smow blog Design Calendar: March 27th 1886 – Happy Birthday Ludwig Mies van der Rohe!

How to celebrate the birthday of man all celebrate?

What words can one find to honour the birthday of the German architect, designer and ex-Bauhaus Director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe?

When in doubt we invariably turn to the man who has words for every occasion, George Nelson.

Following his graduation from Yale University George Nelson won the so-called “Rome Prize”, a fellowship awarded by the American Academy in Rome for particularly talented individuals from across a range of disciplines and which, in Nelson’s own words, meant “two years in Rome with all expenses covered”1

During his time in Italy Nelson used his status as an Academy Fellow and the associated contacts to arrange interviews with twelve leading European architects, including Giò Ponti, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius. The interviews were subsequently published in the American architecture magazine Pencil Points, the September 1935 edition featuring Nelson’s portrait of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, or Miës van der Rohe as Nelson insists on referring to him…….

On the top floor of a rather dowdy old house in Berlin there lives a man who, in spite of having built little, spoken less, and written not at all, has somehow come to be considered one of the greatest architects of his time. Such is the power of personality and an idea.

Up to ten years ago he had built virtually nothing of his own, and it was only in certain groups in Germany that his influence was making itself felt. Today he occupies a position which is unique – even in Germany – and he is almost as well-known as the more widely publicized Le Corbusier. In spite of his unwillingness to dramatize himself, Miës is no dreamy recluse to whose garret door the world has beaten a path: the luxuriously simple apartment in Berlin is in no sense a garret, and for this ample, well-fed German the meagre life holds no attractions. He likes his food and knows his wines, and with a sufficient quantity of both inside of him he can become a charming and mellow conversationalist.2

Which is good because, as Nelson notes,

Of all possible architects Miës was the hardest to interview. He was polite but frankly very bored by the prospect of talking with a stranger, and he did nothing whatever to help out when his interviewer became enmeshed in the abominable intricacies of German grammatical construction,

however, and as already noted,

As the conversation progressed to matters of mutual interest, Miës gradually unbent and we both had a much better time, I left enormously impressed by the keenness and extraordinary personal force of the man.

Not that one should get the impression that Nelson was anything but an admirer of Mies van der Rohe and his art, the Tugendhat House in Brno is, according to Nelson,

Miës’ masterpiece, justly world famous, perhaps the finest modern house that has been built

and Nelson ends with for us the most wonderful tribute to a man we never met but after reading Nelson’s profile sorely wish we had,

As for the man himself, he is a sure, sensitive artist, and in his handling of space and feeling for material he has no superior. He is brilliant, slow, affable, and vain.

Happy Birthday Ludwig Miës van der Rohe!

1. George Nelson, quoted in Abercrombie, Stanley. “George Nelson. The design of modern design” MIT Press, Cambridge (Massachusetts) 1995

2 and all subsequent quotes George Nelson “Architects of Europe Today. 7 – Van Der Rohe, Germany”, Pencil Points – An Illustrated Monthly Journal for the Drafting Room, September 1935

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Villa Tugendhat Brno

Villa Tugendhat Brno by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.  According to George Nelson “…. perhaps the finest modern house that has been built” (Photo © David Židlický, Courtesy of Villa Tugendhat Study and Documentation Centre)

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