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Apprenticeship in Reform

Mies experienced the problems of modernization early on, as the son of a second-generation master stonemason with a successful family business trading largely in marble mantelpieces and tombstones. He was born in the prosperous Ruhrland city of Aachen, in the northwest region of Germany, in 1886, the youngest of five children of Amalie (née Rohe) (1843–1928) and Michael Mies (1851–1927). Named Maria Ludwig Michael Mies, he would later change his name to Ludwig Miës van der Rohe and come to be known the world over simply as Mies. During the years in which Mies grew up, however, his father’s business declined, unable to adapt to the new industrial and commercial economy that emerged in the decades following the unification of Germany in 1871. From his father Mies learned to value craft, practicality and the slow, measured pace of transforming raw material into cultural artefacts. He often recalled how impressed he had been as a child by Aachen’s cathedral, with its chapel built under Charlemagne in the eighth century. Its ‘great stones’ possessed such scale, power and clarity of construction as to leave Mies fixated in silence. Critics invoke his early initiation into craft as formative of his preference for noble materials such a marble, travertine and fine woods and his insistence upon precise workmanship, even in industrial materials such as steel, glass and concrete. Similarly, his brief apprenticeship in the building trades, where he learned to lay brick, has often been cited as the basis for his long-standing appreciation of materials and his motto that ‘architecture begins when you put two bricks together’.1 The reinterpretation of craft values under the conditions of industrialization would become central to the mythology surrounding Mies, especially in his later years.

trigonometry, history, economics, geography, German, English and life drawing, as well as technical drawing and workshop.2 Learning to draw was pivotal for Mies, who early on demonstrated his talent, first in occasional lettering for one of his father’s tombstones, then in technical drawing at the trade school, and shortly thereafter in drafting large-scale decorative details for a stucco fabricator for whom he worked for two years. Mies later recalled, If I thought I knew how to draw before, I really learned now. We had huge drawing boards that went from floor to ceiling and stood vertically against the wall. You couldn’t lean on or against them; you had to stand squarely in front of them and draw not just by turning your hand but by swinging your whole arm. We made drawings the size of an entire quarter of a room ceiling, which we could then send on to the model makers. I did this every day for two years. Even now I can draw cartouches with my eyes closed. 3 It was undoubtedly his draftsmanship rather than his stonemasonry or bricklaying skills that commended Mies to the local architects with whom he apprenticed between 1901 and 1905. And it was there, in the atelier of Albert Schneider, that he became exposed not only to architecture as a form of practice but also to the value of education, and to the lure of the metropolis as well. When Schneider joined forces with the Berlin firm of Bossler and Knorr to design a department store in Aachen, Mies found himself working next to architects, engineers and clerks from the great city – men of higher learning and of broader cultural and social horizons. His father had discouraged any interest in books, but these architects encouraged him to read. Encountering a pamphlet one day on the theories of the eighteenthcentury astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749–1827) as well as an issue of the magazine Die Zukunft (The Future), Mies developed an appetite for reading across a wide range of subjects, from science and technology to philosophy and theology. I read [the essay and magazine] and both of them went quite over my head. But I couldn’t help being interested. So every week thereafter I got hold of Die Zukunft and I read it as carefully as I could. That’s when I think I started paying attention to spiritual things. Philosophy and culture.4 Armed with a modest secular education as well as a traditional Catholic one, Mies became aware of the opportunities and challenges of modernity and began to ask questions for which answers were not readily at hand. The Berliners were impressed by his abilities and encouraged him to move to the big city in order to realize his potential. Speaking of his time in the Berlin studio of Peter Behrens (1868–1940) a few years later, Mies explained further, I was interested in what is architecture. I asked somebody, ‘What is architecture?’ But he didn’t answer me. He said, ‘Just forget it. Just work. You will find that out by yourself later.’ I said, ‘That’s a fine answer to my question.’ But I wanted to know more. I wanted to find out. That was the reason I read, you know. For nothing else, I wanted to find out things. I wanted to be clear. What was going on. What is our time and what is it all about. Otherwise, I didn’t know we would be able to do something reasonable. In this way, I read a lot. I bought all these books and paid for them. I read them in all the fields.5

Yet the image of Mies as the son of a stonemason belies the fact that he did not pursue a trade, after all, and instead acquired a considerable education for someone of his class and his parents’ means. Although Mies did not attend high school or university, he studied Catholicism and Latin for three years at the cathedral elementary school. Through a scholarship he continued for two years in a trade school, where instruction was offered in chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry,

Mies was an autodidact. He apprenticed as an architect and was selftaught in the liberal arts, which architects ordinarily learned at university. He read across many spheres of knowledge, seeking to understand both the natural and human world and to come to terms with the conditions of the modern epoch. Years later, in Chicago, this impulse would be reaffirmed in reading Robert Maynard Hutchins (1899–1977) on the value of books for higher education: the classics, without which Hutchins considered it impossible to understand any subject or to comprehend the contemporary world, and also contemporary works.6 In other words Mies read as a form of research, which he took to be necessary for his work as an architect. In the 1920s and later, he would characterize his task as conducting ‘battles of spirit’, seeking to clarify and mitigate the problematic conditions of modern-

14

Apprenticeship in Reform

Critical Realism: Life and Form

15


Apprenticeship in Reform

Mies experienced the problems of modernization early on, as the son of a second-generation master stonemason with a successful family business trading largely in marble mantelpieces and tombstones. He was born in the prosperous Ruhrland city of Aachen, in the northwest region of Germany, in 1886, the youngest of five children of Amalie (née Rohe) (1843–1928) and Michael Mies (1851–1927). Named Maria Ludwig Michael Mies, he would later change his name to Ludwig Miës van der Rohe and come to be known the world over simply as Mies. During the years in which Mies grew up, however, his father’s business declined, unable to adapt to the new industrial and commercial economy that emerged in the decades following the unification of Germany in 1871. From his father Mies learned to value craft, practicality and the slow, measured pace of transforming raw material into cultural artefacts. He often recalled how impressed he had been as a child by Aachen’s cathedral, with its chapel built under Charlemagne in the eighth century. Its ‘great stones’ possessed such scale, power and clarity of construction as to leave Mies fixated in silence. Critics invoke his early initiation into craft as formative of his preference for noble materials such a marble, travertine and fine woods and his insistence upon precise workmanship, even in industrial materials such as steel, glass and concrete. Similarly, his brief apprenticeship in the building trades, where he learned to lay brick, has often been cited as the basis for his long-standing appreciation of materials and his motto that ‘architecture begins when you put two bricks together’.1 The reinterpretation of craft values under the conditions of industrialization would become central to the mythology surrounding Mies, especially in his later years.

trigonometry, history, economics, geography, German, English and life drawing, as well as technical drawing and workshop.2 Learning to draw was pivotal for Mies, who early on demonstrated his talent, first in occasional lettering for one of his father’s tombstones, then in technical drawing at the trade school, and shortly thereafter in drafting large-scale decorative details for a stucco fabricator for whom he worked for two years. Mies later recalled, If I thought I knew how to draw before, I really learned now. We had huge drawing boards that went from floor to ceiling and stood vertically against the wall. You couldn’t lean on or against them; you had to stand squarely in front of them and draw not just by turning your hand but by swinging your whole arm. We made drawings the size of an entire quarter of a room ceiling, which we could then send on to the model makers. I did this every day for two years. Even now I can draw cartouches with my eyes closed. 3 It was undoubtedly his draftsmanship rather than his stonemasonry or bricklaying skills that commended Mies to the local architects with whom he apprenticed between 1901 and 1905. And it was there, in the atelier of Albert Schneider, that he became exposed not only to architecture as a form of practice but also to the value of education, and to the lure of the metropolis as well. When Schneider joined forces with the Berlin firm of Bossler and Knorr to design a department store in Aachen, Mies found himself working next to architects, engineers and clerks from the great city – men of higher learning and of broader cultural and social horizons. His father had discouraged any interest in books, but these architects encouraged him to read. Encountering a pamphlet one day on the theories of the eighteenthcentury astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749–1827) as well as an issue of the magazine Die Zukunft (The Future), Mies developed an appetite for reading across a wide range of subjects, from science and technology to philosophy and theology. I read [the essay and magazine] and both of them went quite over my head. But I couldn’t help being interested. So every week thereafter I got hold of Die Zukunft and I read it as carefully as I could. That’s when I think I started paying attention to spiritual things. Philosophy and culture.4 Armed with a modest secular education as well as a traditional Catholic one, Mies became aware of the opportunities and challenges of modernity and began to ask questions for which answers were not readily at hand. The Berliners were impressed by his abilities and encouraged him to move to the big city in order to realize his potential. Speaking of his time in the Berlin studio of Peter Behrens (1868–1940) a few years later, Mies explained further, I was interested in what is architecture. I asked somebody, ‘What is architecture?’ But he didn’t answer me. He said, ‘Just forget it. Just work. You will find that out by yourself later.’ I said, ‘That’s a fine answer to my question.’ But I wanted to know more. I wanted to find out. That was the reason I read, you know. For nothing else, I wanted to find out things. I wanted to be clear. What was going on. What is our time and what is it all about. Otherwise, I didn’t know we would be able to do something reasonable. In this way, I read a lot. I bought all these books and paid for them. I read them in all the fields.5

Yet the image of Mies as the son of a stonemason belies the fact that he did not pursue a trade, after all, and instead acquired a considerable education for someone of his class and his parents’ means. Although Mies did not attend high school or university, he studied Catholicism and Latin for three years at the cathedral elementary school. Through a scholarship he continued for two years in a trade school, where instruction was offered in chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry,

Mies was an autodidact. He apprenticed as an architect and was selftaught in the liberal arts, which architects ordinarily learned at university. He read across many spheres of knowledge, seeking to understand both the natural and human world and to come to terms with the conditions of the modern epoch. Years later, in Chicago, this impulse would be reaffirmed in reading Robert Maynard Hutchins (1899–1977) on the value of books for higher education: the classics, without which Hutchins considered it impossible to understand any subject or to comprehend the contemporary world, and also contemporary works.6 In other words Mies read as a form of research, which he took to be necessary for his work as an architect. In the 1920s and later, he would characterize his task as conducting ‘battles of spirit’, seeking to clarify and mitigate the problematic conditions of modern-

14

Apprenticeship in Reform

Critical Realism: Life and Form

15


ity through the art of building.7 While he accepted the scientific and technological character of the modern world, he insisted that architecture was more than rational and materialist: it was cultural, artistic and spiritual. Some critics of modernity argued for a return to premodern forms of society and art. Mies fatefully accepted industrial civilization, but he directed architecture towards its potential for a new cultural order. In an interview of 1955, he expressed his ambivalent modernity this way. [S]ince I know by reading and studying books that we are under the influence of science and technology, I would ask myself, what can that be – what result comes from this fact? Can we change it, or can we not change it? And the answer to this question gave me the direction that I followed.8 Acquiring theoretical as well as practical knowledge gave Mies an entrée into the professional class and enabled him to join its quest for the renewal of culture, and more specifically, German culture. During the late eighteenth century, German intellectuals had sought to distinguish their work from the French and English, whose influence at court had precluded the development of literature, philosophy and art in the German language and based in German traditions. They began to ascribe a special status to the concept of culture as distinct from civilization. Whereas the French and English use civilization to encompass everything from politics to economics, religion, technology, morality and social mores, the German concept of culture elevates intellectual, artistic and religious activities above the political, economic and social. It also emphasizes the achievements of the individual as well as the unique expression of a people, rather than their intrinsic value or general behaviour.9 By 1900 this bias in favour of what Germans call das reine Geistige (the purely spiritual) had become the foundation of legitimacy and pride for the arts as well as intellectual life. Although it is common to translate Geist as ‘spirit’, the latter implies something more mystical than the German necessarily connotes, since it subsumes intellect and mind within a broader concept of the transcendental and the quintessentially human. The purely transcendental was to be enacted through a commitment to the inner enrichment and personal formation of the individual – that is, to the cultivation of the person, primarily through the medium of books. It was precisely through reading that Mies launched himself on a lifelong process of self-education and self-fashioning, which he later sought to nurture in others. His daughter, Georgia van der Rohe (1914–2008), recalled that her father was proud to be not simply a self-made man but a ‘self-created one’.10 Being ‘self-made’ was perhaps inevitable for someone who aspired to a higher social standing than the one promised by the petit-bourgeois life of the provincial city where he was born. Yet it also suggests achievements of a materialist kind, as well as an ethos of practicality and hard work, which only partially circumscribed Mies’s character. ‘Creating oneself’, on the other hand, would be a fully cultural achievement, recognizing that one’s identity and personality are as much cultivated as innate. In an influential essay of 1901, the sociologist Georg Simmel (1858–1918) articulated how the anonymity of metropolitan life provided a new horizon of freedom for defining oneself, whereas the intimacy of social relations in small towns tended to fix personal identities and stifle self-realization.11 Some years earlier Nietzsche had even gone so far as to approach life itself as a work of art, or an ‘experiment’, as Friedrich Muckle (1883–1945) put it in a book on Nietzsche, which Mies would later come to own.12 The period in which Mies came to maturity was marked by great enthusiasms for new beginnings and new ways of living, valorizing youth in all spheres of society and offering upward mobility for those who embraced new challenges. Once in Berlin, it was not long before Mies cultivated a cosmopolitan persona. With an active social life and sophisticated taste in clothes, he transformed himself into the kind of person society would come to recognize as a leader of his generation.

003 The carpentry workshop at the Vereinigte Werkstätten für Kunst im Handwerk, Munich, ca. 1910

004 Bruno Paul, Presidential Study for the government buildings in Beyreuth, as displayed at the St Louis World’s Fair, 1904

area of the city. Soon after, he was hired by Bruno Paul (1874–1968), one of Berlin’s most talented young designers of decorative arts, furniture and interiors. Having started his career as a visual artist in Munich, Paul had emerged in the late 1890s as a key figure of Jugendstil (the German counterpart to Art Nouveau) with designs that exemplified the ideas of psychological projection or empathy promoted in the aesthetic theories of Theodor Lipps (1851–1914) and his student August Endell (1871–1925). In 1897 Paul became a founding member of the Vereinigte Werkstätten für Kunst im Handwerk (United Workshops for Art in Handicraft) in Munich and focused increasingly on designing furniture and interiors that were capable of enlisting empathetic responses through simple, functional forms devoid of applied ornament 003. The Vereinigte Werkstätten was one of the first manufacturers to embrace machine-assisted production in furniture and to explore the implications of industrialization for design. Unlike the Arts and Crafts movement in England, the German counterpart was never hostile to machine production, seeing it instead in continuity with handcraft and as a potential source for modern form and beauty, as well as economic competitiveness. Around 1900 Paul contributed model rooms to international exhibitions of decorative arts in Munich, Turin and St Louis, demonstrating an increasing mastery of design for mass production 004. Much admired for his skilful handling of materials and details, Paul quickly left the flowing lines and vitalist projections of Jugendstil to explore the integration of rectangles and squares into patterns for wall and ceiling panels, built-in cabinetry and furniture. Paul developed a line of standardized furniture that could be added to with ease based on a unit system. The line was especially suitable for small apartments and was manufactured in series by the Vereinigte Werkstätten. Active in the reform movements seeking to forge a culture of health, social well-being and artistic expression for industrial society, Paul became director of the school affiliated with the Museum of Decorative Arts; Mies was able to take evening classes there during the time he worked for Paul. Paul also participated in founding the German Werkbund (1907), an association of artists, designers, manufacturers, educators, critics and state officials that grew out of the Arts and Crafts movement and was pivotal in the birth of modern design. The Werkbund sought to raise the quality of goods for mass consumption through artistic design and good workmanship while embracing industrialization as a way to renew German culture and strengthen international markets. Friedrich Naumann (1860–1919) was especially clear in calling for the ‘spiritualization’ of technics by artistic means in order to infuse meaning, ennoble the work and raise its economic value.13 Although Mies only joined the Werkbund after World War I, he would have absorbed its ethos earlier. During much of the 1920s, he would serve as its vice president.

Arriving in Berlin in 1905, Mies found employment initially in the municipal architectural offices of Rixdorf, a small town in the greater

By the time Mies arrived at Paul’s studio, Paul had – like many of his contemporaries – turned to the more restrained neoclassical and Biedermeier styles of the early nineteenth century as a native tradition that could be updated to meet the needs and desires of the expanding industrial middle class in the early twentieth century. Enlarging the audience for modern design to include the middle and, later, working classes would be one of the hallmarks of the modern movement. Having hoped that Jugendstil would become the new and authentic modern style (for which the nineteenth century had longed but had been unable to generate), key protagonists of the style grew disillusioned with its emphasis on individuality over typicality and its reliance on a kind of craft production that only the elite could afford. In order to address a broader audience and market, designers like Paul turned to modes of production that entailed generalization and industrialization and products that could be popularized through the new media of photography and the proliferation of newspapers, journals, books and advertising. At the same time, the sumptuousness and psychological impact of Jugendstil were rejected as symptomatic of a general decadence in society. The young art historian Wilhelm Worringer (1881–1965) provided an historical basis for the turn from empathy to abstraction, while architectural critics such as Hermann

16

Apprenticeship in Reform

Critical Realism: Life and Form

17


ity through the art of building.7 While he accepted the scientific and technological character of the modern world, he insisted that architecture was more than rational and materialist: it was cultural, artistic and spiritual. Some critics of modernity argued for a return to premodern forms of society and art. Mies fatefully accepted industrial civilization, but he directed architecture towards its potential for a new cultural order. In an interview of 1955, he expressed his ambivalent modernity this way. [S]ince I know by reading and studying books that we are under the influence of science and technology, I would ask myself, what can that be – what result comes from this fact? Can we change it, or can we not change it? And the answer to this question gave me the direction that I followed.8 Acquiring theoretical as well as practical knowledge gave Mies an entrée into the professional class and enabled him to join its quest for the renewal of culture, and more specifically, German culture. During the late eighteenth century, German intellectuals had sought to distinguish their work from the French and English, whose influence at court had precluded the development of literature, philosophy and art in the German language and based in German traditions. They began to ascribe a special status to the concept of culture as distinct from civilization. Whereas the French and English use civilization to encompass everything from politics to economics, religion, technology, morality and social mores, the German concept of culture elevates intellectual, artistic and religious activities above the political, economic and social. It also emphasizes the achievements of the individual as well as the unique expression of a people, rather than their intrinsic value or general behaviour.9 By 1900 this bias in favour of what Germans call das reine Geistige (the purely spiritual) had become the foundation of legitimacy and pride for the arts as well as intellectual life. Although it is common to translate Geist as ‘spirit’, the latter implies something more mystical than the German necessarily connotes, since it subsumes intellect and mind within a broader concept of the transcendental and the quintessentially human. The purely transcendental was to be enacted through a commitment to the inner enrichment and personal formation of the individual – that is, to the cultivation of the person, primarily through the medium of books. It was precisely through reading that Mies launched himself on a lifelong process of self-education and self-fashioning, which he later sought to nurture in others. His daughter, Georgia van der Rohe (1914–2008), recalled that her father was proud to be not simply a self-made man but a ‘self-created one’.10 Being ‘self-made’ was perhaps inevitable for someone who aspired to a higher social standing than the one promised by the petit-bourgeois life of the provincial city where he was born. Yet it also suggests achievements of a materialist kind, as well as an ethos of practicality and hard work, which only partially circumscribed Mies’s character. ‘Creating oneself’, on the other hand, would be a fully cultural achievement, recognizing that one’s identity and personality are as much cultivated as innate. In an influential essay of 1901, the sociologist Georg Simmel (1858–1918) articulated how the anonymity of metropolitan life provided a new horizon of freedom for defining oneself, whereas the intimacy of social relations in small towns tended to fix personal identities and stifle self-realization.11 Some years earlier Nietzsche had even gone so far as to approach life itself as a work of art, or an ‘experiment’, as Friedrich Muckle (1883–1945) put it in a book on Nietzsche, which Mies would later come to own.12 The period in which Mies came to maturity was marked by great enthusiasms for new beginnings and new ways of living, valorizing youth in all spheres of society and offering upward mobility for those who embraced new challenges. Once in Berlin, it was not long before Mies cultivated a cosmopolitan persona. With an active social life and sophisticated taste in clothes, he transformed himself into the kind of person society would come to recognize as a leader of his generation.

003 The carpentry workshop at the Vereinigte Werkstätten für Kunst im Handwerk, Munich, ca. 1910

004 Bruno Paul, Presidential Study for the government buildings in Beyreuth, as displayed at the St Louis World’s Fair, 1904

area of the city. Soon after, he was hired by Bruno Paul (1874–1968), one of Berlin’s most talented young designers of decorative arts, furniture and interiors. Having started his career as a visual artist in Munich, Paul had emerged in the late 1890s as a key figure of Jugendstil (the German counterpart to Art Nouveau) with designs that exemplified the ideas of psychological projection or empathy promoted in the aesthetic theories of Theodor Lipps (1851–1914) and his student August Endell (1871–1925). In 1897 Paul became a founding member of the Vereinigte Werkstätten für Kunst im Handwerk (United Workshops for Art in Handicraft) in Munich and focused increasingly on designing furniture and interiors that were capable of enlisting empathetic responses through simple, functional forms devoid of applied ornament 003. The Vereinigte Werkstätten was one of the first manufacturers to embrace machine-assisted production in furniture and to explore the implications of industrialization for design. Unlike the Arts and Crafts movement in England, the German counterpart was never hostile to machine production, seeing it instead in continuity with handcraft and as a potential source for modern form and beauty, as well as economic competitiveness. Around 1900 Paul contributed model rooms to international exhibitions of decorative arts in Munich, Turin and St Louis, demonstrating an increasing mastery of design for mass production 004. Much admired for his skilful handling of materials and details, Paul quickly left the flowing lines and vitalist projections of Jugendstil to explore the integration of rectangles and squares into patterns for wall and ceiling panels, built-in cabinetry and furniture. Paul developed a line of standardized furniture that could be added to with ease based on a unit system. The line was especially suitable for small apartments and was manufactured in series by the Vereinigte Werkstätten. Active in the reform movements seeking to forge a culture of health, social well-being and artistic expression for industrial society, Paul became director of the school affiliated with the Museum of Decorative Arts; Mies was able to take evening classes there during the time he worked for Paul. Paul also participated in founding the German Werkbund (1907), an association of artists, designers, manufacturers, educators, critics and state officials that grew out of the Arts and Crafts movement and was pivotal in the birth of modern design. The Werkbund sought to raise the quality of goods for mass consumption through artistic design and good workmanship while embracing industrialization as a way to renew German culture and strengthen international markets. Friedrich Naumann (1860–1919) was especially clear in calling for the ‘spiritualization’ of technics by artistic means in order to infuse meaning, ennoble the work and raise its economic value.13 Although Mies only joined the Werkbund after World War I, he would have absorbed its ethos earlier. During much of the 1920s, he would serve as its vice president.

Arriving in Berlin in 1905, Mies found employment initially in the municipal architectural offices of Rixdorf, a small town in the greater

By the time Mies arrived at Paul’s studio, Paul had – like many of his contemporaries – turned to the more restrained neoclassical and Biedermeier styles of the early nineteenth century as a native tradition that could be updated to meet the needs and desires of the expanding industrial middle class in the early twentieth century. Enlarging the audience for modern design to include the middle and, later, working classes would be one of the hallmarks of the modern movement. Having hoped that Jugendstil would become the new and authentic modern style (for which the nineteenth century had longed but had been unable to generate), key protagonists of the style grew disillusioned with its emphasis on individuality over typicality and its reliance on a kind of craft production that only the elite could afford. In order to address a broader audience and market, designers like Paul turned to modes of production that entailed generalization and industrialization and products that could be popularized through the new media of photography and the proliferation of newspapers, journals, books and advertising. At the same time, the sumptuousness and psychological impact of Jugendstil were rejected as symptomatic of a general decadence in society. The young art historian Wilhelm Worringer (1881–1965) provided an historical basis for the turn from empathy to abstraction, while architectural critics such as Hermann

16

Apprenticeship in Reform

Critical Realism: Life and Form

17


Muthesius (1861–1927) demanded a return to sobriety and moral self-discipline. Calls for the objective and matter-of-fact fulfilment of function through simple means of fabrication had a social as well as aesthetic mission.14 The stylistic turn towards sobriety was also promoted by architect Paul Mebes (1872–1938) in his influential publication of 1908, Um 1800: Architektur und Handwerk im letzten Jahrhundert ihrer traditionellen Entwicklung (Around 1800: Architecture and Handicraft of the Last Hundred Years, Their Traditional Development). The book offered a reservoir of compelling historical examples for inspiration and guidance.15 In addition to learning techniques of fine woodworking from Paul, Mies learned how they could be adapted to industrial production through an increasingly astylar and abstracted interpretation of neoclassicism. He was also exposed to the most progressive thinking about design in the context of critiques of modernization, which sought to place aesthetic innovation in the service of cultural and social renewal. The period after 1900 was marked in Germany by a continued expansion but also a growing critique of industrial capitalism, which led to movements for the reform of life and of culture in all its manifestations, high and low. In addition to elevating material standards of living for many, modernization through industry, technology and urbanization had given rise to problems of sanitation, overcrowding, congestion, pollution and disease. For the bourgeoisie and elite, modernization also engendered a profound sense of loss and disorientation: loss of individuality and organic community through the rise of mass society and metropolitan anonymity; loss of cultural traditions and artistic standards through historicism, mass production and internationalization; loss of stability through accelerated mobility and change; loss of sacred values through the rise of scientific rationality. The movements for the reform of life, education, art, fashion and the decorative arts addressed this sense of decay and decline by striving to renew society and return to a more natural order. There were also movements for urban reform that promoted garden suburbs and the socialization of land tenure, as well as organizations that promoted youth, temperance, vegetarianism and nudism.16 As a designer and educator, Paul was himself active in the reform of both design and education. Most of the movements for health, hygiene and moral sobriety assumed that the reform of society was contingent upon first reform-

18

Critical Realism: Life and Form

ing the individual; that new ways of living in harmony with the rhythms of the body and nature would ultimately lead to the restoration of human integrity and reintegration with nature. In contrast, movements for the reform of domestic life and urban settlements turned the causal relationship around, believing that social reform and individual development were contingent upon first transforming the built environment. Following the emergence of ecological and evolutionary thought in the late nineteenth century, reformers began to think of the human organism in a dynamic interrelationship with its environment – as both natural and artificial, constructed and constructing.

005 Heinrich Tessenow, Dalcroze Institut, Hellerau, 1910–2

006 Student performance of Émile Jaques-Dalcroze’s rhythmic gymnastics, Dalcroze Institute, Hellerau, ca. 1913

The founding of the artists’ colony in Darmstadt in 1901 by the Grand Duke of Hessen, Ernst Ludwig (1868–1937), was a signal event in Germany for promoting cultural renewal through the artistic reform of the domestic environment. Focused on a small group of elite artists, and inspired by the English Arts and Crafts movement and its continental counterparts in the Art Nouveau and Vienna Secession, its aim was to integrate art and life in an all-embracing work of culture that incorporated the visual arts, decorative arts, architecture and urbanism. In the decorative arts and architecture, ornamentation became a key point of departure for reform, exploring the potential of lines and colour on plane surfaces to produce new abstract patterns and expressions that could be mechanically reproduced. Having rejected the use of historical and naturalistic styles, leading designers hoped that a new universal could be distilled from vernacular, neoclassical or even archaic models – a new primitive and elemental architectonic form, sufficiently abstract, geometric and mathematical as to avoid stylistic references. A few years later, in 1906, the first Garden City in Germany was founded at Hellerau, a company town with an expansive agenda of social reform 005. Its inhabitants were offered instruction in music and the rhythmic training of the body, as well as codes for healthy living.17 The ascetic and crystalline neoclassicism of the Jaques-Dalcroze School of Eurhythmics (1910) by Heinrich Tessenow (1876–1950) and the austere stage sets of Adolphe Appia (1862–1928) were thought conducive to restoring the natural rhythms of the body and the free expression of emotions, both of which were understood as preconditions for the moral reform of society 006. In the years following its opening, Mies visited the school often as he courted his future wife, Ada Bruhn (1885–1951), then a student of Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865–1950).

Apprenticeship in Reform

19


Muthesius (1861–1927) demanded a return to sobriety and moral self-discipline. Calls for the objective and matter-of-fact fulfilment of function through simple means of fabrication had a social as well as aesthetic mission.14 The stylistic turn towards sobriety was also promoted by architect Paul Mebes (1872–1938) in his influential publication of 1908, Um 1800: Architektur und Handwerk im letzten Jahrhundert ihrer traditionellen Entwicklung (Around 1800: Architecture and Handicraft of the Last Hundred Years, Their Traditional Development). The book offered a reservoir of compelling historical examples for inspiration and guidance.15 In addition to learning techniques of fine woodworking from Paul, Mies learned how they could be adapted to industrial production through an increasingly astylar and abstracted interpretation of neoclassicism. He was also exposed to the most progressive thinking about design in the context of critiques of modernization, which sought to place aesthetic innovation in the service of cultural and social renewal. The period after 1900 was marked in Germany by a continued expansion but also a growing critique of industrial capitalism, which led to movements for the reform of life and of culture in all its manifestations, high and low. In addition to elevating material standards of living for many, modernization through industry, technology and urbanization had given rise to problems of sanitation, overcrowding, congestion, pollution and disease. For the bourgeoisie and elite, modernization also engendered a profound sense of loss and disorientation: loss of individuality and organic community through the rise of mass society and metropolitan anonymity; loss of cultural traditions and artistic standards through historicism, mass production and internationalization; loss of stability through accelerated mobility and change; loss of sacred values through the rise of scientific rationality. The movements for the reform of life, education, art, fashion and the decorative arts addressed this sense of decay and decline by striving to renew society and return to a more natural order. There were also movements for urban reform that promoted garden suburbs and the socialization of land tenure, as well as organizations that promoted youth, temperance, vegetarianism and nudism.16 As a designer and educator, Paul was himself active in the reform of both design and education. Most of the movements for health, hygiene and moral sobriety assumed that the reform of society was contingent upon first reform-

18

Critical Realism: Life and Form

ing the individual; that new ways of living in harmony with the rhythms of the body and nature would ultimately lead to the restoration of human integrity and reintegration with nature. In contrast, movements for the reform of domestic life and urban settlements turned the causal relationship around, believing that social reform and individual development were contingent upon first transforming the built environment. Following the emergence of ecological and evolutionary thought in the late nineteenth century, reformers began to think of the human organism in a dynamic interrelationship with its environment – as both natural and artificial, constructed and constructing.

005 Heinrich Tessenow, Dalcroze Institut, Hellerau, 1910–2

006 Student performance of Émile Jaques-Dalcroze’s rhythmic gymnastics, Dalcroze Institute, Hellerau, ca. 1913

The founding of the artists’ colony in Darmstadt in 1901 by the Grand Duke of Hessen, Ernst Ludwig (1868–1937), was a signal event in Germany for promoting cultural renewal through the artistic reform of the domestic environment. Focused on a small group of elite artists, and inspired by the English Arts and Crafts movement and its continental counterparts in the Art Nouveau and Vienna Secession, its aim was to integrate art and life in an all-embracing work of culture that incorporated the visual arts, decorative arts, architecture and urbanism. In the decorative arts and architecture, ornamentation became a key point of departure for reform, exploring the potential of lines and colour on plane surfaces to produce new abstract patterns and expressions that could be mechanically reproduced. Having rejected the use of historical and naturalistic styles, leading designers hoped that a new universal could be distilled from vernacular, neoclassical or even archaic models – a new primitive and elemental architectonic form, sufficiently abstract, geometric and mathematical as to avoid stylistic references. A few years later, in 1906, the first Garden City in Germany was founded at Hellerau, a company town with an expansive agenda of social reform 005. Its inhabitants were offered instruction in music and the rhythmic training of the body, as well as codes for healthy living.17 The ascetic and crystalline neoclassicism of the Jaques-Dalcroze School of Eurhythmics (1910) by Heinrich Tessenow (1876–1950) and the austere stage sets of Adolphe Appia (1862–1928) were thought conducive to restoring the natural rhythms of the body and the free expression of emotions, both of which were understood as preconditions for the moral reform of society 006. In the years following its opening, Mies visited the school often as he courted his future wife, Ada Bruhn (1885–1951), then a student of Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865–1950).

Apprenticeship in Reform

19


007 Ludwig Mies, Riehl House, Potsdam-Neubabelsberg, 1906–7; entrance from the upper walled garden 008 Ludwig Mies in the doorway of the Riehl House, 1912

007

008

Riehl House: Country House Critical Realism

In 1906 Bruno Paul recommended Mies to the philosopher Alois Riehl and his wife, Sophie, who were looking to build a quiet house for summers, weekends and their imminent retirement in the fashionable Berlin suburb of Potsdam-Neubabelsberg 008. Riehl was a celebrated professor of philosophy at the Friedrich-Wilhelm University in Berlin, and the Riehls became Mies’s first patrons. Although the reasons for the clients’ trust in this relatively untested young man remain unclear, Mies was sufficiently confident in his experience to take up the challenge. Like the architect, the Riehls were clearly aware of the reform movements then influencing the design of housing and the applied arts, but they eschewed the idea of marrying art and life – an idea that had underpinned Jugendstil’s efforts to increase the sensuous pleasure of everyday experience. They also eschewed the pursuit of a total work of art. Rather, the couple took a more ascetic approach, similar to the sober and practical Arts and Crafts movement in England. They embraced the idea of the country house as a building type directed at achieving a healthy and calm way of life, lived on the land. The house was to provide not only an antidote to the congested and insalubrious metropolis but also an alternative to the typical suburban villa: it was to provide a place in which life and conversation could freely unfold. The Riehls’ relationship with Mies went much further than is typical of the client-architect relationship, for they treated him as a son. They nurtured his personal intellectual development, sent him on a study trip to Italy and introduced him to intellectual society in Berlin. Through them Mies also developed a close friendship with Alois Riehl’s protégé Eduard Spranger, whom the couple also considered an adopted son.1 The house, completed in 1907, proved to be a remarkably accomplished debut for a twenty year old from the provinces, who lacked higher education and had barely two years in Berlin. Dependent on existing conventions, it was nevertheless an ingenious transformation of precedents and contained many ideas that Mies would develop in new directions later. The house was immediately published and recognized by critics.2

20

Critical Realism: Life and Form

Whereas the neighbouring villas were built as Italian or German Renaissance icons set within miniature picturesque gardens, the Riehl House was designed by Mies as a simple neo-Biedermeier block adapted to the local vernacular. Its rectangular mass of light ochre stucco was surmounted by a steeply peaked gable roof with eyebrow dormers 007, 010–012. Devoid of superfluous ornament, the house was defined by the tautness and geometric clarity of its volumes and the robust detailing of its balconies, windows and doors. Ornament was reserved for the centre of the entrance front, which features an elegant stucco interlace of wreaths. On the interior bright simple rooms were well proportioned; constructed of modest yet durable materials, they were well built yet spare. For all its studied modesty and simplicity, however, the house is remarkably subtle and complex. Rotated on the site and pushed to one side, the building does not face the street directly but rather recedes to make room for a formal flower garden, which serves as a space of reception and orientation. As a result the path leading from the street to the house first offers a panoramic view of the landscape beyond. The level plane on which both house and garden sit was created by terracing the site, which slopes dramatically down towards the picturesque Lake Griebnitz and the extensive landscape park of Potsdam. While the long axis of the formal garden links the street with the distant view, the cross axis leads, on the left, to the entrance of the house and, on the right, to the stairway and lower gardens. The site’s design exemplified the planning principles promoted for country houses by Hermann Muthesius, who had studied the emergence of the type in England and its suitability for Germany 015. Muthesius characterized metropolitan life in terms of hotel living, congestion, disorder and alienation from the land. In contrast, the country house offered landownership, clean air, quiet and a calm setting for personal and family life. He favoured spending evenings at home playing the piano over attending concerts as more educational and character building. For the bourgeoisie the country house

became the locus for an alternative way of life. Critical of placing houses as features in the centre of their lots and treating the garden as a residual fragment of a picturesque landscape, Muthesius argued that gardens should be designed to be lived in. They should be openair equivalents to living rooms that could be used for dining, bathing and even sleeping 016. The Riehl House was included in the second edition of Muthesius’s book Landhaus und Garten (Country House and Garden) in 1910.3 The functional reciprocity between inside and outside was to be matched formally by subsuming both building and garden within an overarching architectural unity 009. The garden reform movement promoted an ‘architectonic’ garden, which featured axial planning, geometric planting and lattice trellises that made the garden more architectural. At the same time, natural species, sturdy perennials and ivy were reintroduced into common use to display nature’s wildness against the foil of mathematical form. This kind of garden was developed in Germany by Paul Schultze-Naumburg (1869–1949) as well as Muthesius and in Austria by Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867–1908) and Josef Hoffmann (1870–1956). Writing just after the turn of the century, Muthesius recognized that the country house was still too expensive to be available to anyone but the elite. Its dissemination would come in time but was contingent on the reform of land tenure, the end of land speculation, improvements to transportation (especially the railway), and the integration of industrialized methods of house construction. Given the opportunity to organize a model housing estate for the German Werkbund in 1927 – the famous Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart – Mies initially envisioned an entire fabric of country houses with integrated gardens for middle-class families. Although scholars and critics have paid little attention to Mies’s gardens – some even edited them out of photographs and drawings – Barry Bergdoll recently showed how profoundly important they were

Riehl House: Country House Critical Realism

21


007 Ludwig Mies, Riehl House, Potsdam-Neubabelsberg, 1906–7; entrance from the upper walled garden 008 Ludwig Mies in the doorway of the Riehl House, 1912

007

008

Riehl House: Country House Critical Realism

In 1906 Bruno Paul recommended Mies to the philosopher Alois Riehl and his wife, Sophie, who were looking to build a quiet house for summers, weekends and their imminent retirement in the fashionable Berlin suburb of Potsdam-Neubabelsberg 008. Riehl was a celebrated professor of philosophy at the Friedrich-Wilhelm University in Berlin, and the Riehls became Mies’s first patrons. Although the reasons for the clients’ trust in this relatively untested young man remain unclear, Mies was sufficiently confident in his experience to take up the challenge. Like the architect, the Riehls were clearly aware of the reform movements then influencing the design of housing and the applied arts, but they eschewed the idea of marrying art and life – an idea that had underpinned Jugendstil’s efforts to increase the sensuous pleasure of everyday experience. They also eschewed the pursuit of a total work of art. Rather, the couple took a more ascetic approach, similar to the sober and practical Arts and Crafts movement in England. They embraced the idea of the country house as a building type directed at achieving a healthy and calm way of life, lived on the land. The house was to provide not only an antidote to the congested and insalubrious metropolis but also an alternative to the typical suburban villa: it was to provide a place in which life and conversation could freely unfold. The Riehls’ relationship with Mies went much further than is typical of the client-architect relationship, for they treated him as a son. They nurtured his personal intellectual development, sent him on a study trip to Italy and introduced him to intellectual society in Berlin. Through them Mies also developed a close friendship with Alois Riehl’s protégé Eduard Spranger, whom the couple also considered an adopted son.1 The house, completed in 1907, proved to be a remarkably accomplished debut for a twenty year old from the provinces, who lacked higher education and had barely two years in Berlin. Dependent on existing conventions, it was nevertheless an ingenious transformation of precedents and contained many ideas that Mies would develop in new directions later. The house was immediately published and recognized by critics.2

20

Critical Realism: Life and Form

Whereas the neighbouring villas were built as Italian or German Renaissance icons set within miniature picturesque gardens, the Riehl House was designed by Mies as a simple neo-Biedermeier block adapted to the local vernacular. Its rectangular mass of light ochre stucco was surmounted by a steeply peaked gable roof with eyebrow dormers 007, 010–012. Devoid of superfluous ornament, the house was defined by the tautness and geometric clarity of its volumes and the robust detailing of its balconies, windows and doors. Ornament was reserved for the centre of the entrance front, which features an elegant stucco interlace of wreaths. On the interior bright simple rooms were well proportioned; constructed of modest yet durable materials, they were well built yet spare. For all its studied modesty and simplicity, however, the house is remarkably subtle and complex. Rotated on the site and pushed to one side, the building does not face the street directly but rather recedes to make room for a formal flower garden, which serves as a space of reception and orientation. As a result the path leading from the street to the house first offers a panoramic view of the landscape beyond. The level plane on which both house and garden sit was created by terracing the site, which slopes dramatically down towards the picturesque Lake Griebnitz and the extensive landscape park of Potsdam. While the long axis of the formal garden links the street with the distant view, the cross axis leads, on the left, to the entrance of the house and, on the right, to the stairway and lower gardens. The site’s design exemplified the planning principles promoted for country houses by Hermann Muthesius, who had studied the emergence of the type in England and its suitability for Germany 015. Muthesius characterized metropolitan life in terms of hotel living, congestion, disorder and alienation from the land. In contrast, the country house offered landownership, clean air, quiet and a calm setting for personal and family life. He favoured spending evenings at home playing the piano over attending concerts as more educational and character building. For the bourgeoisie the country house

became the locus for an alternative way of life. Critical of placing houses as features in the centre of their lots and treating the garden as a residual fragment of a picturesque landscape, Muthesius argued that gardens should be designed to be lived in. They should be openair equivalents to living rooms that could be used for dining, bathing and even sleeping 016. The Riehl House was included in the second edition of Muthesius’s book Landhaus und Garten (Country House and Garden) in 1910.3 The functional reciprocity between inside and outside was to be matched formally by subsuming both building and garden within an overarching architectural unity 009. The garden reform movement promoted an ‘architectonic’ garden, which featured axial planning, geometric planting and lattice trellises that made the garden more architectural. At the same time, natural species, sturdy perennials and ivy were reintroduced into common use to display nature’s wildness against the foil of mathematical form. This kind of garden was developed in Germany by Paul Schultze-Naumburg (1869–1949) as well as Muthesius and in Austria by Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867–1908) and Josef Hoffmann (1870–1956). Writing just after the turn of the century, Muthesius recognized that the country house was still too expensive to be available to anyone but the elite. Its dissemination would come in time but was contingent on the reform of land tenure, the end of land speculation, improvements to transportation (especially the railway), and the integration of industrialized methods of house construction. Given the opportunity to organize a model housing estate for the German Werkbund in 1927 – the famous Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart – Mies initially envisioned an entire fabric of country houses with integrated gardens for middle-class families. Although scholars and critics have paid little attention to Mies’s gardens – some even edited them out of photographs and drawings – Barry Bergdoll recently showed how profoundly important they were

Riehl House: Country House Critical Realism

21


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