Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s birthday

Barcelona Pavilion

Yes, today – March 27th – just in case it had slipped your mind. And what is it with people named Ludwig?


Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, along with Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, is widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of modern architecture. Mies, like many of his post-World War I contemporaries, sought to establish a new architectural style that could represent modern times just as Classical and Gothic did for their own eras. He created an influential twentieth century architectural style, stated with extreme clarity and simplicity.

That’s as maybe and he certainly knew his times:

The mounting criticism of the historical styles gained substantial cultural credibility after World War I, a disaster widely seen as a failure of the old world order of imperial leadership of Europe. The aristocratic classical revival styles were particularly reviled by many as the architectural symbol of a now-discredited and outmoded social system. Progressive thinkers called for a completely new architectural design process guided by rational problem-solving and an exterior expression of modern materials and structure rather than the superficial application of classical facades.

… but I can’t help thinking that he it was who began this movement which only resulted in dire PoMo, briefly skirting through the delights of art-deco and streamline moderne, before losing its way again.

Villa Tugendhat in Brno, Czech Republic

The design theories of Adolf Loos found resonance with Mies, particularly the ideas of eradication of the superficial and unnecessary, replacing elaborate applied ornament with the straightforward display of materials and forms. Loos had famously declared, in the tongue-in-cheek humor of the day, that “ornament is a crime”. Mies also admired his ideas about the nobility that could be found in the anonymity of modern life.

Mies was enthralled with the free-flowing spaces of inter-connected rooms which encompass their outdoor surroundings as demonstrated by the open floor plans of the American Prairie Style work of Frank Lloyd Wright. American engineering structures were also held up to be exemplary of the beauty possible in functional construction.

Simply awful, no?  Or to put it more accurately, probably fine in a modernistic setting where all buildings in the area show similar simplicity of form, for example some seaside/clifftop white walled clusters of houses by the Mediterranean – they sit well there.  However, in the vastness of the American prairies or even in London, such architecture simply depresses the spirit of romance.

Whilst no one’s advocating a return to Rococo:

… the type of architecture a computer engineer might design leaves me equally as cold.  It lacks soul, lacks warmth, lacks panache, romance, thrill, elegance and though it’s functionality might work fine – I hypocritically have a modular, spare design to the interior of my own place which allows mixing and matching – its very functionality needs a touch of warmth somewhere, if only in the colours or needs a touch of daring mixed with harmony, e.g. in multilevel blending with nature:

Moderne is fine when it blends but sticking out on its own, as some sort of bold Big Brother Futuristic statement, surrounded by a bland, clipped lawn, just doesn’t cut it.  And as mentioned, when it is stuck in the middle of an otherwise homogenous, natural evolution of styles in the older cities, it is garish, gauche and discordant.

We can’t really blame Ludwig for all this, for his imitators of limited talent, in this insipid sea of society today but he was the one who started it.

Haiku sends a more sympathetic view of LMvdR.

Barcelona again – yuk

[H/T Chuckles]

2 comments for “Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s birthday

  1. JD
    March 27, 2012 at 16:34

    the clever people who praise Mies are the same clever people who made Amey Cretin a professor of drawing

  2. andy5759
    March 30, 2012 at 21:09

    And how long before those “off the peg” 1960s concrete, steel and glass dole offices are given protected status? Beauty is being leached out of the world.

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