I never met Mies van der Rohe, but no other single individual has had a greater impact on my architectural thinking, with the exception perhaps of the Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata. I remember visiting the Robert F. Carr Memorial Chapel of Saint Savior at the Illinois Institute of Technology some years ago and noticing how the floor grid precisely bisects a stainless steel rail. Mies can get away with this sort of exactness that elsewhere tends to produce a sort of tension, because his work is perfect.
The Mies van der Rohe Archive is an illustrated catalogue of the architect’s drawings held by the Museum of Modern Art, published in twenty volumes, the first six covering the German projects and the remaining fourteen devoted to the American work. This vast editorial undertaking was begun by the great Arthur Drexler, curator and director of the department of art and design at MoMA, and completed after Drexler’s death by writer and architecture critic Franz Schulze. The collected material for a single house can fill an entire volume, offering unparalleled insights into the way Mies subjected his early ideas to a rigorous process of examination and reexamination, as he sought to satisfy his own requirements for absolute refinement. The briefest handwritten annotation and the broadest of pencil strokes on tracing paper can convey so much.
There is something very reassuring about the physical presence of these books in my office and I find myself regularly taking down a volume—whether in search of something in particular, or simply for the pleasure of browsing.
John Pawson is a British architect and designer.
Home Page Image: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Tugendhat House Garden elevation drawing, 1929.
Image: © VIEW PICTURES / age fotostock