Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Preservation Weekly

Shaping the 20th Century

Mies Van Der Rohe defined modern architecture in the mid 20th century. His philosophy towards design is reflected in many of our skyscrapers across the U.S. The Seagram Building, which is often considered the pinnacle of high rise architecture, was the typical “Miesian Box” with clean lines and little to no ornamentation. Mies believed in a “skin and bones” architecture. Steel beams represented the bones and glass curtain walls that ran over them, the skin. This kind of minimalism became known as the International Style which transcended beyond skyscrapers into the American culture. Clean lines dictated style and can be seen from the construction of homes to furniture. We also think of this style when we see educational buildings and other institutional structures.

Mies emigrated from Germany in 1937 and accepted a position at the Illinois Institute of Technology. There he introduced a new education and attitude towards architecture. He set out to change the architectural language so as to better represent the advancements in production and technology. Drawing on the philosophies of Le Corbusier, Mies encouraged forecourt spaces for the public to enjoy by extending buildings skyward in order to keep the same density or even increase density. In the coming years so many “Miesian Boxes” dotted the landscape they started to lose their innovation. Architects looked for new ways to express individual character. Yet even today they still build with a skin and bones attitude all thanks Mies.

The Seagram building is just one example. It has become an icon of the American corporation. Now we are starting to get comfortable in the 21st century and we often forget that our Miesan skyscrapers were only built 50 years ago verging on historic designation. Yet it is hard to imagine an urban landscape without them. They stand as symbols of business and prosperity as well as rational sensibility.

1 comment:

  1. Ahh, my old office building. The second floor had some great Mies furniture, too.