The Relentlessly Experimental Buildings Of Mies Van Der Rohe

An extensive new monograph explores 60 years of the modernist icon’s pioneering, and often radical, work.


Half a century after his death, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe remains one of the most influential architects of the modern era. He radically changed the way we think about skyscrapers, pioneering the glass-encased tower style that has become ubiquitous in cities. Now, the self-educated, German-born architect, whose motto was “less is more,” is the subject of an extensive new monograph from Phaidon that spans 60 years of his career.


Author Detlef Mertins, who spent years combing through the architect’s personal library and studying his buildings, writes:

Mies’ oeuvre now appears more relentlessly experimental, even as the architect was driven to monumentality. His works are, he once said, both progressive and conservative. They are monumental experiments and experimental monuments.

“He was a a radical thinker about architecture,” says architecture historian Dietrich Neumann of Mies. “He could take a problem and strip everything away until he came to the purest form that could answer to the task.”

The simple, geometric glass office towers that became Mies’s trademark changed our skylines and the way we envision our cities. They also inspired legions of copycats, though not all of them as skillfully rendered as the originals. Mies’s groundbreaking work spawned plenty of boring buildings derided as sterile glass boxes. “Many people feel that his is a bit of a mixed legacy, because he inspired a lot of architecture that wasn’t that good and which became sort of monotonous,” Neumann tells Co.Design, “whereas his own buildings are done with great care and detail, and with great proportions.”

Mies catalogs the architect’s extensive career, from his start as an apprentice in Germany to his first skyscraper designs and to his time at the Illinois Institute of Technology. It includes celebrated projects such as New York’s Seagram Building, Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive Apartments, and the Farnsworth House in rural Illinois.

Mertins, who chaired the architecture department at the University of Pennsylvania, passed away in 2011, before the monograph was completed, but colleagues finalized his work. Spanning hundreds of pages of biography and theory, and supplemented by more than 700 photos and drawings, “it’s the biggest, most in-depth, and best illustrated book we have on Mies,” Neumann stresses. Buy it for $150 here.

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut