One of the most iconic design chairs is the Barcelona Chair by Mies van der Rohe. The chair was exhibited in 1929 during the World Exhibition in Barcelona and is one of the best-selling designer armchairs ever. It is amazing how a chair has not lost its popularity for more than 90 years and remains a symbol of elegant and modern design. That is why this week is an ode to architect and furniture designer Mies van der Rohe.
Maria Ludwig Michael Mies was born in 1886 in Aachen, west of Germany. Mies' father was a modest stonemason. Mies regularly went to the construction sites with his father to assist. Mies developed his drawing skills from the age of 15, when he was apprenticed to several local architects. Because the opportunities in Aachen were limited and he had never had any formal training in architecture, he moved to Berlin where at the age of 22 he started working for Peter Behrens – then one of Europe's most influential architects. Behrens also employed two other future pioneers of modern architecture: Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier. Mies formed his ideas about modern architecture here and started working for himself after 4 years.
After the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, his career ended and he served in the German army. After the war, he debuted his vision of a glass skyscraper and submitted the futuristic design to a competition in 1921. By the mid-1920s, Mies had become a leading avant-garde architect in Germany. One of his most impressive works from this period was the German pavilion he made for the Barcelona Exposition in Spain. In 1930, Mies became director of the Bauhaus, a pioneering German school that taught contemporary art, design and architecture. However, this school was closed by the Nazis three years later.
Despite his growing fame in Germany, Mies left for America in the late 1930s, where he influenced a whole generation of architects during his tenure as head of the architecture department at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). In this period he developed the skyscraper, which forever changed the landscape in the big cities. It is therefore difficult to imagine what the Chicago skyline would look like without Mies. One of his last projects was the New National Gallery in Berlin, for which he had been commissioned by the West German government. Opened in 1968, the building is a testament to its modernist aesthetic.
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