Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mies and the City (in 1928)

Becket, August 11, 2013

"May I say in all frankness that in my opinion a building has nothing to do with taste..."  (Mies van der Rohe to the client of the Adam Department Store Competition, 1928)

In 1928 Mies completed two competition entries for office buildings, one for the Adam Department Store in Berlin and the other for a bank in Stuttgart.  Taken together, the two projects can be seen as crystallization (no pun intended) of the ideas that he began to develop earlier that decade (in both the glass highrises of 1921 and 22 and the concrete office building of 23.)

These proposals present a definitive position towards the city.  They are both regular prismatic masses about eight stories tall with a continuos glass fa├žade.  The street level is receded, revealing the structure and creating a gallery on the access floor.  The upper levels appear to be translucent and reflective, articulating mostly the horizontal banding of the floors.  Although the floor-to-floor height is lower than in the neighboring older buildings, the overall mass in Mies's projects is a little taller, indicating an indifference towards the cornice line, if not a preference for varying heights along the street.  This may explain the height differences in the projects themselves, a one-story terrace extending about half the facade in Berlin and a lower volume where the building turns the corner in Stuttgart.

Even when it comes to representation Mies has settled on a deliberate choice, using what by now are his customary photomontages on street-level views, rendering the projects as insertions within the existing fabric of the city.

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