Along with Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is widely known as one of the pioneers of modern architecture. He was born Maria Ludwig Michael Mies in Aachen, Germany in 1886.
His career began when he started working in his father’s stone carving shop and at several local design firms. He later moved to Berlin when we worked in the office of interior designer Bruno Paul. Mies started his architectural career working as an apprentice with the heavily influential architect Peter Behrens studio from 1908 until 1912. Behrens played an important role in the modernist movement and exposed Mies to progressive German culture alongside Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius. Mies opened up his own design shop in 1913 in Lichterfelde and began independent commissions.
Mies career was put on hold with the start of World War I. He served in the German military and used his skills to build bridges and roads. After the war, Mies returned to work. He designed the glass skyscraper and submitted it to the 1921 futuristic design competition. Even though Mies was never formally trained, he became well known and recognized for his designs. As part of his new recognition as an architect, Mies changed his named from Maria Ludwig Michel Mies to a more prestigious sounding Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Mies adopted “van der” which is the Dutch form of the German “von”, which is only restricted to those of genuine aristocratic lineage.
Mies soon began designing homes for the upper class while returning to the style of early 19th century Germanic domestic styles. Mies rejected the eclectic styles that were common during his time and instead wanted to return to more pure, natural, and rhythmic elements in his work. In an ode to nature, Mies designed buildings in which he extended outdoor plaza tiles into the floor of a lobby, to accentuate the flow of the natural and artificial. This can be seen in his famed Seagram Building located on 375 Park Avenue in New York.
Mies’ architecture was guided by his principles that stemmed in his study of great philosophers of the past and present. While self-educated, Mies devoured the writings of philosophers for ideas that were relevant to his architecture and ideas. The depth of meaning conveyed in his work has drawn many contemporary philosophers and theoretical thinkers to explore and study his architecture.
After the Great Depression reduced his amount of work and the end of the Bauhaus movement where Mies served as director, he felt pressure from the Nazis that rejected his work. He packed up and left Germany and moved to Chicago, Illinois. He accepted a position as head of the department of architecture of the newly established Illinois Institute of Technology. He introduced a new kind of education known as Second Chicago School that became quite influential in North America as well as Europe.
Mies is most known for his American designs such as Chicago Federal Plaza, the Farnsworth House, Crown Hall, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, as well as many modern furniture pieces.