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Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

(1886—1969) German-born architect and designer

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German-born architect and director of the Bauhaus, who emigrated to the USA in 1937. His pavilion for the 1929 International Exhibition in Barcelona was regarded as a masterpiece of twentieth-century architecture, and his New York Seagram Tower is one of his most elegant edifices.

Born in Aachen, Mies was apprenticed to his father, a stonecutter, and learnt to draw as a designer of stucco decorations. He had no formal architectural training. However, in 1908 he joined the workshop of the illustrious Peter Behrens as a junior assistant, at the same time as Gropius was a senior assistant. After World War I Mies emerged as a highly original architect in his own right with a great talent for making exciting use of new materials: this was especially evident in his unexecuted designs for glass skyscrapers. His commission to design the German pavilion at the 1929 International Exhibition in Barcelona, at the age of forty-three, was an appropriate recognition of his achievements. That the building no longer exists has done little to detract from its importance to the evolution of modern architecture. Every detail of the building was designed personally by Mies (including the famous upholstered metal Barcelona chair). In 1930 Mies was appointed to succeed Gropius as director of the Bauhaus in Dessau. Under Mies, this institution continued to have an enormous influence on all aspects of design in Europe until it was closed by the Nazis in 1933.

Mies, as unable to contemplate life in Nazi Germany as the Nazis were to accommodate his original mind, emigrated to the USA in 1937. Here he became director of architecture at the Chicago Armour Institute, which later became the Illinois Institute of Technology, occupying a remarkable campus designed by Mies himself in 1940. Two glass and metal tower apartment blocks on Lake Shore Drive, Chicago (1948–51), led to commissions in many other US towns and cities. The most admired of these is undoubtedly the bronze tower of the Seagram building in New York (1954–58). Although there are no Mies buildings in the UK, his design for the Mansion House Square development in London was his last set of plans. These were completed in 1969 but were rejected by the City of London Corporation in 1985 as a result of public controversy.

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