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The Seagram Building in New York City // Getty Images

9 Minimalist Facts About Architect Mies van der Rohe

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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. 

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MODS International, Amazon
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You Can Now Shop for Tiny Houses on Amazon
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MODS International, Amazon

Whether you’re in the market for board games, boxed wine, or pickup trucks, you can likely find what you’re looking for on Amazon. Now, the web retailer’s catalogue of 400,000,000 items includes actual homes. As Curbed reports, Amazon will deliver a tiny house made from a shipping container to your current place of residence.

The pint-sized dwelling is made by the modular home builder MODS International, and is selling for $36,000 (plus $3754 for shipping, even for Prime members). The container is prefabricated and move-in ready, with a bedroom, shower, toilet, sink, kitchenette, and living area built into the 320-square-foot space. The tiny house also includes heating and air conditioning, making it a good fit for any climate. And though the abode does have places to hook up sewage, water, and electrical work, you'll have to do a little work before switching on a light or flushing the toilet.

Becoming a homeowner without the six-digit price tag may sound like a deal, but the MODS International home costs slightly more than the average tiny house. It’s not hard for minimalists to find a place for about $25,000, and people willing to build a home themselves can do so without spending more than $10,000. But it's hard to put a price on the convenience of browsing and buying homes online in your pajamas.

[h/t Curbed]

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For the First Time in 40 Years, Rome's Colosseum Will Open Its Top Floor to the Public
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iStock

The Colosseum’s nosebleed seats likely didn’t provide plebeians with great views of gladiatorial contests and other garish spectacles. But starting in November, they’ll give modern-day tourists a bird's-eye look at one of the world’s most famous ancient wonders, according to The Telegraph.

The tiered amphitheater’s fifth and final level will be opened up to visitors for the first time in several decades, following a multi-year effort to clean, strengthen, and restore the crumbling attraction. Tour guides will lead groups of up to 25 people to the stadium’s far-flung reaches, and through a connecting corridor that’s never been opened to the public. (It contains the vestiges of six Roman toilets, according to The Local.) At the summit, which hovers around 130 feet above the gladiator pit below, tourists will get a rare glimpse at the stadium’s sloping galleries, and of the nearby Forum and Palatine Hill.

In ancient Rome, the Colosseum’s best seats were marble benches that lined the amphitheater’s bottom level. These were reserved for senators, emperors, and other important parties. Imperial functionaries occupied the second level, followed by middle-class spectators, who sat behind them. Traders, merchants, and shopkeepers enjoyed the show from the fourth row, and the very top reaches were left to commoners, who had to clamber over steep stairs and through dark tunnels to reach their sky-high perches.

Beginning November 1, 2017, visitors will be able to book guided trips to the Colosseum’s top levels. Reservations are required, and the tour will cost around $11, on top of the normal $14 admission cost. (Gladiator fights, thankfully, are not included.)

[h/t The Telegraph]

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