Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), a German-born architect is widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of Modern architecture, responsible for establishing and popularizing a new architectural style in the U.S. Mies left Germany in 1938 to head the Armour Institute, which later became the Illinois Institute of Technology. His design of the Main Campus and of other important buildings, such as the apartment towers at 860 and 880 North Lake Shore Drive in Chicago and the Seagram Building in New York, helped set a new aesthetic standard for modern architecture. (Blake, 1960).Mies created an inspiring 20th century architectural style, stated with high clarity and simplicity. He carried the ideals of rationalism and minimalism to new levels. His work in US made use of modern materials such as steel and glass to define interior spaces.(Kostof, 1995). He called his buildings “skin and bones” architecture. He wanted to achieve an architecture with a minimal framework of structural order balanced against the implied freedom of free flowing space. Mies’ Buildings in US radiate the confidence, rationality and elegance of their creator, free of ornamentation excess.(Blake, 1960) His philosophy that “less is more” became a guideline for architects in the 20th century. (SearchQuotes)
With the establishment of a new campus for the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), Mies van der Rohe had the opportunity to plan the campus as well as several other of building. The Minerals and Metals building (1942- 1943) was Mies’ very first construction on the campus. This building marked the first step toward the realization of Mies’ master plan for the IIT campus which was one of his most famous works in America. This project is “not something made by the God of Crown hall” stated by Kevin Harrington but rather Mies urges us to understand the building as part of the development of his own architectural language.This is where we first see his transition from forms that has been “dear to his heart”, seen in his work in Europe, to new forms that were “possible, necessary and significant”. It is in the Minerals and Metals building we first see Mies use of rolled -steel- I beam as part of his structural grammar. Mies’ unconventional use of steel was a map to the inside of the building, and it inaugurated a technique he used again in his projects in America. Giedion,1982).
Crown Hall (1950-1956). This building situated on the IIT campus is a modern masterpiece. The National Historic landmark described Crown hall as “A straight forward expression of construction and materiality, which allows the structure to transcent into art”. Crown hall is an enormous room, 120 x 220 ft. in plan, 18 ft. high without interior columns, used for the architectural school. The building is raised several feet above the ground to allow light for the below grade school of Design. The most interesting point is the structural solution of exposed structural beams above the roof, making dear the method of achieving the clear-span interior. The huge scale of the building and the column-free open plan of the main floor of Crown hall demonstrates Mies’ innovative concept of creating universal space. Mies van der Rohe ended his relationship with the school in 1958.(Blake,1960)
Exterior, entry façade
Open plan of Crown hall, creating universal space.
Shifting away from Mies work on IIT campus, another of his well renowned work is Farnsworth House (1946-1951).A small weekend retreat outside Chicago. The ‘Farnsworth house’ is one of the most radically minimalist houses ever designed. It’s interior, a single room, subdivided by partitions and completely enclosed in glass.”The muteness speaks to us through the gentle and contlingent setting of the house on its site” Hartoonian(1984,pp.48).The building is held together by only eight steel columns. Mies van de Rohe was able to realize spatial and structural ideas. For example the I beams are both structural and expressive. “The use of glass negates the dialectics of enclosure and openness” Hartoonian(1984,pp.48). Farnsworth House which may seem as an iconic glass box to be viewed from afar is rather a space through which life unfolds both independently and interdependently with nature.(Blake, 1960).
Sketch of Mies Farnsworth’s House.
Floor plan of Farnsworth House.
The Seagram Building on Park Avenue was Mie’s first attempt at tall office building construction.Mies creates a stunning monument to the International Styles faith in simplicity and clarity. The 38-story tower quickly began the country’s most influential and copied office building, an instant classic. The building’s external faces are given their character by the quality of the materials used – the tinted glass and the bronze ‘I-beams’ applied all the way up the building. In the picture below you can see the building is pulled back from street line to allow the building to circumvent the setback provisions of the city code “as well as create its own breathing space”(Kostof,1995) The Seagram Building is the first bronze-coloured skyscraper. The metal bronze skin that is seen in the facade is non-structural but is used to express the idea of the structural frame that is underneath. Additional vertical elements were also welded to the window panels, not only to stiffen the skin for installation and wind loading, but to aesthetically further enhance the vertical articulation of the building.(Blake,1960).
Exterior view from the northwest Structural plan of one corner, showing the main . pier and projecting I- beams.
860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments in Chicago is another of Mies’ high rise building where he implied the same style of modern architecture carried in his projects in the US. The 26-story towers bordering Lake Michigan give a beautiful waterfront view. The reason for this creation involved his concept that architecture should be independent of the site. The buildings are renowned for their structural clarity and composition on the site. The same common materials are used in this project: steel, aluminium and glass. The most impressive feature of the building is the skin and bone expression of the steel and glass towers.The steel I-beams effortlessly define the structure while the glass suspends and encloses space. It is obvious that he relies on clarity of form achieved through elegant proportions. Prior to this point, structure was hidden within architecture, but here we see a change.Mies merged the two by exposing the steel, realizing his own words: “When technology reaches it true fulfilment, it transcends into architecture” This is not only seen in this project but many of his other projects in the US.(Blase,1999)
Two apartment buildings at cross axis towards one another on the triangular site delivering view of surrounding area.
Another of Mies very striking projects is Federal Center.Here once again we see the minimalist glass and steel design which is very simple yet very striking. According to the AIA guide of Chicago: “Mies’s uncompromising devotion to principle, together with his vaunted sensitivity to proportion and structural detail, and, in this case, the organizational scale, combine to give the complex a monumental urban presence. Both towers are curtain-wall structures, characteristic of the high-rise design of Mies’s American period. Their steel frames, suppressed behind uniform walls of glass and steel, are marked off by projecting steel I-beam mullions. The Post Office, a unitary space with a central core, is similarly typical of Mies’s reductivist concept of the single-storey pavilion. Externally thin yet powerful structural columns of steel brace enormous panes of tinted glass.” The plaza at the federal center is cold, uninviting which minimal seating and with this the one story post office, everything feels very utilitarian. But this does not mean Mies lacked an eye for detail.His eye for details is seen through all glass design, which was very deliberate as well as the granite tiles of plaza to the granite walls in the lobby. Black I-beams look very industrial running up the side of the building and are completely ornamental. The Alexander Caldwell’s flamingo structure in the center is marked contrast to the plain building behind it.(Blaser,2004)
The plaza of the Mies van der rohe designed Federal center in Chicago,The Klucynski builidng is to the left,one story post office to the right and Alezander Caldwells flamingo structure in the center.
Mies van der Rohe without a doubt created an influential 20th century architectural style in the US, stated with high clarity and simplicity.He helped define modern architecture in the US by emphasizing open space, revealing the industrial materials used and reinventing the form of buildings. He carried the ideals of rationalism and minimalism to new levels. This is clearly evident in Minerals and Metals, Crown hall, Farnsworth house, Seagram building and the Federal Center.His use of modern materials such as glass and steel can also be seen in these buildings. Mie’s’ Buildings in the US radiate the confidence, rationality and elegance of their creator, free of excess ornamentation. He follows his philosophy that “less is more” and this approach of Mies is pertinent as ever in his projects.(Blake,1960).