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WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS, MIES WAS FROM MARS. The role of the modernist male in the construction of an architect’s sexual persona.

Part 2 Dissertation 2013


Cover Image. Mies van der Rohe with a model of the Seagram Building, New York, 1958

WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS, MIES WAS FROM MARS. The role of the modernist male in the construction of an architect’s sexual persona.

Part 2 Dissertation 2013 3

Gender has been on the agenda in debate about architecture – its professional landscape, its interpretation, its physical manifestation – for decades. Women in architecture, sexuality and space, the relationship between power, men and practice: these are perennial questions. But where does all this questioning leave the emerging, conventional, male architect of today: the cliché? That cliché is me – a young graduate whose middle-class upbringing has been defined by garden village urbanism and John Lewis. My research investigates the ambivalent heroes and role models on my architectural horizon, those masculine stereotypes and misogynist templates demolished and destabilised by previous generations. How do we write a script for what it is that should define our masculinity or femininity as male or female architects today? Theorising this dilemma in relation to critiques of gender-making in the modern period, this dissertation directs its investigation towards the archetype of the modernist male in the highly charged post-war climate. Mies van der Rohe exemplifies this figure. By exploring his persona – particularly his relationships with women, often conducted in a manner that appears deplorable to the eyes of a historian looking back from today – we can shed light on how Mies and other key figures of the 20th century are woven into the fabric of aspirations available to the emerging cohort of architects.




Chapter 1: Construction of Gender........................................................................15

Chapter 2: Modernity & the Male Professional...................................................23

Chapter 3: Post War America, Celebrity & the Family Unit...........................33 Daring to Defy.............................................................................................37

Chapter 4: Mies & Women......................................................................................47 Before America.............................................................................................47 Mies & Edith...............................................................................................51 Iconic Mies...................................................................................................57

Chapter 5: When Venus meets Mars....................................................................63







1. Hellman Comic of the architectural role model.

Black suit, heavy glasses, conservative, sensible, serious and arrogant, yes arrogant, hard, male, white. These are the clichĂŠs that come to mind when we think architect.1 Paul Davies


Paul Davies, An Architect’s Guide to Fame, p.252




INTRODUCTION 2. Banana Republic US Spring Collection Advertisement 2007

Sexual intercourse, said Philip Larkin, began in 1963.2 The watershed of the birth control pill, the Beatles, pornography and peak circulation for Playboy magazine, the sixties saw the rise of new liberal attitudes, social tolerances and paved the way for promiscuity, more sex in advertising and gay-pride. Two decades later a worldwide AIDS epidemic and the feminist anti-pornography movement in America caused much of this sexual freedom to regress. I was born in 1986. It would appear that I narrowly missed both ends of the sexual revolution; I wasn’t even a product of it. Raised in Hertfordshire, in a leafy middle class suburb near Garden Villages and a John Lewis, I made my way through school and am now coming towards the end of my architectural education. Today, I live happily with my wife in north London; I work for a modestlysized practice of architects in the city and hope to start a family in the coming years. Throughout my time of study the role models of the architectural world had been predominantly male, products of the influential era that preceded this ‘discovery of sex.’ We were generations apart and socially had almost nothing in common. Yet they were the architects I would be expected to learn from, build upon: Wright, Le Corbusier, Mies, Kahn. Just some who had experienced a life and time beyond my comprehension as a child of the nineties. I find myself being forced into a persona that I could never hope to fit. Many of my peers are in the same situation, and in the case of women in architecture the added disassociation of sexuality conspires to widen this gap even further. Media portrayals such as Banana Republic’s 2007 campaign, show the architect as a central figure, (figure 2) powerful, exuding dominance over the glamorous women that surround him. I first saw this advert in 2011 and it coincided with a discussion session at University on Jonathan Meades’ article “Zaha Hadid: The first great female architect.”3 Throughout the discussion, much of the comment lingered on Hadid’s sexuality rather than the merit of her work. It seemed a shame that we couldn’t critique her architecture without first discussing the fact that she was a woman, a gender issue which would never arise with her male counterparts. Looking at the facts, women number just 20% of architects,4 so Hadid, - as in the case of many minorities - finds her gender a focal 2 3 4

From Philip Larkin Annus Mirabilis 1974 As published in Intelligent Life Magazine 2008 Anne-Marie Corvin, ‘Women in Practice,’ Architect’s Journal, 2012, p.05


‘...modernist males of 20th century art and architecture played a pivotal role in enhancing and visualising prominent conceptions of gender disposition...’ 10

point of study. On a practical level most commentators reason that this stems from the choice women are forced to make between their career and raising children in a field which requires such time consuming commitments in a construction industry dominated by masculinity.5 Whilst there is no denying that these issues contribute to the problem, this does not account for Hadid’s situation and it is my belief that the masculine persona which has evolved in architecture has led to deeper concerns as to whether female architects can ever be lauded for being architects in their own right. Today, the world and the architect are positioned a little over a decade into a new century, less than 25 years since the fall of the Berlin wall. The 21st century is young and has been built on historical foundations, heavily influenced by the enormous weight of change in western society post World War II. It is here that the reasoning behind the present state of the image of the architect can be found. This paper aims to demonstrate how the modernist males of 20th century art and architecture played a pivotal role in enhancing and visualising prominent conceptions of gender disposition in a prosperous time where revolution and creativity thrived, casting a tight mould for the architect to fit in to, a mould now ingrained into our psyche. The question therefore arises in a contemporary era of perceived ‘equality,’ as to what the identity of an architect could and should really be. As a male architectural student born into nineties Britain (and predominantly educated in the 21st century), disassociation with the ‘influential period’ may well raise questions about the validity of the comment and discussion that I may put forward. What follows is a step back to create an empathetic contextual view point. Immersing myself and understanding the modernist male and the fundamental constructs of gender and sexuality in the mid-20th century, the importance of the theory of the tabula rasa mind set and understanding how scripts for masculine and feminine roles came to be written. The connection between modernity and the modern masters will be examined, to paint a picture of the male professional and determine how these men came to embody the stereotype of the age. Using a situational study of the topic, the paper will explore the historical and social context that the modern masters lived through by examining the mind-set to which men and women of the age were exposed. Finally, a biographical analysis of Mies and his role as 5

Ibid. p.05-06



archetypal male of the era will be discussed along with the complex relationships he held with the four main women in his life both personally and professionally. The concept of the architectural persona has too often been approached in the architectural press from a present day angle, setting it against 21st century methodology and lifestyle rather than truly analysing the root of the issue. In her book Sexual Personae Camille Paglia writes that ‘a contemporary woman clapping on a hard hat merely enters a conceptual system invented by men.’6 This work will investigate what role the modernist males had to play in creating this conceptual system and how their role came to be quite so significant.

6 Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art & Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, p.38



‘Conscious thought has been the driving force behind the way society views a gender construction that doesn’t exist independently in the natural world.’ 14

CONSTRUCTION OF GENDER Gender constructs we perceive to be laid out for masculinity and femininity are of profound importance in society. These gender stereotypes have been set out as the navigational pathways to which both men and women are seen to follow and deviation from these paths has, and still does raise questions about a person’s psychological reasoning for doing so.7 In the purely physical sense, gender is assigned at birth. A medical professional will examine the baby’s genitals and determine whether the child is either male or female. Whilst there is still evidence of strong genetic influence on gender identity through twin and adoption studies it is widely believed that after birth work begins on socialising the child and rehearsing the script to which they have been assigned by their physical form.8 Otherwise known as the tabula rasa or blank slate theory, the notion that we are not born with any built in gender identity highlights the profound importance that constructs and stereotypes can have on human behaviour and what is ‘perceived’ by society as being the right or wrong way to behave. Wanting the best for our children we generally read from the popularised guidelines, citing past events as examples where those deemed to be different have been ostracised. One of the main criticisms of Hadid is the belief that she has an inability to obtain a work/life balance, perhaps a reference to the fact that she hasn’t decided to marry or raise a family?9 These pressures are what make the foundation concepts of both masculine and feminine identity so important to the perception of a profession so deeply interwoven within society such as architecture. Conscious thought has been the driving force behind the way society views a gender construction that doesn’t exist independently in the natural world, as human beings are the only creatures in which consciousness is so entangled with animal instinct.10 Nature has its own script and is no respecter of human identity. Woman’s centrality gives her a stability of identity. She does not have to become but only to be. Her centrality is a great obstacle to man, whose quest for identity she blocks. He must transform himself into an independent being, that is be free of her.11 7 8 9 10 11

Even today, the more soft, submissive toys (Barbie dolls) are marketed predominantly as ‘toys for girls’ and more dominant, aggressive heroic figurines (be it Transformers or fast cars) as ‘toys for boys.’ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, Chapter 3 Merlin Fulcher, ‘Women in Practice,’ Architect’s Journal, 2012, p.05 Paglia, p.04 Ibid, p.09



1 This is an important view in understanding the reasons society’s gender constructs have favoured men. Women are in tune with nature and its cycles and this bond shared with nature is one that man cannot claim to hold. Therefore to exude an element of control man creates his own independent vision of his identity. Throughout history our hierarchical society has been based on difference, in order that one may exude dominance over another. During the late 19th and 20th centuries, western civilisation has seen the growth of a bourgeois society that depends on this, and in order for it to continue each strata of life requires one group to hold power over another. Despite the ever present and imposing danger of collapse this way of life holds, the western model still clings on and women find themselves bound to a way of life built on the identity handed to them by men. Gender is one of the few social constructs that has remained throughout the existence of human civilisation. Although a solely matriarchal society is thought by many anthropologists not to exist, traits and behaviours which are thought to be ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ differ from one culture and time period to another. 12 Appropriate ways of behaving toward one another, labour that is assigned and beliefs in one’s natural abilities have in the past evolved on an insular level, specific to each tribe, country or empire. These were governed by guidelines set down by religion or by those in positions of power, but more importantly a position of common notoriety. Someone or something that a large enough group of individuals within a culture were aware of that men and women could follow and judge themselves against, so as not to cause a social imbalance or perhaps risk being cast out. Western society is no different, and the classic stereotypes of male rigidity and female passivity were dictated by the most powerful civilisations throughout the course of history. After waging war and conquering lesser civilisations, the most efficient way to instil a way of life to the mass population was through artistic Medias. Be it sculpture, pottery, theatre or architecture the efficiency of this process in communicating to such far flung regions and more importantly ensuring that it remained can be seen in the influence powerful civilisations such as the Greeks and the Romans have had on society long after their demise. From London’s Admiralty Arch to Washington’s Capitol Hill, authority and wealth is still represented 12

See discussions in Steven Goldberg, The Inevitability of Patriarchy/Louise Lamphere, Women, Culture, and Society, p.263–280



‘Hollywood took the ancient gender stereotype of the knight in shining armour...packaged it and broadcast it on a global scale.’ 18

1 3. Depiction of the ‘Damsel in Distress’ in the painting ‘Chivalry’ by Frank Bernard Dicksee

through architectural styles and rules rooted in ancient Greek and Roman culture. Unlike nature, art is a medium within man’s control, as Paglia goes on to reinforce after asserting that ‘man, the sexual conceptualiser and projector, has ruled art because art is his Apollonian response toward and away from woman.’13 In these most powerful ancient civilisations, it was men who controlled the art world and they were therefore able to sculpt, paint, write and build the image of masculinity and femininity how they wished. Man in western art is historically depicted with an aggression and powerful physicality, with a control over nature. Woman is motherly and tenderer. At one with nature but without the power that man holds over it. These commonly shared myths and stories serve as an identity to the people, to be used as behavioural navigation points. Man’s control over art has proved effective; however the mediums were often drawn out and only as far reaching as a culture could physically navigate to. The late 19th and early 20th century saw the advent of a new form of communication and media alongside the growth and ascension to global power of the United States of America. The utilisation of the electro-magnetic spectrum gave birth to new forms of instantaneous, rapidly dispersing Medias such as radio, television and film. Hollywood took the ancient gender stereotype of the knight in shining armour, the most perfect Apollonian thing in world history, packaged it and broadcast it on a global scale.14 Although the western construction of gender was largely unchanged, there was an ease and speed to which a wider public could be controlled and the gender scripts kept fresh. A new post war agenda could be constructed, and a set of role models was produced, centred solely on the masculine identity. Feminine identity slowly became lost, unable to function without a masculine presence. Joan Crawford remarked that: …people did not go to the movies to see the boy next door; they could go next door for that. These male stars were strong, untrammelled figures ordinary men might be in their dreams.15 Men in the movies were given strong sexual identity; men in public were given a role model, something to aspire to. In Rebel Males Graham McCann writes that ‘women in the movies continued to 13 14 15

Paglia, p.31 Paglia, p.31 Graham McCann, Rebel Males, p.08.



1 have tabula rasa minds, waiting to be imprinted with male values,’16 they were characterised in popular culture as sex objects, their only aspiration to perhaps land a man like the one they had seen on screen.17 The broadcast of celebrity in the art world wasn’t just limited to new media forms. Historically successful mediums such as art and architecture became just as intrinsically linked with the social and political values around the construction of gender. Role models within these more traditional professions were drawn out with 20th century society advancing into a post-traditional way of thinking. Hollywood played a large part in setting out gender constructions in society, but it was the relationship as a result of these constructs between modernity and the male professional, that would become one of the root contributions in the construction of an architect’s sexual persona.

16 17

Ibid, p.30 For discussion of this characterisation see Graham McCann, Marilyn Monroe: The Body in the Library.





‘Adolf Loos’ un-built house design...which would create a dream of Baker’s dark body in a fantasy of racial and sexual superiority.’ 22


MODERNITY & THE MALE PROFESSIONAL 4. Josephine Baker in her banana skirt, Paris, 1925 5. Adolf Loos, House for Josephine Baker, model, 1928 6. Adolf Loos, 1930

The heyday of the modern artistic masters and male professionals was set against a backdrop of change, development and revolution. This paper has addressed theorisation of gender construction and now turns to the question of why modernity and the male professional shared such an important link and the era the male professional was in fact a by-product of. Modernity conceptualises a move forward in thought, ideas and practices, not always a rejection of tradition but navigating a passage into new cultural attitudes. At the dawn of industrial warfare the Great War saw the complete failure and loss of faith in the cultural norms. Radical movements and public upheaval including the Russian Revolution in 1917 brought a break from cultural tradition to the forefront of society. Young avant-garde creatives like Picasso, Kandinsky, and the architect Frank Lloyd Wright were just some of the public figures of radical change. This new breed of male creative came to embody modernity and the view to move forward. These were the men who would become the earliest 20th century role models, even for other powerful post war modernists such as Mies. Their creative freedoms were certainly reflected in a belief of sexual freedom and promiscuity and women often featured in the life of these men. They were the trailblazers who seemed to cut ties with such gentlemanly traditions as chivalry, particularly in the public domain. Wright had a high profile affair with Mamah Cheny, his client’s wife, and subsequently abandoned his own (whom he’d been married for almost 20 years). Picasso had numerous affairs.18 Not to mention the sexual connotations involving Adolf Loos’ un-built house design for Josephine Baker (1928), including spaces in which Baker would be displayed for his private entertainment19 and ornamental stripes to the exterior (figure 5) which would create a dream of Baker’s dark body in a fantasy of racial and sexual superiority,20 – after all it was his design; surely he could indulge in his desires at her expense? These masters of modernity publicly enjoyed illicit freedoms of thought and action over women. Notwithstanding the distaste and scorn we may bring on such promiscuity, that would no doubt grace any modern tabloid, one might view the era with disapproval.21 However, after a previous mode of 18 19 20 21

Using models for his paintings much younger than himself, he also viewed to divide women into ‘goddesses & doormats.’ Alice T. Friedman, Women & the making of the Modern House, p.24 Ibid, p.27 In March 2012 the Daily Mail ran an article in line with the Picasso exhibition at the Tate writing how dreadfully he treated women, ‘driving them to suicide’ and to ‘the point of mental collapse.’ The topic fit in unsurprisingly well with others in the weekly gossip column.




2 7. Howard Roark & Dominique Francon in a dramatic embrace in the film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead.’

thought that had so catastrophically failed, perhaps to fall behind this movement of revolution as a leading artist but more importantly men and women of society, would be regarded as a failure to progress. This would have no doubt put an immense pressure on male professionals to follow this archetypal role of male dominance and freedom of all types of expression, just in order to keep up. By the late 1930s modernism had penetrated popular culture and the modern masters had become a focal point and manifestation of social change in history. However the 1939 outbreak of war would see concepts of modernity in popular culture evolve yet again. The adoption and accessibility of new technological media, once reserved for the rich, was now readily available to families, particularly in North America. These representations and communications via popular culture exacerbated the male professional’s role in modernity. The Fountainhead written by Ayn Rand in 1943 tells the story of the desperate battle waged by architect Howard Roark. A ‘prime mover’ whose battle against a mass society determined to undermine his creative individuality and uncompromising stance on modernity in architecture is set alongside romantic interest, the beautiful Dominique Francon (figure 7). She falls desperately in love with him, and despite having strong ideals of her own comes across as something of an emotional car crash. Socially, Rand casts the critic Ellsworth Toohey as the ‘token bad guy.’ Toohey believes himself to be the voice of the collective, and is a representation of communism and socialism and, importantly, traditional ways. The novel’s popularity was immense, and after being given the ‘Hollywood treatment’ in 1949 the reach of these characters and the story’s idealistic message, like many others, were soon deep in the public consciousness. A hero of modernity in fiction, Roark is a strong male stereotype. Thrown out of architecture school for his uncompromising, rebellious style the film is filled with clichés of masculinity, no less when Dominique Francon first lays eyes on Roark as he works in her father’s quarry: He is the abstraction of strength made visible…he stood looking up at her; it was not a glance, but an act of ownership… she was thinking of those statues of men she had always sought; she was wondering what he looked like naked.22 22

Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, p. 205





2 8. Roark’s crowning achievement in The Fountainhead - The Wynand Building 9. Renaissance statue of a woman in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

By casting Roark in the role of an architect, the relevance and impact of his modern ideals are manifested in an open and deeply physical form. Modernity ultimately triumphs, when Francon visits Roark atop his crowning achievement. The enormous phallic, hard steel structured skyscraper of the Wynand Building (figure 8). Women’s position within the social hierarchy seemed to be quite clearly set at this point, but it would be a temporary new found independence that would inevitably lead to women becoming victims of modernity. Across much of the developed world, particularly in the west, men in most professions were drafted into the armed forces to fight in the Second World War. This left a void within the social hierarchies back home which were filled by women left behind in the wartime workplace. Here they acquired a seniority and an independence in these times of hardship that before hadn’t been possible.23 Another byproduct, as McCann writes, was that: … the all-male environment of the armed services had inadvertently exacerbated confusion about the inherent sexuality between men who preferred each other’s company but always chose women to prove their masculinity.24 The possibility that this confusion would manifest itself and be construed as homosexuality was very real, as the Kinsey Reports on male (1948) and female (1953) sexuality demonstrated. A new public perception of male and female sexual identity strayed dangerously away from the status quo and close male relationships would never seem quite so innocent. This closet homosexuality and accusation had also been known to increase macho stereotypes within men. When Gertrude Stein commented on Ernest Hemingway as ‘the real Hem’ (that is, his true nature as a homosexual) Hemingway began to escalate his own machismo and by his own exclamation: ‘…could out write, outdrink, out fight, out fish, out hunt and out fuck anyone on this planet!’25 It’s clear that looking back the establishment felt this must be corrected, and fast. Modernity in popular culture would be the answer. When the war finally ended, men of course returned home weary and torn apart by fighting and people were eager for a sense of normality in their lives. Women were actively encouraged not to 23 24 25

McCann, Rebel Males, p.11 Ibid, p.08 Tom Dardis, The Thirsty Muse: Alcohol & the American Writer, p.173



‘What was in fact a collaborative overall process with both client and architect became a singular celebration of many male architects’ singular creative ability.’ 28

2 10. Le Corbusier painting a mural at E.1027 in 1938.

compete but to serve men.26 Characterised in popular culture as sex objects, they were seduced by intensive propaganda by government, religious leaders, businessmen and psychologists. As feminist historian Maureen Honey commentated; Rosie the Riveter was ‘transformed with dizzying speed from a wartime heroine to a neurotic, castrating victim of penis envy.’27 Women gave up their productive war time roles to become consumers, regarded as important but less valuable. They became the victims of progress, which led to the strangulation of publicly appreciated female individual thought and ideas. Some of the most notable modernist houses in Europe and America – instigated or heavily driven by female clients from non-traditional female headed households – challenged stereotypes by allowing their architects to push at the boundaries of the traditional domestic layout. However, throughout modernist architectural history there appears to be very little discussion of the roles that women played as catalysts of innovation.28 What was in fact a collaborative overall process with both client and architect became a celebration of many male architects’ singular creative ability. Even when not involved some managed to receive acclaim. When Le Corbusier – completely naked - publicly daubed the walls of Eileen Gray’s house E.1027 (1929) with eight murals without her permission in 1938 (figure 10) and published them in L’Architecture D’aujourd’hui (1948), Gray’s name was not even mentioned. He even went so far as to stake claim on the site and strip Gray of any form of creative and sexual independence by building a shack nearby to enact a brutal gaze and control over the house and her. Le Corbusier would go on to actually receive credit for the house and even some of its furniture, with barely a mention of Gray.29 Looking back to objects such as the domestic house that would in part come to define modernity it is the masculine identity of provider and producer that is at the forefront of our minds. There seems to be a view that these women were not creative in their own right but were receiving what they desired from male masters, architects that had developed a method of mastery over the desired object that women could never themselves attain. As Joan Ockman wrote in her essay on gender and American architecture post World War II, ‘the male culture of production had found its complement in the female culture 26 27 28 29

McCann, Rebel Males, p.11 Maureen Honey, Creating Rosie the Riveter, p.176 Friedman, p.217 Colomina, Battle Lines: E.1027 p.173



2 of consumption.’30 Women were merely the agents for social change but did not fit with the public image of modernity.31 It is the high profile nature of the male modernists that is the ‘bread and butter’ of architectural education today and women seemed to be appearing as victims of modernity. However, the increase in post war social and political pressures on men to adhere to a prescribed masculine identity became discrimination in itself. Sacrificing any personal feeling or views deemed to be weak or effeminate so as not to appear anti-American or in violation of progress.

30 31

Ockman, Mirror Images, p.196 Friedman, p.220




‘...magazines and popular novels such as House Beautiful celebrated marriage, children and home ownership...paths to success and social acceptance in America...’ 32

POST WAR AMERICA, CELEBRITY & THE FAMILY UNIT 11. House Beautiful Magazine Cover, November 1956

During the Second World War Hitler’s view on creativity and freedom of expression combined with the aggressive onslaught of Nazi Germany led many writers, artists and architects to flee Europe for the relative freedoms and opportunity in North America. This mass migration of cultural influence fuelled modernist development and the United States evolution as the world’s new dominant super power meant that it would become the role model for western modernity. The country was not as devastated as mainland Europe but both economically and psychologically its citizens were hit hard. After returning from the frontline, American men, as many others craved some form of normality. There was a great deal of anxiety throughout governments of the Allied Forces that the potential for such barbaric slaughter created by the machine-age would continue to manifest itself through war. The ideal way in which to enforce a degree of normality after such devastation was to actively encourage the ideology of domesticity and the family unit. Before the war capitalist America was defined by the male factory worker with industry and social housing as the inspirational programmes of architecture.32 Post war, elements of capitalist control such as corporate headquarters and the detached family house came to define a new Middle America; ‘the man in the grey flannel suit commuting to a wife and children in the suburbs.’33 The ideology of consumerism was propped up in popular culture by reinforcing the definition of these male and female stereotypes. Popular novels and magazines such as House Beautiful celebrated marriage, children and home ownership, establishing them as building blocks in the path to success and social acceptance in America and advertising campaigns were targeted toward women. They were encouraged to embrace motherhood and home-making and fill the domestic abode with all the required products of bourgeois comfort. Those who didn’t faced a harsh reality, finding they were outcast and lonely at weekends. In 1959, the unmarried daughter of the Harvard sociologist Talcott Parsons complained that ‘one is thrown out of all better-worn social grooves, so that relatively simple things as what to do on Sundays is impossibly difficult;’34 for mainstream America the single woman was ‘like some sort of poison in the social system.’ 35 Women had their place in the world, and it was not to be spent alone. 32 33 34 35

Ockman,p.196 Ibid, p.196 Friedman, p.132 Anne Parsons would go on to feel isolated as a young, unmarried, career driven woman until her eventual suicide at just 33.




3 12. The Seagram Building by Mies van der Rohe, New York, 1958

The importance of a stable marriage with a woman keeping a clean house and dinner waiting for their male counterparts at the end of a long hard day was increasingly sold across America and the world. Single women were often viewed with suspicion and many would face questions of homosexuality and even mental instability. By creating this consumerist ideal, a never ending cycle of continuous want and need in order to ‘keep up with the Joneses,’ women who chose to adhere to the stereotype were left stripped of their independence, dependent on men to produce or provide what they had been told that they should desire. America’s preoccupation with television, a brand new advertising platform only proved to enhance this. Media and the arts became the political tools to which these stereotypes could be re-affirmed and could be refreshed at any given moment if there was a significant threat to the American way of life. The American Will inhabits the skyscraper; the American Intellect inhabits the colonial mansion. The one is the sphere of the American man; the other, at least predominantly, of the American woman. The one is all aggressive enterprise; the other is genteel tradition.36 Modernist architecture had become the physical expression of post war gender identity, and acted as a blank canvas for corporate America to paint on for all to see. The skyscraper represented the world of work, production and an active way for America to move forward and the house was merely a representation of a consumerist ideal, a dream, something that did not truly exist in reality. Although women had control over the domestic, it was a control that was ultimately handed to them by men, for it was he who controlled the means to achieve the end. Architects were thrust into the forefront of society as they rebuilt from the ashes of war. Ideal home magazines promoted designs of great excellence and conformity and glass and steel skyscrapers began to dominate the city skylines representing a new open, transparent society, whilst secretly embodying a reality of control and hierarchical bureaucracy. Very few wished to have such political influence and affiliation. Mies had fled his homeland of Germany to escape the very sentiment. These architects put a face to the physical representations of modernity, and unwittingly became icons, earning a celebrity status. 36

George Santayana, Winds of Doctrine: Studies in Contemporary Opinion, p.188




‘Even Mies, whose skyscrapers had come to embody corporate America, would have an FBI file set up on him tracking him for seven months’ 36

3 13. A propaganda novel published in 1956 highlighting the dangers of communism. Destruction of a Seagram like skyscraper can be seen in the background. 14. ‘Is this tomorrow?’ propaganda comic published in 1947.

This is still the case within society today. When the achievements of an individual reach a scale of mass influence it is human nature to blur the lines of work and personal life. They no longer merely influenced architecture, but were embraced by corporate America and stood to become the ideal role model for the man of Middle America to aspire to. Daring to Defy Looking back over the course of the post war boom in America it is possible to view the depictions of gender stereotypes and corporate consumerism with disdain, and more importantly that the modernists continued them. However, the undeniable fact was that during this period straying remotely from the capitalist path was perilous and socially suicidal, not only for the public but the male role models themselves. During the McCarthy era the ‘second red-scare’ sought to weed out any potential threat to American capitalism, fostering a deep hatred and, more importantly, fear (figures 13/14). Communism had experienced resurgence in American membership during the war, largely due to its early opposition to Hitler and Nazi fascism. Post war communist ideals were very much at odds with an America looking to progress on the basis of consumerism and hierarchical society. The witch hunt that ensued gathered pace and ran out of control, with accusations of disloyalty leading many creative minds from Europe to be put on trial or black listed. Even Mies, whose skyscrapers had come to embody corporate America, would have an FBI file set up on him tracking him for seven months37 and Wright, a man so celebrated for his domestic architecture was tracked after his extra-marital affair.38 To defy corporate America or even give any indication that one might stray from normality was just too dangerous – even in the case of sexual identity and orientation.39 Icons of American cinema weren’t immune. Whether it was Clark Gable’s false teeth or Cary Grant’s bisexual inclinations, gender identity was corrected by the studios then exaggerated in order to mask any personal insecurities or confusions of them as male heterosexuals. 40 They ‘had to be the all-American male 100 percent or else.’41 37 Resource on Harry S Truman from Miller Centre of Public Affairs, University of Virginia as cited in Schulze. 38 Schulze, p.88 39 Philip Johnson (who was homosexual) caught the FBI’s attention and the agency watched him for 30 years. 40 McCann, Rebel Males, p.08 41 P.Bosworth, Montgomery Clift: A Biography, p.155



‘Women were meant to be the guardians of the home and of interior privacy; modest and unassuming. The very nature of the Farnsworth House’s design defied the essence of 1950s America...’ 38


3 15. The open plan and very visible Farnsworth House interior. 16. ‘When modesty demands,’ advertisement from House Beautiful magazine, May 1953

To challenge model America as a woman was equally perilous. Many new ‘modern’ domestic abodes were instigated by female clients or for women in non-traditional female headed households; Gray’s house E.1027 (1929), Mies’ house for Edith Farnsworth (1945-51) and Richard Neutra’s house for Constance Perkins (1955). By taking on such a significant role, these women were drawing attention to themselves, taking a risk by altering the stage where the common gender and social differentiations were enacted and actively choosing not to adhere to the role of the domestic. Farnsworth was a respected doctor and Perkins a college professor. The requirements set by these women led to a departure from other domestic architectural precedents and the houses and women drew much derision socially.42 Although Mies’ skyscrapers were the perfect representation for corporate America, his house for Farnsworth was anything but. Almost everything about it was in direct violation of the traditional American home; the interior, the exterior and the inhabitant. There was a lot of ambiguity and challenge to women who had reached middle age and found themselves single, frequently faced with the spectre of lesbianism. This issue was compounded through the architecture of the Farnsworth house and other homes for single women. There was an issue, whether it was conscious or sub-conscious, about how to treat the bedrooms in these houses due to the ambiguities felt toward the sexual and private lives of unmarried women. The Perkins house was devoid of a bedroom entirely and the Farnsworth house publicised this further with the challenge of its open plan and glass exterior walls (figure 15). This transformed the design into a stage set for anti-modernists to cast derision not only on an architectural style, but what the perils of challenging the domestic ideal were. Women were meant to be the guardians of the home and of interior privacy; modest and unassuming (figure 16). The very nature of the Farnsworth house’s design defied the essence of 1950s America, forcibly presenting through great glazed screens a middle aged single woman for all to see. Crowds reputedly descended on the ‘only property of its kind, noses (were) pressed against the glass.’43 In an article entitled “The Threat to Next America” in a 1953 edition of House Beautiful, the journalist Elizabeth Gordon asserted that the design was un-American, that the international style and those who embrace it: 42 Elizabeth Gordon, ‘The Threat to next America,’ House Beautiful, April 1953, p.126-130 43 Schulze, p.140 extract from “Charges Famed Architect with Fraud, Deceit” Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct.30, 1951



‘...if propaganda and American media deemed these gender stereotypes and consumerism to be the way to achieve the American dream, who were they to deny it?’ 40

3 …(they) are a self-chosen elite who are trying to tell us what we should like and how we should live...These arbiters make such a consistent attack on comfort, convenience, and functional values that it becomes, in reality, an attack on reason itself.44

17. Levittown family in 1948 - The American Dream

For her such architectural totalitarianism and denial of consumerism, products and interior possessions paved the way for fascism. House Beautiful was a peddler of architecture and interior decoration based on the domestic; works by Wright who ‘contributed to the beauty of American life.’45 Descriptions of these modernist houses for single women were plagued with language such as ‘propaganda, danger, social threat’ and ‘artistic dictators.’ This not only challenged the architects but publicly ridiculed these women who as influential clients had come to be associated with the designs. To a public who read these magazines with pages and pages of advertisements and articles on how to achieve the success of the American ideal, being abruptly presented with a house, a client and architect who were considered to be ‘dangerously un-American’ must have felt like an unwelcome culture shock in an environment founded on fear of the unknown. Gordon even provides a ‘checklist for the international style’ that bears a remarkable resemblance to the popular checklist ‘How to spot a communist.’46 Gender relations were clearly defined against a backdrop based largely on propaganda and fear and this fostered a social climate which facilitated the enforcement of conformity. Commentators like Gordon became the real life Toohey from The Fountainhead, with her insistence that those moving away from the traditional - be it socially or creatively - had no place in consumerist America. It is human nature to be part of something, and share a common ground. The American man and woman would have wanted the best for themselves out of life, and if propaganda and American media deemed these gender stereotypes and consumerism to be the way to achieve the American dream, who were they to deny it? After all those who did, did not fare well. This was the backdrop that Mies found himself practicing in at his most prolific. Throughout his career and beyond, his influence as one of the greatest modernist architects of the 20th century and the manner in which he conducted himself within his work and personal life will become 44 45 46

Gordon, p.126-130 Cover Image, House Beautiful, November 1956 Leo Cherne, How to spot a Communist



3 central to our understanding of how modernist male behaviour has come to influence sexual persona for the architect today.


18. Mies van der Rohe, 1912



19. Mies van der Rohe, 1962






MIES VAN DER ROHE & WOMEN 20. Mies with the IIT Campus model and an unknown woman.

In the case of Mies and many other great modernist architects there has always been an intrinsic degree of curiosity when it comes to their personal life and the relationships they held with other people. As with any iconic or high profile figures, this is what humanises them and allows us to relate to someone otherwise known only through their work.47 To understand and define these complex relationships that architects held with a diverse range of clients, colleagues and lovers (particularly where women are involved) allows a pathway into the only means that architectural students and professionals are still able to commonly connect to. The social context may have changed around us but human nature remains inherently similar. Many other architects of this era led fascinating lives,48 but the impact Mies’ approach to architecture had on western civilisation makes his so relevant to the topic at hand. Before America Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) was the son of a stonemason and after a short time working with his father and as an unpaid labourer on a building site, quickly moved on to become a draftsman at a Stucco Factory in Aachen, Germany. 49 Later, he travelled to Berlin where his passion to respond to the pressures for change could be satisfied and after an introduction to a prominent Berlin philosophers wife, Mies used what she described even in his early years as, …a quiet but dominating personality, a self-assurance bearing no trace of vanity, an emphatic masculinity in both looks and demeanour, engaging both sexes.50 Here he would receive his first commission for the Riehl House (1907). Mies continued to develop his method under the gaze of the architect Peter Behrens, soon realising the importance of introductions and relationships with people of influence in a new evolution of 47 48 49 50

This is something that still rings true today – a politicians affair makes for far better reading than a politician’s policy. Wright & Le Corbusier were parodies of themselves: Wright had numerous extra- marital affairs; family break ups and demanded ridiculous things of his staff and clients. Seven people were murdered in his house at Taliesin including Mamah Cheney (his client and eventual mistress). Le Corbusier changed his name in 1920 becoming brand like, had a string of affairs and often turned up at social gatherings dressed as a woman. Originally Maria Ludwig Michael Mies, he, like Le Corbusier changed his name for professional reasons. Architects like Craig Ellwood would follow suit with this trend. Schulze, p.30





4 21. Ada Bruhn, 1907 22. Lilly Reich, date unknown

architecture.51 The first of his more prominent personal relationships came about via the Riehls to the well-connected Bruhn family. What Mies would find in Ada Bruhn (1885-1951), was not so much a loving wife but someone who at that period of his life was an intellectual equal, a devotee, and most importantly could supply the social connections with which he could advance his career. They had three children, and his relationship with her soon deteriorated. Ada’s devotion to Mies was unflinching, unhealthy. Mies was neither the ideal husband nor father. Arguments and accusations of infidelity led Ada to threats of suicide on more than one occasion and yet he still struck up casual liaisons with women in the couple’s weekend retreat.52 During a short stint in the army Mies had a love affair with a gypsy, who it is said bore his child.53 Despite this Ada remained devoted to her Mies and would remind her children that he ‘was an artist…and required disencumbrance from the mean demands and distractions of bourgeois life.’ For her, genteel martyrdom was the best she could offer her husband.54 Lilly Reich (1885-1947), a designer mostly of interior decoration met Mies around 1925 and soon became romantically involved. Notwithstanding that he was still married to Ada, living apart allowed his creative freedom while maintaining the façade of a married family man. What was unique about Reich was that she was the only woman, if not person that Mies developed a close professional rapport with and she was the only one to live with Mies other than Ada throughout his life. Reich did not fit Mies’ partiality to good-looking women; although in liberal circles in Weimar at the time many creative minds were akin to the ‘mannish female.’55 Reich was an intellectual equal to Mies, even on a creative level but importantly Reich was able to take hold of professional affairs that Mies had no wish to burden himself with. Although specialising in interior decoration and furniture design, a domain of the domestic traditionally suited for women she was the antithesis of Ada. They worked and lived together successfully for two years, but Reich began to bow to his authority – playing the traditional European woman’s role in leaving the larger concepts to him while she 51 52 53 54 55

Ibid. pg.62-73 - Commissions for the Kroller-Muller House (1912) and the Werner House (1913) came off the back of meetings with female clients. Ibid. p.75 Ibid. p.81 Letter to Franz Schulze in 1982 in which Julius Posener attributes this account to Bodo Rasch who worked with Mies in the 1920s. Ibid. p.128 Ibid. p. 139



4 dealt with the finer details. Her work was often left unappreciated and as she grew closer to Mies professionally her personal feelings finally caused him to retreat from her. Yet again, there was nothing that Mies craved more than his independence and freedom for his own creativity. When Mies departed for America, to move on, Reich followed him to Wisconsin in the same year. Eventually faced with responsibilities back in Germany she was forced to return. Mies did little to persuade her to stay; he wanted to be free of her commanding personality. The once strong, tenacious woman was left to tend to his legal affairs in Germany and write letters to him that he rarely replied to, pining to see him once more.56 She never did. Ada would desperately and tragically cling on to Mies. Reich would continue to write unanswered letters to him during his time in America. Though both of these women held very different personal and private relationships with him, as an archetypal modernist male there are key similarities in the ways in which he treated them. Mies considered both at the time of meeting to be intellectual equals; but he suited modernity’s role, did what was expected and constantly moved forward, beyond and at the expense of these women. He would take this facet of his personality across the Atlantic. Mies & Edith By 1945, Mies had established himself across Europe after a modest amount of construction involving high profile buildings such as the Barcelona Pavilion (1929) and the Tugendhat House, Czechoslovakia (1930)57. However, opportunities for work had long since dried up in wartime Germany and whilst appreciated in academic circles he had few clients and therefore even fewer realised projects. Edith Farnsworth (1903-1977) came from a socially prominent Chicago family consisting of her mother, father and one sister.58 Dr Farnsworth was a very well educated woman, studied literature, was fluent in French and Italian and a proficient violinist after studying under Mario Corti in the 1920s. Her work as a doctor came to fruition in the mid-forties as male doctors were serving a country at war and she became active. As a woman she was unusually well respected amongst her peers. Farnsworth was unique in 1945 as single female 56 57 58

Mies-Reich Correspondence, Library of Congress cited in Schulze p.249 After impressing yet another female client, Grete Tugenhadt. Schulze p.162 Her father had made his money in lumber in Chicago & Wisconsin. Ibid. p. 252.


‘ her memoirs cited to being painfully lonely, bored and overworked.’ 23.


‘By contrast Mies was...a man of great charm, confidence and charisma who could inspire a great devotion.’


4 23. Dr Edith Farnsworth, 1940 24. Mies, date unknown

professional and expressed a love of both the arts and sciences. A hectic life in the medical profession and an independently earned financial security allowed her to seek refuge in the prospect of owning a small weekend house in the country. After consultation with the Museum of Modern Art in 1945,59 she settled on Mies and the two met for the first time in 1945 in the home of a mutual friend.60 Not an especially attractive woman, at a well above average and somewhat ungainly six feet tall Farnsworth was sensitive about her appearance and in her memoirs cited to being ‘painfully lonely, bored and overworked.’61 At 42, she was in an unusual position in 1940s America, where social acceptance of women was judged very much on one’s marital status and ability to raise the unchallenged notion of the family unit. By contrast, Mies at 59 was mutually separated from his wife and three grown daughters far away in Germany and was a man of great charm, confidence and charisma who could inspire a great devotion.62 He held what was deemed to be the epitome of true masculine physicality, a strong, stern powerfully proportioned man. The two got on famously and Farnsworth’s sister later recalled that Edith ‘probably had an affair with him, she was mesmerised.’63 Farnsworth even described the two meeting to first visit the site in Plano as ‘an act of God.’64 Regarding their meeting as destiny took her relationship with him to a close and personal level. Powerful human emotions such as love are often attributed to a higher power, not the commissioning of a house. By 1946 Mies and Farnsworth had agreed a concept for the house and actions on the project began to slow. The two enjoyed each other’s personal and professional company and would often picnic together on the Fox river bank near the house.65 Farnsworth was a hardy, and powerful woman and throughout her life had developed strong relationships with her mostly male superiors at the hospital, however her memoirs state that most of her close relationships were with women. Needless to say, the once lonely Farnsworth appeared to find solace in Mies and was able to establish a profound emotional and intellectual connection. Further enriching herself with Mies’ previous works and ethos her role as client soon began to blur into that of 59 60 61 62 63 64 65

Ibid. p. 252 Ibid. p. 252 Friedman, p.131 Neil Jackson, Craig Ellwood, p.114 Schulze, p. 252 Friedman, p.131 Schulze, p.253




‘...Mies had deconstructed a strong, wilful, independent woman to reveal the repressed effect that the pressures and propaganda within society were having on her.’ 54

4 25. The Farnsworth House, Plano, Illinois 26. Farnsworth in a state of repose inside her house.

patron as she expressed how the building would be ‘a prototype of new and important American architecture.’66 Farnsworth was fast becoming a conduit for Mies, a platform to allow his work as an architect to grow, with very little concern for what was left behind for her to actually live in. After the design was displayed in his exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (1947), Farnsworth placed her faith in the model that was exhibited, leaving programming and financial issues to Mies.67 She became the perfect client to him since he believed that ‘an architect of ability should be able to tell a client what they want.’68 Whilst the design for the Farnsworth house demonstrated a radical departure from the quintessential domestic home, it seemed as if domestic bliss was being replicated in the office in Chicago. Increasingly socialising with Mies in the city and away from the site she would frequently pop by the office to cook dinners for the young associates of the practice, and spend time on site with Mies and the younger boys in the office.69 …the lady expected the architect to go along with the house!70 Things began to sour as costs spiralled out of control and Farnsworth’s faith in the functionality of her house design began to falter. The closer it came to completion, and the more Mies realised quite the ground breaking nature of his design, the less the client meant to him. He drew more and more distant from her. One instance involved him asking her, ‘Walk up to terrace level, so I can have a look at you.’ Flattered, Farnsworth obliged only for him to reply, ‘Good. I just wanted to check scale.’71 Any social or even romantic ties there were in the years leading up to this point had clearly disbanded, for Mies at least. What it demonstrated was that Farnsworth had given Mies the platform he needed for his career, at the cost of her status and ensuing humiliation in the years to come. The court battle in 1953, which on paper was concerning overspends during construction was fought with a fury that could only come from Edith Farnsworth feeling that she had personally been hurt. Both were awarded payments in court however Farnsworth 66 67 68 69 70 71

Friedman, p.134 A model which held little resemblance to the transparent nature of the final construction. Moises Puente, Conversations with Mies van der Rohe, p.17 E.A. Duckett, Impressions of Mies: An Interview with Mies van der Rohe Quoted from Newsweek Magazine, 29 Sept. 1969 as cited in Schulze. Ibid. p.258 from Schulze personal conversations with Alfred Caldwell, 1980



4 suffered a long term humiliation and was ridiculed in the common press, which in anger, she inadvertently fuelled when talking to antimodernist journalist Gordon.72 Mies, amongst professional peers, was lauded. It is easy to view Mies as a somewhat egotistical architect, concerned only for the pursuit of form, with total disregard as to whom he may bulldoze along the way. However, if Farnsworth was so well read in the architectural ethos of the man, why did she come to question the form of the building? Peter Palumbo, the London real estate developer and confessed fan of Mies who purchased the house in 1962 uncomplainingly followed Mies’ instruction in furnishing the house to the letter.73 Mies was famously quoted as saying; ‘never talk to your client about architecture!’74 Well in that case what do you talk to your client about? Becoming personally involved with any client is always a danger and Mies was designing a home for Farnsworth, the most personal of all habitable spaces. By leaving the architecture to Mies, but continuing an involvement in the project, Farnsworth and Mies naturally became personally linked. This ultimately revealed a deep seated insecurity within Farnsworth, questioning where she sat in society’s grand scheme. Like Reich before her, it appears that Mies had deconstructed a strong, wilful, independent woman to reveal the repressed effect that the pressures and propaganda within society were having on her. By the end of her life she wanted nothing more than to become invisible, she had too long been a non-conformist.75 Gordon may not have liked the Miesian approach to family life, but the design had displayed Farnsworth as an example to the world to add fuel to the propaganda fire. Iconic Mies Mies’ powerful physical masculinity and singular talent had long made him attractive to those who wanted to care for him and aid his progress while nourishing themselves in his light. Of course, he was prepared to accept such care but only to the point at which he felt his creative freedoms would become strangulated or thought that he had progressed beyond these women’s means. Mies wasn’t callous or heartless, but felt the burden of his talent required him to make such 72 73 74 75

Gordon, p.126-130 Schulze, p.256 from Schulze personal conversations with Peter Palumbo, 1983 Puente, p.17 Friedman, p.147




4 27. Philip Johnson’s ‘Glass House.’ 1949

sacrifice. Post-war American gender constructs enabled him to do so without being judged. Rand’s Roark famously proclaimed in a furious exchange that ‘I only intend to have clients in order to build.’76 Architecture is a profession built on networking and although a man of great intelligence and charm, Mies did not enjoy socialising, and hated attending parties.77 America also held the problem of a language barrier in the early stages of his career. Ada’s family held high profile connections, Reich dealt with the finer more laborious details of his work and Farnsworth gave him a stage and freedom to express his creativity. Mies’ contribution to modernism was undoubtedly prolific, perhaps unmatched; but women and relationships were the fuel that drove the engine of Mies’ life and work; they aren’t considered when we herald it. Mies seemed to have an inherent quality that caused an evolution of these relationships, love and respect so often transformed into whole hearted devotion, a far more powerful and potentially dangerous emotional connection. Philip Johnson (19062005), a lifelong advocate of his work, once challenged criticism of Mies’ unapproachable nature: ‘Do you ask God where He got his commandments?!’ Johnson was another who Mies would use as a stepping stone in his work socially and financially. 78 Like Farnsworth, Johnson strayed from the status quo. A closet homosexual, his Glass House (1949) was deemed, much like the Farnsworth House as a form of exhibitionism; as ‘gay space.’79 Mies would move on as he fell out with Johnson, who remained subservient; they too had become remarkably close.80 The tragedy in all of these events is not only that the other characters in Mies’ life were broken down and stripped of their independence, but that Mies truly believed that as a modernist this was a sacrifice that must be made in aid of progress and creative individuality, even at the cost of his own happiness. His final relationship, with Lora Marx (1900-1989), was the most successful because Lora maintained a distance between herself and the iconic Mies for the 29 years they 76 77 78 79 80

Rand, p.26 At a social gathering Edith Farnsworth’s sister Marian Carpenter recalled that ‘they told us that he (Mies) didn’t talk unless he was pumped full of liquor. Evidently we didn’t pump him enough!’ as cited in Schulze. Johnson could speak English. Friedman, p.147 Johnson published a monograph for Mies at his exhibition at the MoMA. Mies signed Johnson’s personal copy “To Phillip: It would not be without you; it could not be without me. Mies. 1947”



4 were acquaintances.81 What Lora was able to do was break away from him. By general consensus of the decade and all those who were associated with Mies, the two were often awash with booze. 82 They separated while Lora attempted to give up drinking and Mies was able to continue work, culminating in Johnson’s exhibition for Mies at the Museum of Modern Art that year. Lora was able to settle for his need for freedom and played no role in his creativity, as platform, inspiration or irritant. The success of this close, yet distant relationship would highlight the tragedy and expense of his success as a pioneer of modernity. Wright had died in 1959, Le Corbusier in 1965. Mies was left old, with visual and muscular problems and in a tragic exchange with Lora that year she asked: ‘Tell me, why you never married me?’ Mies replied; ‘I think I was a fool. I was afraid I would lose my freedom. I wouldn’t have. It was senseless worry…shall we do it now?’ ‘No. It would spoil things.’ She replied.83 Mies was a victim of his own progress, of modernity and his quest for genius.84

81 82 83 84

Schulze, p.234 Dardis, - since the 20s and 30s drinking had been associated with a dedication to the arts, creativity and masculinity. Schulze, pg.320 Mies’ end almost shares characteristics of Goethe’s Faust. Faust seduces Gretchen but his quest for progress soon sees him at a level beyond that of hers. Tragedy, ultimately ensues.




‘Mies was not personable, didn’t engage in small talk and could prove to be quite unpleasant company...’ 62

WHEN VENUS MEETS MARS 28. Mies wielding a cigar in his Chicago apartment, 1965

The 20th century was one of violence, horrific mass crimes, the Great War, Nazism, the holocaust, the inception, deployment and collapse of communism and triumph of global capitalism. Many prominent thinkers and figures in art and architecture were born of this time, a politically charged generation so different from my own. As a result, exploring the narrative of Mies’ life in relation to the scripted gender constructs born of this social context has facilitated a clearer understanding in the discussion that forms the core of this topic and where Mies and the other modernist males sit in relation to the construction of the architect’s sexual persona. Mies had become a ‘star’ in the world of architecture in modern America. Resembling boys looking up to screen idols like Dean and Brando, there was an element of hysteria surrounding him.85 He had rising architects in America proclaiming that he was the architect (they) wanted to be.86 Often photographed with large cigar in hand and drink in another (figure 28), Mies had a staunch alpha male presence and persona. On meeting him for the first time, the architect Craig Ellwood said that he ‘seemed to be constructed from a massive block of granite.’87 An untouchable personality among intellectuals, Mies found that many devotees like Ellwood would jump to his defence when critics questioned his work and private life.88 Mies was not personable, didn’t engage in small talk and could prove to be quite unpleasant company, and this trait was not uncommon among revolutionary thinkers of Mies’ influence.89 This only proved to entice people in and create a sense of intrigue. Modernists like Walter Gropius who wore his heart on his sleeve were far less interesting, less entertaining.90 Colleagues and students may not have particularly liked him, but they respected Mies without question. He was fascinating. Working as an architect today it is just not possible to act in such away. The 21st century standard requirements for work and financial security mean that no matter how impersonal you are, not engaging with others and making connections would be a risk that the current social backdrop 85 86 87 88 89 90

Jackson, p.113 – Ellwood’s wife Gloria – “oh God I tried so hard to get a sketch by Mies to give to Craig!” Ibid. p.113 – extract from ‘Life is a Bottomless Barrel Tales,’ Craig Ellwood Ibid. p.112 – extract from an Ellwood lecture on Mies. Ibid. p.114 – when the architectural historian Mark Girouard questioned the way Mies had lived his life when reviewing Franz Schulze’s Biography in 1986, Ellwood wrote a letter demanding that Girouard “go suck eggs!” Johnson, p.82 Gropius requested that people celebrate his life at his funeral and have a party rather than mourn his death. I’d imagine the last thing Mies would have wanted was people engaging in inane chatter around his coffin. Unsurprisingly the two did not get on well.



5 does not allow. A somewhat depressing ‘safety’ and continuity appears to be stifling the sort of transcendent thought that made Mies’ architecture so inspiring. Role models are visions of someone we aspire to be, therefore the further from our reality they are the greater the wish to emulate becomes. The sentimentally of Europe and the modern generation takes Mies even further from our reach of understanding. As an architectural student I admire Mies’ work but essentially his behaviour was absolutely deplorable by current more liberal standards. Still I too find myself seduced by such a powerful cigar-wielding whiskeydrinking figure.91 Far from sentimental, uncompromising, a heavy drinker, promiscuous and a man who rarely rose to work until noon; he was and is still seen as a rebel, bearing traits many would love to indulge in today. Advocates of Mies like Ellwood would take on many of these and the trend sub-consciously continues through architecture until we find ourselves looking at an idealistic persona for architects without understanding its deeper nature and the theoretical concepts it is based upon.92 Certain events in Mies’ life stand out to show the sort of personality he was. The most obvious being his relationship with Edith Farnsworth, one in which he revealed his willingness to directly use clients – particularly women – as a fuel for progress. Other incidents, such as the affairs whilst married to the mentally fragile Ada Bruhn display a brutal callousness to his nature. So in spite of all of his achievements in architecture, as a pioneer of modernity and therefore a role model, can we forgive him? Are we even in a position to do so? Mies’ actions, his attitudes towards people, women and architecture are entwined within a series of landmark events that fuelled an age pre-occupied with thinking, of inventiveness and a transcendent urge to push forward and away from earlier violent failures of the century. After the 1950s men (especially younger), were no longer required in large numbers as fighters, and began to slowly find themselves treated as consumers and the socio-political emergence of openly gay men within capitalist culture, many with frank patterns of consumption blurred the definition of sexuality further. In the wake of feminism in the 1970s more women work outside the home, attaining higher levels 91 92

Two habits I enjoy but partake in a lot less, them being considerably less socially acceptable to do on a regular basis in society today. Not to mention how expensive good whiskey is. Ellwood enjoyed a drink, married a former Miss. Delaware and ‘borrowed’ his staff ’s wives and girlfriends for photo-shoots (he got on famously with Mies) Paul Davies, ‘Reputations: Craig Ellwood’ Architectural Review, July 2012.



5 of economic and professional achievement than past generations would have ever considered possible. The decline of the traditional institution of marriage and the acceptance of alternative choices allowed women a new form of involvement, an ability to openly discuss and therefore gain greater control over issues such as birth control, mental health and homosexuality. The traditional dichotomy of the masculine and feminine no longer remains and men also construct their identities in terms of what they consume, from powerful sports cars to the latest iPhone.93 This leaves us in a world where we not only view modernist architects like Mies from a different perspective but our view on modernity and progression has changed too. Today, our insatiable need for judgement, for quick answers in reality should be replaced with considered understanding of historical context. In his book The Century Alain Badiou writes that, (Today)…propaganda declares that everything changes by the minute, that we have no time, that we must modernise at top speed, that we are going to “miss the boat” (the internet, the new economy, mobile phones, stock holders, stock options)94 Badiou describes how propaganda has powered a new generation with an unquenchable thirst for hurried (and not always productive) progress. A generation able to construct, chew up and spit out new role models more readily. A disposable modernity rather than one based on long term influential thought. Conceivably in an era of general consensus politics where Venus is moving ever closer to Mars, the sexual persona of architects like Mies are the only ones that have any permanence and lasting influence on a 21st century society set on rapid, short term progression and identity. Zaha Hadid, the first female Laureate of the Pritzker Prize in 2004, has unquestionably been elevated to a 21st century role model status.95 Hadid inhabits a bizarre hybrid of the modernist era that was occupied by Mies and the hurried modernisation of today. She has assimilated many of the machismo and impersonal qualities for which Mies was so renowned, rarely taking part in interviews and often 93 94 95

Even the mobile phone companies market to the masculine and feminine – from black to pink. Alain Badiou, The Century, p. 106 – Badiou in fact deems The Century to be only the first 75 years post World War I. Christine Murray, ‘Women in Practice,’ Architect’s Journal, January 2012, p.22 – article presenting the most influential female architects today, with Hadid at number one.





5 29.The Seagram Building, New York by Mies 30. Concept design for Sunrise Towers, Kuala Lumpur by Zaha Hadid

pictured against austere backdrops, revealing very little about herself. Her presentation of femininity – be it her make-up, her mannerisms or her dress sense – as a positive conduit for her architecture generates a seductive aura around Hadid the personality.96 These qualities, combined with the more traditional controlling concepts rooted in masculine behaviour mean that we not only critique her work, but also her character. Everything about Hadid is elevated to celebrity status with many critics referring to her as architecture’s ‘diva.’97 Hadid certainly strays from the out of date stereotype of the helpless and over bearing 1950s female.98 However, could this supposed ‘new ground’ for the female architect’s identity not simply be seen as a transgendering of the architect’s body and mind, one in which there is an obligation to negotiate that of the male model in the profession?99 Architecturally, if one were to directly compare Mies and Hadid’s work (figures 29/30) and field the question to a young child: which of the two buildings was the man and which the woman? The most basic historical concepts of gender constructs would lead most to the same answer. Mies’ architecture was functional, well drilled, and an ordered example of power and control over space using very little. His hard, chiselled command over glass and steel were physical representations of the simplest conceptions of masculinity, circa 1950. In the traditional sense Hadid’s work exudes a more feminine quality, with fluid and elegant, sculptural forms demonstrating an ability to manipulate harsh heavy materials to appear as weightless objects that take control of the space; but her forthright approach to this control demonstrates one more akin to a masculinity rooted in the more historical and outdated gender scripts. Many cast Hadid as a role model for women in architecture, but it’s hard to see how anyone could truly associate with a person whose behaviour was almost as far removed from modern day consensus as Mies.100 This leads the discussion to the uncomfortable position that the sexual persona and identity of the ‘Architect with a capital A’ – one of celebrity status and role model influence - is somehow different to all others. Firmly rooted in strong gender constructs and stereotyped 96 97 98 99 100

From introductory description of Hadid in Simon Hattenstone, Zaha Hadid: ‘I’m Happy to be on the Outside,’ The Guardian, October 2010 Hadid is described as being her own biggest problem, a ‘mouthy diva,’ – she has her own publicist. Hattenstone, p.34 Clare Wright, ‘Women in Practice,’ Architect’s Journal, January 2012, p.52 Despina Stratigakos, “Architects in Skirts,” Journal of Architectural Education, Vol.5, Issue 2, p.90 - As viewed during a critique of the image of the architect Hattenstone, p.34 – Hadid removed the kitchen from her flat as she regarded it as ‘ugly.’ She always eats out.



‘The relationships he held with women and the way he behaved were set against a social context which has long since changed.’ 70

5 31. Zaha Hadid in 2010

scripts largely developed in an era of violence and revolution. In a more liberal time of conservatism, where very little, not even an idea can tear us away from our sense of safety and stability it would appear that individual sacrifice and unfortunate behaviour could be the only presentable form of architectural persona. Interviews with Hadid often highlight consumer culture’s insatiable appetite for new role models, as in Simon Hattenstone’s meeting with her in 2010: Look, she says, times have moved on, female architects are accepted much more these days. Really? Where are the next generation of Zaha Hadids then? “They’re there.” Give me names, I say.101 Hadid is another manifestation of the modernist male’s influence in architecture. Like Mies she is less than personable – some even find her terrifying – but she still commands a great deal of respect amongst both female and male architectural students.102 As a role model positioned in today’s society Hadid serves to highlight a narrow and almost impossible persona both male and female architects are expected to inhabit. In the efforts to rapidly generate, process and latch on to role model figures, a persona which on the surface appears to be current is in fact nothing ‘really new.’103

101 102 103

Hattenstone, p.34 Hattenstone, p.34 Colin St. John Wilson, Architectural Reflections, p.68 – in discussions on T.S. Eliot’s conception of tradition.



CONCLUSIONS No architect, no artist of any art has his complete meaning alone.104 T.S. Eliot On a recent trip home to visit my parents in Hertfordshire I was forced to take a short detour through the newly built Salisbury Village not far from where I grew up. The ‘village’ appears to have been built overnight and is an ill-conceived mish-mash, a pastiche of architectural styles spanning hundreds of years. Built without an understanding and appreciation of tradition these imitations have led to a hollow suburban dystopia dumped on the site of an old airfield. Yet the market for this sort of housing seems to thrive in the safety of tradition, as many people believe these to be the perceptions of an ideal home.105 The underlying issue is that it takes a great deal of work and consideration of one’s historical past, one’s tradition to generate something new, something truly successful. Few have written as persuasively on this as the architect and author Colin St. John Wilson. Wilson interprets T.S. Eliot’s analysis of the considered relationship between tradition and its relevance to architecture, insisting that there should always be a dialogue between works of the past and present; but those which reside in the contemporary should have the capacity to contribute something new, something progressive.106 Raiding the surface of historical forms without due regard for their depth only results in the ‘kitsch.’ Both Eliot and Wilson’s views on our relationship we have with tradition can also be applied to the treatment of the historical and the creation of the contemporary architectural role models. Mies was a man consciously aware of his place in time, and his personal life came to reflect this. He played the perfect role in an ever growing America born of consumerism under the steely eyes of a propaganda storm. The relationships he held with women and the way he behaved were set against a social context which has long since changed. Mies and the other modernists have only played such a pivotal role in an industry constructed in clichés of masculinity because over the years the ways in which they played out their lives have been taken too seriously against today’s context. Like the traditional constructs of gender the modernist script has simply been reprocessed and not enhanced or moved forward, something that I’m sure Mies and many other modernists would have found appalling. Be it genuine or soulless imitation the influence is still far reaching and 104 105 106

From “Tradition and the individual Talent” by TS Eliot cited in Wilson, p.69 A view reaffirmed to me after discussions with some of my own clients. Wilson, p.68



is linked straight back to this heroic time in architectural history. This period is not only acutely present in 21st century culture but a staple in the architectural student’s diet, and is perhaps merely consumed rather than truly understood. Against modern day values of equality the way in which these architects conducted themselves becomes an exaggeration, a parody and almost unbelievable. Jumping to assumptions of 21st century architectural personae as crude imitations of the hard, granite like masculinity of Mies in reality is no different than regarding a mock Georgian Barratt’s home as a pioneering direction for 21st century housing. In the past great architects have mentored younger architects, who have themselves become ‘great’ in the image of their masters. Hadid is an example of an unusual phenomenon: the first great female architect elevated to celebrity status mentored by great male architects.107 Putting her on a pedestal means that Hadid is singled out, treated out of context as an individual, without understanding for the facets of her persona derived from her mentors. There is an ever growing pantheon of influential architects from each generation - be it Mies or Hadid - and there is always a vacant seat waiting to be filled. At present the way in which architects and society treat their manner of influence appears to be with little appreciation for the stage in which they played out their lives. Perhaps true progression came to a halt at the end of Badiou’s Century in the 1970s as we were kept safe in amongst the consensual and liberal economy and politics of a triumphant capitalism. The ideologies of technocracy and consumerism inherited from the heroic period of architecture post war and the indulgences of Mies and the modernist males are firmly entrenched and play a huge role in 21st century popular culture and architecture. However, rather than imitating gender, social and architectural constructs from a nostalgic time to create an inherent security, a relevant identity for the architect (for both male and female) could be forged in a contextual use, understanding and simultaneous existence of the lives of those who sit in this pantheon. When economic collapse threatens to be the landmark event at the start of this new century, positive qualities of modernists like Wright, Le Corbusier, Mies and Kahn ought to be understood as pieces in an ever growing jigsaw. To be positioned in present-day situations to create a persona that keeps one foot in 107

Hadid studied at the AA in London and worked with and was tutored by male architectural heavyweights such as Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis.



the past but at the same time fulfils an obligation to offer something new and progressive - a mantra that both I and even the most cliched modernist might share.



BIBLIOGRAPHY Agrest, D., Conway, P., & Weisman, L. (1996). The Sex of Architecture. New York: Harry N. Abrams. B.Martin, P. S. (2003). Women’s Places: Architecture & Design 1860-1960. London: Routledge. Badiou, A. (2007). The Century. Cambridge: Polity Press. Beauvoir, S. d. ((1949) 1997). The Second Sex. London: Vintage. Bosworth, P. (1978). Montgomery Clift: A Biography . New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Cherne, L. (1947, March). How to spot a Communist. LOOK Magazine. Colomina, B. (1992). Sexuality & Space. New York: Princeton University Press. Colomina, B. (1996). Battle Lines: E.1027. In D. Agrest, P. Conway, & L. Weisman, The Sex of Architecture (p. 173). New York: Harry N. Abrams. Corvin, A. M. (2012). Women in Practice: News. Architect’s Journal, pg. 5. D.McCorquodale, K. S. (1996). Desiring Practices: Architecture, gender and the interdisciplinary. London: Black Dog Publishing. Dardis, T. (1989). The Thirsty Muse: Alcohol & the American Writer. New York: Mariner Books. Davies, P. (2005). An Architect’s Guide to Fame. Oxford: Architectural Press. Duckett, E. (1988). Impressions of Mies: An interview on Mies van der Rohe . Chicaco: N/A. Friedman, A. T. (1998). Women and the making of the Modern House: A social and architectural history. New Haven, Conneticut: Yale University Press. Fulcher, M. (2012). Women in Practice: News. Architect’s Journal, pg. 5. Gauntlett, D. (2008). Media, Gender & Identity. Oxford: Routledge. Goldberg, S. (1973). The Inevitability of Patriarchy: Why the biological difference between men & women always produces male domination. New York: William Morrow & Company. Gordon, E. (1953, April). The Threat to Next America. House Beautiful, pp. 126-130. Hattenstone, S. (2010). Zaha Hadid: I’m Happy on the Outside. The Guardian, 34. Honey, M. (1984). Creating Rosie the Riveter, Class, Gender & propaganda during World War II. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. J.Rendell, B. I. (2000). Gender Space Architecture: An interdisciplinary introduction. London: Routledge. Jackson, N. (2002). Craig Ellwood. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd. Johnson, P. (1988). Intellectuals. Avon: Bath Press. Kinsey, A. C. (1954). Kinsey Reports on Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male & Female. New York: Mentor Books. Lamphere, L. (1974). Woman, Culture & Society. Stanford,California: Stanford University Press. McCann, G. (1988). Marilyn Monroe: The Body in the Library. Cambridge: Polity Press. McCann, G. (1991). Rebel Males. New York: Penguin Group. Meades, J. (2008). Zaha Hadid: The First Great Female Architect. Intelligent Life Magazine. Murray, C. (2012). Women in Practice: Introduction. Architect’s Journal, 22-23. Neumeyer, F. (1991). The Artless Word: Mies van der Rohe on the Building Art. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. Ockman, J. (1996). Mirror Images: Technology, Consumption & the representation of Gender in American Architecture since WWII. In D. Agrest, P. Conway, & L. Weisman, The Sex of Architecture (p. 196). New York: Harry N. Abrams. 79


BIBLIOGRAPHY Paglia, C. (1990). Sexual Personae: Art & Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. New Haven: Yale University Press. Pinker, S. (2002). The Blank Slate. New York: Penguin. Puente, M. (2008). Conversations with Mies van der Rohe. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. Rand, A. (1952). The Fountainhead. New York: Penguin Group. Saint, A. (1983). The Image of the Architect. New Haven: Yale University Press. Santayana, G. (1913). Winds of Doctrine: Studies in Contemporary Opinion . London: J.M Dent. Schulze, F. (1985). Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography. Chicago: Chicago Press. Stratigakos, D. (2001). Architects in Skirts. Journal of Architectural Education, 90-100. Walter, N. (1998). The New Feminism. London: Virago Press. Wilson, C. S. (2001). Architectural Reflections: Studies and Philosphy in the Practice of Architecture. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Wright, C. (2012). Women in Practice: Essay. Architect’s Journal, pg. 52.




Cover Image. Mies van der Rohe and the Seagram Building, New York, 1958 – 1.

Hellman Comic: The architectural role model – Architects Journal: April 2003


Banana Republic US Spring Collection Advert 2007 –


‘Chivalry’ by Frank Bernard Dicksee –


Josephine Baker in her banana skirt, Paris, 1925 –


Adolf Loos, House for Josephine Baker, model, 1928 –


Adolf Loos, 1930 –


Film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead.’ –


Roark’s crowning achievement in The Fountainhead - The Wynand Building –


Renaissance statue of a woman, New York, USA –


Le Corbusier painting a mural at E.1027, 1938 –


House Beautiful Magazine, November 1956 –


The Seagram Building, New York, 1958 –


1956 Propaganda Novel –


1949 Propaganda Comic –


The Farnsworth House Interior –


Advertisement in House Beautiful Magazine – Friedman, A. T.


Levittown family, 1948 –


Mies van der Rohe, 1912 – Schulze, F.


Mies van der Rohe, 1962 – Schulze, F.


Mies with IIT Campus model and an unknown woman –


Ada Bruhn, 1907 – Schulze, F.


Lilly Reich, date unknown –


Dr Edith Farnsworth, 1940 – Friedman, A.T.


Mies van der Rohe, date unknown –


The Farnsworth House – Friedman, A.T.


Farnsworth in a state of repose inside her house –


Phillip Johnson’s ‘Glass House’ –


Mies in his Chicago apartment, 1965 – Werner Blaser


The Seagram Building by Mies –


Concept design for Sunrise Tower in Kuala Lumpur by Zaha –


Zaha Hadid in 2010 –


Women are from Venus, Mies was from Mars  

This is the full text for my RIBA Part 2 dissertation (Nominated for the Silver Medal 2013) 'The Role of the Modernist Male in the Construct...

Women are from Venus, Mies was from Mars  

This is the full text for my RIBA Part 2 dissertation (Nominated for the Silver Medal 2013) 'The Role of the Modernist Male in the Construct...