In his new book, architecture professor Edgar Stach unlocks the relationship between space and construction by analyzing key works from famed architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s extensive oeuvre, spanning from Europe in the 1920s to the United States in the late 1960s.
The just-released “Mies van der Rohe: Space – Material – Detail” (Birkhäuser) features original drawings and sketches from Mies, 70 color illustrations and 300 mostly three-dimensional drawings produced by Stach and his students at Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University). This publication is the first in a book series conceptualized by Stach, who also authored the essays and designed the layout. (The second book, “Renzo Piano Building Workshop: Space – Material – Light,” will be out by fall 2018.)
“Philosophy and construction merge in Mies’ work, and he considered his buildings objective translations of philosophical propositions,” Stach explained. “His work is remembered for its timeless integration of place, space, construction and materiality in its purest form. As an architect and educator, I embrace his philosophy of ‘less is more’ and believe in the purity of structure, form and proportion as underlying principles of architectural design.”
What inspired you to create this book, and what, in particular, interested you about Mies’ life?
I studied architecture at the RWTH Aachen University in Germany. Mies van der Rohe was born in the city of Aachen, and as a student, I was fascinated to be in the same spaces Mies once visited. My favorite building in Aachen is the Cathedral. Mies visited the Aachen Cathedral and the Chapel of Charlemagne almost daily as a singer in the boys’ choir, and like Mies, I was captivated by the way in which stone and mortar were transformed in the structure of the chapel.
Then, my first teaching position was at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, an institution Mies directed in the 1930s as the director of the Bauhaus in Dessau.
I’ve had the chance to visit most of his buildings in Europe and the U.S. For me, the reconstructed Barcelona Pavilion, S.R. Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture and the New National Gallery in Berlin are still exemplary in their reduced aesthetics as buildings that demonstrate his architectural philosophy of “less is more.”
What did you enjoy the most about making this book?
Mies viewed architecture as multiple levels of value, extending from the entirely functional to the realm of pure art. His interpretation of history also fueled his belief that the aim of architecture is to truly represent its epoch and that the architect must search out and express the significance of the time.
It was fascinating and inspiring to unlock his architectural beliefs by analyzing his original drawings and writings. For Mies, flexibility and the ongoing development of tried-and-tested concepts were more important than originality–each new building improved on and perfected his earlier work.
Over 60 years, he continued to explore the same primary themes of space, material and detail. His buildings are timeless and have lost nothing of their singular presence. In chronological order, this book demonstrates the interdependence between construction and expression by making use of a set of construction drawings and diagrams.
What were some of the biggest challenges along the way, and how did you overcome them?
To work with so many archives and different resources was sometimes difficult. This book was supported by original documents and materials from the Museum Haus Lange and Museum Haus Esters, Brno City Museum, Villa Tugendhat, Museum of Modern Art and the Mies van der Rohe Archive in New York, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in Berlin, the Chicago History Museum, the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP.
His European projects, especially, aren’t as well-documented, and the original construction drawings are hard to read. We had to use a magnifying glass to decode Mies’ handwriting and pencil drawings. Also, when he came to the U.S., he changed from the metric system in his construction documents to the imperial system, as well as from German to English language.
The book’s production, including the layout, writing the essay, the translation into German and English, photo editing and reprography of photos and original drawings, and final editorial corrections, took about 12 months.
This book was made possible by the contributions of many individuals and institutions, to all of whom I wish to express my sincere gratitude. I’m also grateful for the unwavering support from Jefferson and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, as well as for my students who collaborated on generating the analytical drawings.
“Mies van der Rohe: Space – Material – Detail” is now available in German and English at bookstores and online retailers.