Mies was featured in the 1950s (the magazine was founded in 1953), as was fellow architecture icon Frank Lloyd Wright.

9. ONE OF HIS BUILDINGS SERVED AS MEL GIBSON’S FICTIONAL HOME. 

2400 Lakeview Avenue, Chicago. Image Credit: Google Street View

In the 2000 film What Women Want, Mel Gibson’s character, Nick Marshall, lives in 2400 Lakeview Avenue in Chicago. Completed in 1963, it was Mies’ final residential project. 

arrow
History
The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Guillaume Souvant, Getty Images
arrow
This Just In
For $61, You Can Become a Co-Owner of This 13th-Century French Castle
Guillaume Souvant, Getty Images
Guillaume Souvant, Getty Images

A cultural heritage restoration site recently invited people to buy a French castle for as little as $61. The only catch? You'll be co-owning it with thousands of other donors. Now thousands of shareholders are responsible for the fate of the Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers in western France, and there's still room for more people to participate.

According to Mashable, the dilapidated structure has a rich history. Since its construction in the 13th century, the castle has been invaded by foreign forces, looted, renovated, and devastated by a fire. Friends of Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers, a small foundation formed in 2016 in an effort to conserve the overgrown property, want to see the castle restored to its former glory.

Thanks to a crowdfunding collaboration with the cultural heritage restoration platform Dartagnans, the group is closer than ever to realizing its mission. More than 9000 web users have contributed €51 ($61) or more to the campaign to “adopt” Mothe-Chandeniers. Now that the original €500,000 goal has been fulfilled, the property’s new owners are responsible for deciding what to do with their purchase.

“We intend to create a dedicated platform that will allow each owner to monitor the progress of works, events, project proposals and build a real collaborative and participatory project,” the campaign page reads. “To make an abandoned ruin a collective work is the best way to protect it over time.”

Even though the initial goal has been met, Dartagnans will continue accepting funds for the project through December 25. Money collected between now and then will be used to pay for various fees related to the purchase of the site, and new donors will be added to the growing list of owners.

The shareholders will be among the first to see the cleared-out site during an initial visit next spring. The rest of the public will have to wait until it’s fully restored to see the final product.

[h/t Mashable]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios