1959 - Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969)

German Pavilion, Barcelona, 1929

Designer: Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig (1886-1969)
Copyright: Robert Elwall/RIBA Library Photographs Collection (1994)

Ludwig Mies (van der Rohe was his mother’s maiden name) was apprenticed to his father, a master mason, from the age of 15. After four years of learning about the possibilities and limitations of masonry construction, Mies moved to Berlin to be apprenticed to a furniture and cabinet maker.


From 1908-11, Mies was apprenticed to Peter Behrns, but left in 1913 to open his own architectural office in Berlin.


Following his service in the First World War, Mies returned to Berlin to demonstrate his vision as a designer. His designs for the Concrete Office Building (1922), Concrete Country House (1923) and the Brick Country House (1924) quickly established his reputation as a pioneer of modern architecture. His work overlapped with painting and sculpture as the boundaries between the artistic disciplines became less rigid.


In 1926, Mies became the first vice-president of the Deutscher Werkbund, an influential organisation founded by architects and industrialists to improve German architecture and design.
The Royal Gold Medal was awarded 'in honour of one of the greatest living figures in architecture.'


Seagram Building, 375 Park Avenue, New York

Designer: Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig (1886-1969)
Copyright: Roy H. Kantorovich/RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection (1979)

In 1929, Mies designed the German Pavilion for the International Exposition at Barcelona, as well as the famous Barcelona chair, both of which were recognised as supreme examples of modernism. He was also appointed Director of the Bauhaus School at Dessau in 1929 which he moved to Berlin in 1931, but which closed in 1933 because of Nazi pressure. By 1937, the period of experimental architectural projects in Germany had ended.


Mies left Germany in 1938 for America at the invitation of Mr and Mrs Resor. He designed a house for them in Wyoming, which was later updated and reinterpreted in the guise of the Farnsworth house (1945). In 1939, Mies was appointed Director of the Illinois Institute of Technology and was commissioned to design the new campus including the Chemical, Engineering and Metallurgy building (1942); the Alumni Memorial Hall (1945); the Chapel (1952); and the Architecture and Design building (1955).


Mies’ masterpiece is considered to be the Seagram Building, a 37 storey office in New York, designed in association with Philip Johnson. His last major work was the New National Gallery in Berlin (1962-67).