Reading: Architecture, pp. 531--534; 538--540
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe got his start in architecture in the ferment of the transferral of modern architecture from Chicago to Germany and France just before World War I. But he had a spiritual precursor, too, in Karl Friedrich von Schinkel and the rationalist side of Neoclassicism. In his famous dictum of "less is more," Mies stated his belief in a universal architecture in which particulars of site, materials, etc., are meaningless. The resulting works were as abstract in their way as was contemporary painting before and after World War I. But these buildings were no mere functionalist products: they had a richness, almost a spirituality, that is hard to evoke in our Post-Modern age.
One sees this best in two of Mies's masterpieces: the Barcelona Pavilion of 1929, and in the austere perfection of Mies's Seagram Building of 1957. It is ironic that a skyscraper erected on Park Avenue in New York less than half a century ago is today seen as "historic." But that is what the Seagram Building is. The Seagram Building illustrates that no building can ever be entirely "functional," and no building entirely without function. The Seagram Building is the logical conclusion of a set of architectural forces that had their roots in the mid-nineteenth century, but at the same time it is an arbitrary creation of an individual artist. One of the many ironies to the Seagram Building is that a work in such a radical tradition became a great icon (along with Elvis?) of the conformity of Late Capitalism in the Fifties.
Representative buildings:
1) Mies van der Rohe: Friedrichstrasse office building projects (projects for a glass skyscraper), Berlin, 1919-21; fig. 811.
2) Mies: project for a brick country villa, 1925
3) Theo van Doesberg, Rhythms of a Russian Dance, 1917
4) Mies: German Pavilion, Barcelona Exposition, 1929; figs. 847--849.
5) Mies: Crown Hall, IIT Campus, Chicago, 1956
6) Mies (with Philip Johnson): Seagram Building, New York City, 1957; figs. 857--862