Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mies and the City (in 1921)

Dessau, June 4, 2013

By 1930, the Weissenhof Siedlung, the Barcelona Pavilion and the Tugendaht House had established Mies van der Rohe as a central figure of the Modern Movement.  But a decade earlier, he had little more to show that a few well proportioned traditional houses and a couple of Schinkel-inspired unbuilt  projects.

Then, in 1921 Mies submitted a stunning entry to the competition for a high-rise office building near the Friedrichstrasse train station in the heart of Berlin.  The plan shows a central circulation core with three spearhead-shaped wings extending to the edges of the triangular building site.  This exquisitely inventive geometry translates in the most remarkable (most certainly for its time!) mass: an uncompromising array of twenty or so cantilevered floors sheathed in nothing but a taut glass skin.

In the large photomontages that Mies produced to present the project, the building appears as a faceted prow of light--both transparent and reflective-framed by the lower (and darker) figures of the nineteen-century city.  For the rest of his life, Mies will come back to this set up of uninflected masses deployed within the complexities of the urban fabric as his canonical attitude towards the city.

(By the way, I've always been fascinated by these large renderings of coarse graphite on photo prints; almost a Dada attitude, don't you think?)

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