Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was born on March 27 1886 in Aachen, the son of Jakob Mies (a dealer in marble) and Amalia Rohe. In 1913, he moved with his wife Ada Bruhn to Werder (on the outskirts of Berlin). There his daughters Marianne and Waltrani were born, followed some time later by Dorotea, who would subsequently change her name to Georgia. Until World War I, Mies’s social and professional relations had been with well-to-do families, but after 1918 everything changed: he separated from his family and, through Hans Richter, came into contact with the contemporary avant-garde, particularly Van Doesburg, Man Ray, Hilberseimer, Walter Benjamin and Raoul Hausmann.
During his participation in the Weissenhof housing exhibition at Stuttgart, between 1925 and 1927, Mies established a relationship with interior designer Lilly Reich that was to last until 1939. They worked together on the Glassraum (glass room) for the 1927 Stuttgart exhibition, on the Barcelona Pavilion, on the Tugendhat house in Brno between 1928 and 1930 and on the house they presented at the 1931 Berlin exhibition.
In 1930 the mayor of Dessau proposed that Mies direct the Bauhaus, where he would succeed Hannes Mayer, who had been in charge since 1928, when he took over from the founder Walter Gropius. His assistants during this period were Lilly Reich and Hilberseimer. The outcome of the 1931 elections was a Nazi majority at the Dessau Municipal Council, who decided to close the Bauhaus. Given this situation, Mies moved it to Berlin as a private centre under his own name. After having negotiated with the Nazi minister Rosemberg, in 1933 he decided to close the centre rather than cede to ideological pressure. Lack of funds also influenced this decision.
In 1938 Mies emigrated to the United States, specifically to Chicago, where he worked at the Armour Institute of Technology architecture school, which he eventually came to direct. He designed and executed the campus for the new Illinois Institute of Technology and its prismatic steel-structured buildings with naked brick and glass walls.
In 1940 the architect met Lora Marx, who would be his faithful companion until his death in 1969. In 1944 he was naturalised as citizen of the United States.
Between 1945 and 1950 he built the Farnsworth House in Illinois, in a meadow surrounded by trees beside the River Fox. The house consists of a single interior space enclosed behind glass façades. The floor and roof are of flat concrete slabs.
Between 1948 and 1951 Mies was able to reify his dream of building a glass skyscraper. This took the form of the twin towers of the Lake Shore Drive Apartments in Chicago and, later, the Commonwealth Promenade Apartments (1953-1956), also in Chicago. Both projects are masterful examples of use of the arcade structure and the steel and glass curtain wall.
Jointly with Philip Johnson, between 1954 and 1958 Mies built the legendary Seagram Building office block in New York, a paradigm of this kind of building, in which he continued to perfect the arcade structure and curtain wall.
The Bacardí office block in Mexico, in which Mies continued to use glass, steel and travertine as his basic materials, was built between 1957 and 1961.
In 1959 he retired from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Between 1962 and 1968 Mies built the National Gallery in Berlin, a building for art exhibitions that comprises a huge main hall made entirely from glass and steel and standing on an extensive granite-slab terrace.
On August 17 1969 Mies van der Rohe died in Chicago, leaving as his legacy a set of new canons that, inspired by his world-famous dictum less is more, advocate a sober, universal form of architecture.