Ludwig Mies van der Rohe would have celebrated his birthday this week (131 candles, in fact). It's also the middle of spring break season. So in honor of the world’s greatest modernist, celebrate Mies by visiting one (or all) of these sites.
(Note: they may not be tropical locales, but all the glass more than makes up for it, right?)
The Farnsworth House
Located just outside of Chicago in Plano, Illinois, the Farnsworth House exemplifies International Style architecture and the Miesian relationship between the house and the natural landscape. Designed for Dr. Edith Farnsworth in 1945 and completed in 1951, the retreat is the iconic glass house, a “machine in the garden.” Refined in its materials and proportions, the structure floats above its surroundings, a weightless volume in conversation with its tranquil setting. Often considered the apex of Mies’ career, the Farnsworth House remains one of the most recognizable residences in the United States and is currently run by the National Trust for Historic Places.
For more information, visit here.
S.R. Crown Hall (IIT)
While you are in the Chicago area visiting the Farnsworth House, go ahead and spend an afternoon on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) on the South Side. Following his arrival in the United States in 1936, Mies accepted an appointment to lead IIT’s College of Architecture. Left to design the master plan for the new campus, Mies organized the university's layout and the school of architecture's curriculum in the mode of Bauhaus modernism and in the process, revolutionized architectural education in the United States.
If you only have time to see one building at IIT, make it S.R. Crown Hall. Housing the College of Architecture, Crown Hall clearly expresses Mies’ core ideas- a suspended roof creating universal interior space, use of pre-fabricated building components, repetitive uniformity, and design simplicity. Restored in 2005, the building is a National Historic Landmark (as is the Farnsworth House).
The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers an IIT Tour.
860-880 Lake Shore Drive
Ok, maybe just stay in Chicago for the weekend, so you can see the Lake Shore Drive towers as well. Constructed between 1949 and 1951, these structurally pure highrises have defined the city's skyline since their construction. Situated on a triangular site overlooking Lake Michigan, the two towers have raised ground floors and appear to float above the landscape. The prefabricated materials lend to a perfect grid design (those views!) that has influenced highrise living for decades.
The Lake Shore Drive Towers remain private residences. But you can still take a peak of the property from public access points.
If you find yourself in New York this spring, make some time to visit Mies’ most famous skyscraper. Completed in 1958 for the Seagram Liquor Company, the Seagram Building epitomizes modernism in its monumental skeleton of bronze metal and dark glass. The building is famously set back from the street, creating a large open plaza that acts as a formal and active processional space to the building’s entrance. The interior of the Seagram Building, designed by Philip Johnson, included the legendary Four Seasons restaurant and furniture and artwork by some of the most famous artists and architects of the twentieth century (sadly, the Four Seasons closed last summer and its famous interiors sold to the highest bidder.) The Seagram Building proved to be a prototype for the many large office buildings that followed its construction and continues to be one of Mies’ most admired designs.
Seagram Building @ 375 Park Avenue
Located just northeast of downtown Detroit, Lafayette Park is a 78-acre housing complex designed by Mies, developer Herb Greenwald, and urban planner/architect Ludwig Hilberseimer. Constructed between 1956 and 1959, Lafayette Park contains a variety of housing, including high-rise apartment towers and smaller-scale townhouses and courthouses. The architecture of the development is distinctly Miesian in its austerity, panels of plate glass, and strong structural expression, while the rigid geometry of the buildings is offset by the lush landscape design by Alfred Caldwell. Although Lafayette Park remains a thriving, diverse community today and is often considered one of the most successful large-scale planned communities in the United States, it would be irresponsible not to mention the nearly 7,000 residents the development displaced as an agent of urban renewal. Mies' design is only part of Lafayette Park's complex story, and the architecture should be viewed within a larger historical context. In 2015, the Department of the Interior named Lafayette Park a National Historic Landmark.
To visit, download this guide by Michigan Modern.
Photograph at top- Highsmith, Carol M, photographer. Farnsworth House, designed and constructed by modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe between 1945 and 1951 in Plano, Illinois. Illinois Plano United States, None. [Between 1980 and 2006]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, 2011635009.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.