Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mies’s Apartment House in Chicago

Pictured above is the Chicago apartment house of the great twentieth century modern architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969). Apparently Mies occupied the third floor. When he died in 1969 the New York Times ran this obituary which describes Mies’s place: 
For a man so modern in his conceptions, he had more than a touch of old-fashionedness. It showed up in such things as the gold chain across his waistcoat, to which was attached his pocket timepiece. Rather than live in a contemporary building or one of his own houses—he briefly contemplated moving to a Mies apartment but feared fellow tenants might badger him—he made his home in a high-ceilinged, five-room suite on the third floor of an old-fashioned apartment house on Chicago’s North Side. The thick-walled rooms were large and they included, predictably, a full kitchen with an ancient gas range for his cook.

The apartment contained armless chairs and furniture of his own designs as well as sofas and wing chairs—in which he preferred to sit. The walls were stark white; but the apartment had a glowing warmth, given off by the Klees, Braques and Schwitterses that dotted its walls. Paul Klee was a close friend, and Mies’s collection of Klees was among the finest in private hands.
Mies’s chairs were almost as well known as his buildings, and they were just as spare. He designed his first chair, known as the MR chair in 1926. It had a caned seat and back and its frame was tubular steel. There followed the Barcelona chair, an elegant armless leather and steel design of which the legs formed an X; the Tugendhat chair, an armless affair of leather and steel that resembled a square S; and the Brno chair, with a steel frame and leather upholstery that looked like a curved S. [1]
In addition, the Chicago Tribute Marker of Distinction (pictured above and located near the entry door) summarizes:
The master of Modern architecture and one of the greatest architects of the 20th Century, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe reshaped the skylines of America’s major cities in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. 
In 1937, Mies came to Chicago from Berlin to be director of the Department of Architecture at the Armour Institute, now the Illinois Institute of Technology. In Germany, he had directed the Bauhaus School of Design from 1930 to 1933, closing it after Nazi threats. Though he had built only 19 buildings, he was internationally famous when he came to Chicago. At IIT through 1958, he designed the institute’s master plan and a number of campus buildings (Crown Hall model shown above). 
Mies celebrated contemporary technology and materials; under his influence, skyscraper construction switched from masonry to metal and glass. Following his credo, “less is more,” his buildings were characterized by refined designs devoid of applied ornament. Mies also applied his aesthetic to such furniture designs as the Barcelona chair.
Barcelona® Chair (1929). Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The Barcelona Chair is a registered trademark of Knoll®, Inc. and manufactured by Knoll®; according to the original specifications of the designer. Images are courtesy of Design Within Reach.
  1. Whitman, Alden. “Mies van der Rohe Dies at 83; Leader of Modern Architecture.” On this Day. The New York Times on the web Learning Network, 19 Aug. 1969. Web. 19 Feb. 2012.

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