van der Rohe 1905 - 1938
Whitechapel Art Gallery,
Whitechapel High St, London E1 7QX
10 December 2002 - 2 March 2003
Open Tuesday to Sunday 11 - 6pm Thursday until 9pm
Admission £6/4.50 concessions, free on Tuesdays and for Whitechapel
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886 - 1969) is one of the twentieth century's
most influential architects. Famed for his ethos of 'less is more', his
designs have reshaped skylines and revolutionised interior, urban and
suburban space. The term 'Miesian' is now used to compliment the simplest,
most elegant examples of Modernist architecture. This emerging love of
purity of form can also be seen in Mies' seminal German Pavilion, commissioned
as Germany's 'stall' at the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona.
This definitive retrospective of his career in Europe - the first in the
UK - brings together 38 pivotal projects dating from Mies' arrival in
Berlin in 1905 to his departure for the US in 1938. The exhibition also
includes the work of modern masters and contemporary artists inspired
by the architecture of Mies.
Mies was born the son of a stonemason in Aachen, Germany. As a teenager,
he worked on construction sites with his father, before going on to design
furniture with Bruno Paul in 1905. Only 20 years old, he designed and
built the first of many domestic projects which characterised his German
career. From 1908 until 1911, Mies worked in the office of architect Peter
Behrens, who specialised in building modern industrial buildings. In Behren's
office were Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius, later to become director
of the Bauhaus. During this first decade of his career, Mies developed
complete domestic environments for the lake and woodland suburbs near
Potsdam - reflecting the contemporary reassessment of the role of the
architect to include interior and garden design.
In the 10 years after World War I, Mies' attention increasingly turned
to the city of Berlin and its emerging culture of radical art and architecture.
His ideas about housing, commercial buildings and monuments were as simple
as they were ambitious - to create a universal vocabulary for architecture
that emphasised its fundamental elements and principles, gradually paring
down decorative elements to create a minimal style. He embraced the use
of new technology, using materials such as glass, concrete and steel which
he saw as a 'means towards a spiritual purpose'. In 1921, Mies produced
his Glass Skyscraper proposal, which although never built, shows how he
was already formulating the techniques of 'glass box' buildings which
he would perfect after his relocation to the United States in 1937. The
steel frame of the building in his proposal would be visible through acres
of glass, like a skeleton barely concealed by a taut layer of skin. Such
innovative designs were often created for exhibitions or magazines, such
as the famous G magazine - which brought together works and writings by
artists such as Hans Arp, Theo van Doesburg, George Grosz and Man Ray,
also included in the exhibition. In 1927 he organised the Werkbund Exposition
in Stuttgart, which featured other leading architects such as Le Corbusier
and Walter Gropius. Alongside ambitious designs for the modern metropolis
Mies continued to explore the relationship between the individual and
nature in his domestic projects throughout the 1920s.
Mies left Germany when it became clear that, unlike their Italian counterparts,
the German fascists would never wholeheartedly embrace Modernist architecture.
He had succeeded Walter Gropius as Bauhaus director, but the Nazis had
closed the school for good in 1933. His work returned to the theme of
architecture and landscape in a number of significant projects which were
never built. Mies left Germany to start a new career in the US in 1938.
Mies van der Rohe 1905 - 1938 re-evaluates the importance of his early
to mid career, revealing the architect as a shaper of the bustling metropolis
and its emerging suburbs. Projects are explored through drawings, photographs,
models and videos and are presented in two chronological paths which juxtapose
Mies' suburban projects with those designed for the urban environment.
The show also includes works by Peter Behrens, Karl Friedrich Schinkel
and Frank Lloyd Wright - architects who deeply influenced Mies' vision.
Testifying to his importance for artists today are a group of remarkable
photographs by German artist Thomas Ruff, whose images of Mies' buildings
provide a contemporary re-interpretation of his enduring legacy.
Free for Whitechapel supporters and free on Tuesdays