It's Mies' World, We Just Live in It

The year of Mies van der Rohe

"Less is more" Ludwig Mies van der Rohe famously pronounced in 1959 (lifting from Robert Browning), reducing to ten letters (seven, really) his philosophy of architecture, aesthetics, and life. It was an apt motto for Mies (1886-1969), the son of a master mason, who never received any formal architectural training. His devotion to simplicity was apparent as early as 1921, in a beautiful and austere proposal, one of the first, for an all steel-and-glass skyscraper in Berlin.

That dream came to fruition 30 years later, with the Lake Shore Drive Apartments (1948-51; above), in Chicago. Here Mies leavened his strict adherence to "structural honesty" (insisting that the actual supports of his buildings be their dominant architectural features) by introducing informality (the towers gently overlap) and rhythm (the window bays seem to modulate in four-four time). Lake Shore and New York's Seagram Building, which Mies and Philip Johnson completed in 1958, embody the International Style at its zenith. On June 21 the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Museum of Modern Art kick off their own Year of Mies with Mies in America, at the Whitney (through September 23), and Mies in Berlin, at MOMA (through September 11), both of which feature original drawings, models, and photographs.