Could there be a more important architect in the modern urban landscape than Mies van der Rohe? Potentially no, well that’s if you’re a fan. But the Seagram Building in New York and the Barcelona chair (before everyone knocked it off) and his famous aphorisms: "less is more" and "God is in the details" can only but convert even the most cynical of critics. Now, Detlef Mertins brings a coffee table heavy weight "Mies" to the world and it is called "unprecedented in scope" with over 700 original drawings, plans, diagrams, and contemporary and archival photographs.
Mies, as he was known by his surname only, was German-American and along with Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto, and Frank Lloyd Wright considered a master of modern architecture. What makes the man so incredible was that he fought for a new architectural style that would adequately represent a new modernist world and believed firmly in clarity and simplicity above all. He created with "a minimal framework of structural order balanced against the implied freedom of free-flowing open space" and called his buildings "skin and bones." He was rational and expressed modernity at every inch of his thinking and creations. There was no one else who ever could come close to this dedication, almost obsessively so, to modernity.
What Mertins gives so lovingly to his subject is an explanation of the cultural, social and philosoph-intellectual debates that Mies had, and inspires today. He uses thinkers like Rudolf Schwarz, Romano Guardini, Max Scheler and his own library as nutrition for all this and it results in the most complete song about Mies available to date. Mies, a thinker himself, questions life, the body, spirituality, modernity, God, technology and an array of fusions and infusions of life and used his work to solve some, unfortunately or maybe fortunately not all, of these tricky moss grown thoughts and questions.
Look at the Barcelona chair, luxurious fabric meets chrome frame at all the right angles. A distinction between what is there to support and what is there to act as a surface only. A meeting of beauty and function, that gives fuel to lightness and an unburdening of the past. All of this in a simple chair, now look at the Seagram building and think of all the same facets. A black lightness that smiles across Manhattan - taking a new world’s first inhalation just here, just now. Midtown suddenly becomes more appealing, and Mies suddenly becomes your genius.