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Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886 – 1969) can be seen as one of the leading and most celebrated architectural and design voices of the 20th Century. His understanding of design principles allowed him to begin a new mode of working that opened up options for future designers. Mies van der Rohe was involved in the Bauhaus school and followed the traditions of considering ways in which design, fine art and architecture could function concurrently. The effect of the shifting politics and the growing tensions before WWII meant that he was forced to close the Bauhaus school and he eventually immigrated to the USA. His teachings pushed students toward understanding technical skills and practice and as such, his influence moved the understandings of the art of creation in new directions. His own architecture and designs focused on a ‘less is more’ principle that has allowed his work to remain timeless and classic. 

The German designer was born in Aachen. His father was a stonemason and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe trained in the family workshop, designing residential building and working with the various materials he was able to find. At the age of 20, Mies van der Rohe was given his first commission as an independent architect; he designed the Reihl House and was thereafter considered to be among the important avant-garde designers in Germany. He continued to work independently, self-studying the architecture principles of Frank Lloyd-Wright and Karl Friedrich and continuing to learn through practical experience. He was known to greatly admire the construction of the George Washington Bridge in New York and felt it was the most modern example of architecture that was able to express the times. Mies van der Rohe saw the importance of considering details and in so doing was able to foreshadow some of the greatest architectural and design trends that would follow his legacy and be the norm. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe attained European acclaim in his early working life but only was able to find wide spread success during the post-war building boom in the USA, when he was over 50 years old. However, his achievements can be found in numerous cities across the States along with an extensive collection of drawings and preparatory sketches of designs that are housed at the MoMA. In terms of medals and awards, he was given the Presidential Freedom Medal in the USA and presented with gold medals from the Royal Institute of British Architects and separately from the American Institute of Architects.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Barcelona Chair (circa 1980) H: 79cm W: 77cm D: 75cm, leather and chromed steel, Knoll USA

The Barcelona Chair by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was first designed and presented at the German Pavilion in the 1929 Barcelona Exposition, which the current king would attend. The design shows his characteristic technique of working with refined proportion, conscious of balance and simplicity. Only two chairs were made for the original showcase but the design was highly esteemed and was put into production for retail later that year and is still being made today. The chair is formed with two intersecting chrome-plated steel bars that are reminiscent of a folding chair. Mies van der Rohe was known for recalling previous artistic movements and then refining and reinterpreting them. Tom Wolfe described the chair, in his book From Bauhaus to Our House, as necessary for any young architect to have as a signifier of taste and as a kind of homage to Mies van der Rohe, as a symbol of ideal design.