Visions of Space – Mies van der Rohe

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Meiss van der Rohe

Meiss van der Rohe

Visions of Space is a riveting BBC documentary series exploring the life and works of three remarkable architects whose vision and work has reshaped the modern world. The powerful, direct, and provocative presentation by the eloquent Robert Hughes makes this a gripping and informative watch. He hobbles around with his walking stick slowly, thoughtfully, majestically and suddenly bursts out into an eloquence which is energetic, passionate, and opinionated.

The first part of this series is called Mies van der Rohe: Less is more

“Without Meis, no major city on Earth would look as it does” claims this movie. It explores the glass and steel architecture of the master of international modernism. An minimalist architecture of light and space. This documentary contains insights provided by Dirk Lohan (Grandson of Mies Van Der Rohe), Ross Miller (Architectural Historian), Cristian Cirici (Architect of  the Pavilion Reconstruction), Timothy Gibbons (Chicago fire academy), George Danforth (Student of Mies at Illinois Institute of Technology), Lord Peter Palumbo (Owner of the Farnsworth House), Don Powell (Owner of the Chicago apartment built by Meiss), Janet and John Holabird (Couple living in the house where Meiss lived for 29 years) and Phylis Lambert (Seagram Building). The documentary is beautifully made combining wonderful imagery, movement, sound and narration.

Interesting nuggets of information on Modernism, International design style of architecture, the philosophy behind the legendary Bauhaus school of art and craft and the impact of Meiss and his futuristic visions on the architecture of corporate buildings and apartments worldwide is well presented.

Some excerpts that really stood out for me were.

In 1930, Meiss became director of the Bauhaus. The Bauhaus was very unusual among 20th century art schools, because it tried to give a complete grounding in the visual arts and the visual crafts. What it tried to do was, to say making is the basis of  everything. Not the theory. Making. To start everything off from the direct imprint of the touch of the hand on receptive material, whatever it might be. Old materials like stone and wood and ceramic.New materials, like for instance plastic.”

“People imagine Meiss as a kind of theoretician but he wasn’t that. He was a hands on man. Admittedly, he thought a lot and had a great desire to rationalize his thinking but it was all based upon a conception of craftsmanship, of the manifestation of ideas in work and not through anything but work.”

“What you get from hands on experience of working with materials is an understanding of the materials, how they go together, how they all work, what effects they produce.You are never going to know for instance, how a peice of bookmatch marble is going to look in the abstract. You know because it a real substance in the world, out there and you have to work with that substance. Not against it, you have to work with it. If you don’t work with it, you are going to make a mess.If you do work with it, its possible that you will produce, given other skills, something quite beautiful.”

“Meiss ran the Bauhaus for three years. During that time, and after, it had an enormous impact, probably more than any art and craft school of the 20th century upon the way that people thought about design and made everything from car radiators to tea pots. A great many of the best ideas of 20th century design came out of the Bauhaus and they have not been superseded yet.”

“Meiss taught the architecture course at the Illinois Institute of Technology for 20 years. He revolutionised it by applying the craft philosphy of the Bauhuas.”

Meiss and his aphoristic sentences “Less is more.”
“You cannot invent a new architecture every monday morning”

“If you were to make a list of the ten most influential buildings put up in the 20th century, I don’t know what No.1 would be and I don’t know what No.10 would be, but certainly, high in the middle, would be these ones by Meis van de Rohe, in Chicago 860, 880 Lakeshore Drive apartment blocks in which Meiss, for the first time was able to fully apply his idea of the absolutely regular utopian grid to the task of housing people. They look familiar, too familiar to us now. But, that is because, they changed the face of not only of Chicago, but of all American cities.They have a huge impact upon American
culture, design, everything else that was built.”

He never lived in one of his own buildings. When people asked about this, he said “You know, I don’t like the idea of riding the elevator with people who complain about the plumbing!”

“Messian architecture became the house style of corporate America. There were good copies and there were bad copies. Other architects having figured out how to do Meiss cheaper and bigger. “You can’t invent a new architecture every monday morning”, Meiss said. The copyists didn’t.They just carried on ripping him off.Now, every major city is overburdened with flat tops, steel framed monoliths that tower over the sidewalks like dumb kleenex boxes.”

The second part in the series is called Size Matters and is on the Hitler’s architect Albert Speer

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