I developed this piece for Domino magazine but, alas, it folded before the piece ran. So I present it to you here, in a series: 20th-Century Architects Most Influential to Everyday Design. Whether you pay attention to architecture or not, these are the people who’ve had an affect on your life, from what’s on the shelves of Target to what’s in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and where the Olympics are being played. Get to know these great men (and one woman) of design.
This German-born architect led the modernist movement trying to establish a style indicative of the times, free from unnecessary ornament and making use of industrial materials like glass and steel. He pioneered the skyscraper and ran the influential Bauhaus design school, emigrating to Chicago during WWII.
Seminal Structure: Seagram Building, New York City, 1958. Designed with American architect Philip Johnson, it’s considered a masterpiece of corporate modernism. Mies wanted the steel frame to show on the outside but because of code restrictions, he was forced to mimic the support beams with bronze-colored I-beams instead. An Alexander Calder sculpture sits in the courtyard. Inside, The Four Seasons restaurant was also designed by the architects and remains virtually the same today as when it was completed in 1959, featuring a who’s who list of mid-century touches including an adaptation of the Mies-designed Brno Chair in the dining room, banquettes designed by Johnson, lounge furniture by Eero Saarinen and private party chairs by Charles Eames.
Go See: Farnsworth House, Illinois, 1951 (right). Outside Chicago, this weekend retreat proved that cold materials could create an emotional result.
Read Up: Mies and Modern Living, a 288-page book tracing his career and design highlights with previously unrealeased photos.
Mies van der Rohe at Work is a reprint of a 1974 book exploring the ideology behind some of his most famous works, peppered with insightful quotes from the architect like: “It is often thought that heaviness is synonymous with strength. In my opinion it is just the opposite.”
Written by a NYU professor, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, traces the development of the architect’s work with scholarly essays and plentiful photos and plans.
Get a Piece: Barcelona Chair, $4,328. Constructed of modernist, steel tubing and tufted leather, a classic with many imitators. The original design was licensed to Knoll and is still being produced.
The chair was created in 1929 for the German Pavilion (right) at the World Arts Fair in Barcelona. The pavilion, made of glass, steel and four types of marble, was reconstructed and can be visited in Barcelona.