4. jul. 2003

Mies and de Stijl

De Stijl, directly translated the style, was a group of Dutch artists and architects active in the modernistic period of last century. Among those were Mondrian, van Doesburg and Rietveld. What kept them together was not the manifestos of van Doesburg but a certain style of geometric shapes of primary colors and black lines. It was all about form. Mondrian made some strong statements about the pure abstraction but it all came down to form.

The German born architect Mies van der Rohe disregarded formalism and in this sense he saw the Dutch group as his opponents. According to Mies an architect belonged to an epoch and not the other way around. Therefore he was concerned about his modernistic colleagues and their desire to express themselves through all kinds of wild shapes. In the modernistic movement he saw a striving for universality, and that he turned into a fact and made his own primary goal in order to align his own work with the modern era.

Mies was concerned about structural clarity and honesty. During this search for reason, he became the architect of the Barcelona Pavilion. Here the main concept was to keep the load-bearing columns free of the walls (which was made of marble and easily capable of carrying the concrete slab that made up the roof). In the pavilion one can see columns standing right next to the marble walls. But this liberation of the room dividing elements, Mies saw as one of the main achievements of the industrial age. By doing so the open plan was made possible.

The paradox of the pavilion is that if one examines the plan it resembles a Mondrian composition and can therefore not be considered free from formalism. Later on Mies got rid of this when he started building skyscrapers in Chicago in New York and the pure open plan became reality. Just recently I discovered that Mies made his anti-formalism statement long before the Barcelona pavilion and it surely moved my perception of the perfection of this piece. On the other hand it's wonderful to discover that the old master was on the move!

I was not able to find any official link to the Barcelona Pavilion but here are a few to some other great buildings of the modern period, all newly renovated:

Tugendhat House by Mies van der Rohe, Brno The Czech Republic

Haus Schminke by Hans Scharoun, Germany

Villa Sonneveld by van der Vlught, Rotterdam (I happened to be the last resident here, before the renovation started back in 2000. Hehe.)

[Posted by Hans Larsen]