To understand the legacy and importance of Mies van der Rohe’s works is not something that you can do at first glance even if you are an architecture enthusiast, especially if you haven’t ever designed a living space or building yourself. As populations and cities in the world grow, there is more and more need for space. Even more than that, there is more need of effective use of space and this is a concept that the modernists and pioneers of the International Style came up with and what paved the way for architecture today. They also brought to the table cheaper and easier construction techniques conceived so that not only the privileged, but the masses could afford houses.
Sure, Mies’ architecture is beautiful, poetic, monumental, and sculptural at first sight. Despite being rationalistic and functional in its entirety, it achieved plastic beauty and elegance. But it was his innovative use of modern industrial materials, exterior expression of structure(rather than hiding it under overdecorated facades like in his contemporaries’ historicist buildings), flexible interior spaces surrounded by transparent walls and supported by an external structural frame, clear geometric forms, eliminating ornaments and replacing them with the visual qualities of materials and forms, and the extreme clarity and simplicity of his buildings what made him be one of the leaders of an avant-garde movement that change architecture during his time. It was a new architecture language he and his contemporaries conceived as suitable for the modern industrial age and to represent the new era of technology and production.
Less is More
Before him, buildings were saturated with decoration and their form didn’t follow their function. During his time, there was even an aristocratic revival of classical styles. However, he strove towards an architecture with a minimal structure in a free-flowing open space. He called his transparent buildings “skin and bones”, therefore, it is safe to consider Mies van der Rohe the founder of minimalism.
His constructions were open and adaptable “universal” spaces with a clear structure, which were composed of movable textured vertical and horizontal wall planes in different materials. They were characterized by regularity which consisted of modules standing on columnar grids. There was a freedom of movement or a free and fluid circulation of interwoven and inter-connected spaces where you could walk endlessly before being stopped in cubical areas. But the most impressive aspect about his simple, rectilinear, and planar designs with clean lines and pure colors was that the inside encompasses its outdoor surroundings and there is an extension of space around and beyond interior walls(integration with nature and surroundings).
Scroll down to see a visual summary of some of his most important and significant works:
1. Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin. 1968.
2. Farnsworth House, Chicago. 1945-1951.
3. The German Pavilion in Barcelona, 1929.
4. Villa Tugendhat in Brno, Czech Republic, 1930.
5. Toronto-Dominion Centre, Toronto. 1967-1991.
6. The Seagram Building, New York. 1958.
7. Chicago Federal Center. 1974.
8. Crown Hall, Chicago, Illinois. 1956.