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Architect, Educator, and Furniture Designer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is widely recognized for his revolutionary approach to creating spectacular designs and developing a modern aesthetic known as the International Style. Mies is recognized worldwide as a pioneer in modernistic architecture and design.
Born in Aachen, Germany, he was named Maria Ludwig Michael Mies; however, he adopted his mother’s surname van der Rohe when he established himself as an architect. Mies was the son and apprentice of a master stonemason. After working with his father, Mies sketched designs for several Aachen architecture firms. In 1905 Mies moved to Berlin where he joined interior designer, Bruno Paul and worked for him a few years, building his first house in Germany. His talent captured the interest of Peter Behrens; joining his studio in 1908 and where iconic architects such as Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius had once too worked.
Mies’ talent was notable and led to commissions to design and build homes in Germany. He joined the Friedrichstrasse office building competition and created an innovative design which consisted of glass and steel, violating the rules of the contest and failing to achieve the first place or any mention at all. Towards the end of the 1920s, Mies met with Le Corbusier and contracted several European architects in Stuttgart Germany, where they worked together with Mies as the artistic director of the construction and design of twenty-one houses and apartment buildings denominated the Weissenhof Estate. Mies designed the Afrikanischestrasse Apartments in Berlin and the Barcelona Pavillion for which he created one of his most iconic furniture pieces, the Barcelona Chair. Mies continued designing modern and minimalist furniture, and in the 1930’s he was appointed as the director of the Bauhaus experimental art and design German school, which he led until 1933 when it was forced to close under Nazi Regime pressure.
At the end of the 1930s, Mies emigrated to the United States, where the Armour Institute in Chicago had lost its director Earl Reed, and they were in search of a new architect to lead the institute. Mies was named the director of the Department of Architecture, a position he held for twenty years. During those years, his first American construction was the Minerals and Metals building followed by the Alumni Hall, the Wishnick Hall, the Perlstein Hall, the Robert F. Carr Memorial Chapel of St. Savior and the S.R Crown Hall, all of them part of the Illinois Institute of Technology as Mies’ commission to redesign the IIT Campus.
After retiring from the IIT, Mies went from building modern houses, apartment towers, and academic buildings to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial library and museums. One of the museums being the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin which allowed him to return to the city where he started his career. It was completed one year before Mies’ death.
Mies van der Rohe believed in a minimalist, balanced and revolutionary aesthetic, defining modern architecture and giving a new meaning to the term Mid-Century Modern. Many of his buildings still stand today and his furniture designs still collected amongst enthusiasts. His posthumous fame is a testament to his success and raw talent as an architect and designer.