"Less is more." -- Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe
Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe was one of the most influential architects of the Twentieth Century. Mies was born in Germany on March 27, 1886. His simple designs avoided ornamentation using glass, marble, exposed steel, and stone. They came to be copied widely as typical of modern design. As a young man, Mies worked in his father's stone carving shop before moving to Berlin to establish his own office before World War I. After the Nazi government took power in 1933, Mies had little work to do in a country where everything including architecture was supposed to serve the state.
In 1937 as Germany prepared for war, Mies left his homeland and moved to Chicago to head the architecture school at the Armour Institute of Technology. In 1940, the Armour Institute merged with the Lewis Institute to form what is now called the Illinois Institute of Technology. Over the next decade Mies designed and supervised the construction of about 20 buildings on the IIT campus in the Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side.
In 1944, Mies became an American citizen. He lived the last thirty-two years of his life in Illinois and that was also the most productive part of his professional life. He designed the IBM Plaza in Chicago, The Seagram Building in New York, and many distinctive buildings all over the country in addition to the campus of IIT. One of his most unusual buildings in Illinois was The Farnsworth House located on a 60-acre estate 55 miles southwest of Chicago on the Fox River near Plano, Illinois. It was built between 1945 and 1951 for Dr. Edith Farnsworth, a kidney specialist in Chicago. The small glass and steel house has only one large room and fourteen hundred square feet in a secluded and wooded area where Dr. Farnsworth went on weekends to pursue her hobby which was translating poetry.
It is somewhat ironic that Frank Lloyd Wright was a critic of the Farnsworth House since he built similar small houses but with wood and much less glass that he called organic houses. The Farnsworth House, pictured at right, cost about $72,000 to build in 1951.
In 1952 Mies designed the Robert Hall McCormick House in Elmhurst that is now part of the Elmhurst Art Museum. He also built a series of houses in Melrose Park.
Late in his life, Mies had a chance to return to Germany to work on his last major commission to design and build the New National Art Gallery in Berlin.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe died in Chicago on August 17, 1969. He is buried in Graceland Cemetery. His legacy to Illinois includes the IIT campus, 860 N. Lake Shore Drive, and many downtown office buildings such as the Everett M. Dirksen Federal Building and the John C. Klucinski Post Office.