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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 262

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This is the grave of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Born in 1888 in Aachen, Germany to a stone carver, Mies, as he was known to everyone, took that tradition much farther, showed tremendous architectural talent from a young man, and moved to Berlin as a teenager. There, he became an apprentice to the architect Peter Behrens, a big influence on a lot of the modernist architects. Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius were there around the same time, and they all knew each other and influenced the new ideas that would transform their field. It was around this time that Mies added the “van der Rohe,” which was nothing but giving himself a pretentious aristocratic last name, although Rohe at least was his mother’s maiden name.

Mies got his independent start designing homes for the wealthy but after World War I, joined other leading architects in rejecting the aristocratic past that had led to the disaster. He became one of the foundational architects of modernist architecture. He became director of the Bauhaus as the school was failing. The Nazis hated the Bauhaus and the architects behind it and it closed in 1933. Mies tried to hold on in Germany but unable to get much work, finally immigrated to the United States in 1937, where he became head of the architecture school at the Armour Institute of Technology. He became an American citizen in 1944 and remained in Chicago for the rest of his career.

I’m not even going to begin to try to pass as someone who can write about architecture. I am just going to put up some images of his most famous buildings and we can talk about them. As a whole, while I see why modernism had to happen, I don’t find these buildings particularly beautiful or even that interesting. I don’t hate them like so many of their bad descendants constructed in the 1960s and 1970s, but they leave me feeling pretty indifferent. Here’s some examples:

The Martin Luther King Memorial Library, Washington, 1972

S.R. Crown Hall, Illinois Institute of Technology, 1956

Barcelona Pavilion, Barcelona, Spain, 1929

IBM Plaza, Chicago, 1973

Richard King Mellon Hall, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, 1965

I feel like taking a nap after seeing so much bland modernism.

Mies died in 1969. He is buried in Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois. The grave itself is interesting because it really needs to be seen in good light. It looks pretty cool on a sunny day evidently, but on a gloomy day such as when I visited, it’s actually hard to even read it, as you can see from the photo. Here’s a picture of it in full glory, such as it is.

If you would like this series to visit more architects, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Where else on the progressive internet are you going to be able to spend random days discussing various architects? Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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