One of my favorite architects, however, is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who lived between 1886-1969. He began his career as an apprentice of Peter Behrens in Germany alongside figures such as Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier.
Early in his career he chose to abandon ornamentation, entirely in his projects, a bold move at the time. Unlike his colleagues, Gropius and Le Corbusier, who were producing buildings in the international style with white facades, Gropius left the pack and paved his own way. He chose to use extravagant natural materials in his work with all their rich textures and color, drawing from his family's roots as stone carvers. One of his famous aphorisms is "less is more," something I think Americans could profit from in taking to heart.
One of my favorite of his early buildings is the German pavilion at the Barcelona Exposition in Spain that he designed in 1929. The building utilizes four different kinds of marble (Roman travertine, green Alpine marble, ancient green marble from Greece and golden onyx from the Atlas Mountains) and had walls of glass without any visible structural supports. The building's structure, actually, had been pulled away from the facade of the building and is expressed in the form of eight steel columns that are in the form of x's. The genius of the building is not only his use of these luxurious materials, but in their assembly through the use of simple geometric forms and crisp lines.
The building has an open plan largely comprised of vertical and horizontal planes made of marble with indoor and outdoor spaces separated by walls of glass. The walls from the exterior extend seamlessly into the interior spaces due to the continuity of the marble, transparency of the adjoining wall material, and deep overhang of the flat roof. Mies used curtains and movable panels on the interior of the building to define spaces.
The approach to the building is not direct. Mies guides visitors up a series of stairs where they are granted a vista of the surrounding area and are brought to the door of the interior of the pavilion and the exterior reflective pool. Services for the building are located beyond the reflective pool behind a long marble wall. A second, private reflective pool of smaller proportions is located at the end of the interior space and features a bronze sculpture of a nude woman titled "Dawn" by Georg Kolbe. The image of the sculpture is reflected both in the water, and on the marble walls behind it and the glass to its front. The curves of the sculpture are in contrast to the straight lines of the building's geometry.
In addition to designing the building, Mies also designed a chair for the building which lives on to this day. The Barcelona Chair and Ottoman which were originally made of an ivory-colored pigskin cushion and a chrome-covered steel frame. Today the chair is available in a wide variety of colors from the Knoll design company, the only licensed manufacturer of the chair.
While the original building was a temporary installation, a replica of his original plan was constructed in the 1980's by the Mies van der Rowe Foundation which offers a virtual tour on their website of the interior and exterior of the building and, if you can afford the plane ticket, tours of the reconstructed building.
Like many German architects, Mies moved to America in 1937, settling in Chicago where he became head of the Chicago's Illinois Institute of Technology, where he designed several buildings and the campus' master plan. These buildings still are in existence today. If you're headed to campus don't miss visiting Mies Crown Hall which houses the school's architecture studios. The building was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 2001 and a major renovation of the building was completed in 2005. Today the whole campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology is listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places.
Mies also designed the famous Seagram office building, in collaboration with Philip Johnson on Park Avenue in New York, New York (1954-58). The building was designed to be the American headquarters of the Seagram Company, a Canadian company and one of the world's largest distillers of alcoholic beverages. This building has a glass facade, luxurious exterior bronze columns in the shape of I-beams which take the form of vertical mullions, and an exterior granite plaza in the front. 1,500 tons of bronze was used in the building's construction and other materials used include travertine, reinforced concrete and marble. Unlike other skyscrapers built at the time, Mies decided to express the structure of the building on the exterior, instead of hiding it, this expression (the bronze I-beams) are one of the reasons why this was the most expensive skyscraper built at the time of its completion. The exterior I-beams were not designed to structurally support the building but to suggest structure instead because fire codes required that structural steel be encased in concrete Great Buildings Online has excellent interactive views of the building which I feel due the building more justice than a still image, click here to view them.
Commentary on the Seagram Building:
"The inescapable drama of the Seagram Building in a city already dramatic with crowded skyscrapers lies in its unbroken height of bronze and dark glass juxtaposed to a granite-paved plaza below. The siting of the building on Park Avenue, an indulgence in open space unprecedented in midtown Manhattan real estate, has given that building an aura of special domain. The commercial office building in this instance has been endowed with a monumentality without equal in the civic and religious architecture of our time....The use of extruded bronze mullions and bronze spandrels together with a dark amber-tinted glass has unified the surface with color....The positioning of the Seagram Building on the site and its additive forms at the rear, which visually tie the building to adjacent structures, make for a frontal-oriented composition. The tower is no longer an isolated form. It addresses itself to the context of the city." —A. James Speyer. Mies van der Rohe. p30.
A living architect who's work reminds me of Mies is Japanese Architect and Pritzker Prize winner Tadao Ando. Ando is well-known for his utilisation of cast-in-place concrete and sense of materiality. A recently completed work (2008) at Clark University in Western Massachusetts, the Stone Hill Center, is an excellent example of his work. The building is constructed of pickled cedar, steel, glass and skin-soft cast-in-place concrete that is imprinted with wood-grain textures. It houses two art galleries and an art conservation center for the University. The building overlooks the Taconic Range and Green Mountains and Ando encourages visitors to approach the building via footpath from the main campus. The New York Times and Time Magazine have both given the building rave reviews, hailing its elegant simplicity. When I visited the building this fall, the first thing I went to do was touch the concrete walls at the entrance. It was hard to believe they were concrete, they were so soft. Some characteristics that I think Mies and Ando share is a respect for materiality, simple forms, lack of ornamentation, and a poetic understanding of capturing space.