Van der Rohe, Ludwig Mies – German/American Furniture Designer & Architect

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969)

Born in 1886 in Aachen, Germany, van der Rohe’s original name was Maria Ludwig Michael Mies. He began his working life toiling as a stone carver in his father’s business, but by 1908 was an apprentice in the design studio of Peter Behrens. There, he worked with the likes of Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, pioneers of modern architecture who were seeking a non-derivative style that was pure and new, and that could speak for its time period the same way Victorian or Classical Greek spoke for theirs.

Despite his lack of formal training, van der Rohe’s talents were soon recognized; he began landing independent commissions as a project architect designing up-scale homes for the upper class, and in the process transformed himself from Maria Ludwig Michael Mies, son of a tradesman, to the aristocratically named Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Famous for his “Less is More” dictum, van der Rohe attempted to create contemplative neutral spaces though an architecture based on material honesty and structural integrity. He served as director of the influential Modernist design center Bauhaus from 1930 until its closing in 1933. In 1938 he became Director of Architecture of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

In addition to such famous structures as the Seagram Building in New York and the Farnsworth House in Illinois, he design numerous furniture pieces which have become icons of modern design, including the Barcelona Chair, 1929. This and other furniture continues to be produced by Knoll International in the United States, which has held exclusive rights to the designs since circa 1950. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe died in Chicago in 1969 at the age of 83.

Classic Furniture by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

The Barcelona and Brno lounge chairs are still fresh three quarters of a century after their introduction. Modernist inspired seating by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe continue to find favor with executives and homeowners alike.

The Modernist Architects

The post WWI modernist architects were believers in architecture and design as a force for creating a better and more harmonious world, believing that just as the war brought an end to the old order of Imperial Europe it also signaled the end of the reliance on the old order for everything from furniture to fashion. Not for these Bauhaus founders were plaster columns finished to mimic marble, or inexpensive woods grained to look like exotics. The modernists believed in the honest use of appropriate materials. Nowhere is this belief more evident than in van der Rohes’s masterpieces of Bauhaus furniture, the Barcelona Lounge Chair and the Brno Chair.

The Barcelona Chair

The Barcelona chair was designed in 1929 for the German Pavilion at the Barcelona Exposition. This classic chair with its sweeping curves and exposed structure embodies the modernist view that “less is more” and that appropriate materials need no embellishment. The chair relies heavily on hand-work for its stunning quality including a hand buffed frame of either polished chrome of stainless steel, and hand cut, hand tufted, and hand welted leather cushions. In 1953, furniture giant Knoll International was given the sole rights for manufacturing the Barcelona chair, and it remains a popular seller today. A new Barcelona chair in polished chrome and leather runs about $4000, the stainless steel and leather version is around $6,300.

The Brno Chair

As much sculpture as seating, the Brno chair features a monolithic seat and back that appears to float between cantilevered frames of either flat or tubular polished chrome. This effect is further enhanced by the lack of visible connecting hardware, and the chair seems almost magical in its defiance of gravity. The Brno chair was originally introduced in 1930, and manufactured in stainless steel. This hand-ground, hand buffed frame is now polished chrome and made in the USA by Knoll International.

Eighty years after their introduction, the Barcelona Chair and the Brno Chair are still popular with fans of classic furniture. His seating is beautifully designed, exquisitely executed, and at home in a variety of interiors from board rooms to dining rooms.

-Reference note by p4A editorial staff and p4A contributing editor Susan Cramer.

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