In 1929, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was a very busy man…
Long before this pivotal year, however, Mies van der Rohe asserted his architectural philosophy that would serve as a compass for his career. Mies believed that we should not compete with the Romans and Greeks when building new structures, that we should use the most technological materials of the day, and during the 1920s that material was steel. If the Greeks had steel they would have used it. A banker came to Mies in 1910 and wanted to build a bank in a Neo-Classical style with columns; however, Mies convinced the banker to use steel, instead of trying to beat the Romans at what they did best. The new modern building made of steel would project strength through simple design void of ornate Corinthian frills. Mies said to the banker, “Less is more”, a phrase he coined to embody his minimalist design. This is how Mies van der Rohe started his career.
In May 1929, for the German Pavilion hosted at the Barcelona International Exposition, Mies designed the Barcelona chair for the King and Queen of Spain to sit in at the event. The design of the chair references the Greek Klismos chair, which was depicted on Ancient Greek pottery, a reference Mies’ contemporaries would have understood. The slim steel, nickel-plated structure of the chair, void of decoration, holds true to his statement to the banker, “Less is more”. This chair was a huge controversy at the Bauhaus in Germany, for the Bauhaus was meant to reject antiquity, not glorify it. The chair was also nickel-plated, at the time a very expensive material. The chair was a hit – though but not at the Bauhaus – but shortly Mies won them back with his strict reductionist ideas of design that followed the Barcelona chair.
In March of 1929, Mies began executing his plans for Grete and Fritz Tugendhat’s home overlooking Brno, Czechoslovakia. Completed in 1930 and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the dwelling is constructed of rare tropical woods, onyx, concrete, glass, and steel. The home typifies the “less is more” aesthetic, not only in the flowing and unrestricted rooms and considerable lack of artwork, but also in the design of the Tugendhat chairs that sat in front of the onyx wall in the living room. The Tugendhat chair is a variation of the Barcelona chair (which also appeared in the house along with his Brno chairs), but with a distinct cantilever design, a clever feature that Mies finally realized in this chair. Grete and Fritz adored this home and the freedom of space they felt while sitting in the Tugendhat chairs overlooking Brno. They knew that Mies was responsible in helping them achieve this feeling: “We realized that we were dealing with a genuine artist. He said, for example, that the ideal dimensions of space cannot be calculated, space must be felt.”
– Contributing Writer, Paul DesMarais
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
designed 1929; this chair produced after 1948
Model no. MR 70
Leather and steel
34″h x 27.5″w x 25″d
Estimate $5,000 – 7,000
June 26, 2011 Auction
“The Architect”. Villa Tugendhat. Tugendhat.eu, 2011. Web, 6 June 2011.