I Don't Want To Be Interesting, I Want To Be Good
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe


Drawing Of Mies Van Der Rohe By Robert Maccaulay, From The Cover Of Architectural Design Magazine February 1969, When Monica Pidgeon Was Editor

©Monica Pidgeon

JP: Less is more is the frequent quote of Mies. It was observed about his Seagram building that one has never seen more of less. I asked him about its expensive materials, he responded that it was the client. I said "you mean Sam Bronfman, president of Seagram, wanted them?". He replied "I asked him what materials he liked". Perhaps Bronfman was thinking of something like sculpture when he answered "I like marble, I like bronze". Mies responded "that will be good enough for us". Less is more also applies to words; Mies had a reputation as the most reticent and least forthcoming of the modern architectural masters; there is more blank tape on his interviews than that of any other architect. To the surprise of people who knew him when blanks are edited out, Mies sounds almost loquacious. One of his staff told me "all the years I worked for him, I never heard him say that much". Mies van der Rohe preferred to let his work speak for itself; it does, beautifully. In 1955 I interviewed Mies in his suite in the New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and later in his Chicago apartment; it's not far from his celebrated Lake Shore Drive apartments. When I asked him why he didn't live in one of them, he replied with a hearty laugh, that he didn't think it was a good idea for an architect of a building to be travelling in the same elevator as the occupants. His spacious apartment did not contain his own famous chairs, but comfortable English leather ones; the white walls were hung with art by Paul Klee, Georges Braque, Kurt Schwitters. It was observed that Mies made art seem rational like a science, and that he distilled his insight into canons that have a degree of universality which no other architect of our time ever achieved. JP: Were there great works, or great masters, who influenced your own thinking about architecture? MVDR: Yes there is no question, I think if somebody takes his work seriously and even if it is relatively young you know he will be influenced by other people you just cannot help that, and that it is just a fact. First of all I was influenced by old buildings I looked at. People who built it, I don't know their name and I don't know what it was, mostly very simple buildings, when I was really young, you know, not even twenty years old, I was impressed you know by the strength of these old buildings, because they didn't even belong to any epoch, you know.


Seagram Building, Park Avenue, New York

©Peter Murray

MVDR: But they were there for a thousand years, and still there, you know, and still impressive and nothing could change it, you know. And all of the styles, the great styles past, but if they are still there, they didn't lose anything, you know, they were ignored through certain architectural epochs, but they were still there, and still good. They are still there like the first day they were built. JP: They were not celebrated buildings at all, anonymous buildings almost? MVDR: Yes, Yes. When I learnt and I worked with Peter Behrens he had a great sense of the great form - that was his main interest. That I certainly understood and learnt from him. JP: By form what do you mean, by great form? MVDR: That is a [unknown] is something, but monumental form let me put it this way, you know. I was lucky enough you know, when I came to the Netherlands, and was confronted with Berlage's work. There there was the construction that made the strongest impression on me; you know, the use of brick and so on, the honesty of materials and so on. I never forgot this lesson I got there you know, just by looking at his buildings I had only a few talks with Berlage, but not about that. We never talked about architecture together. JP: Do you think he knew that you sensed what he was doing? MVDR: Oh, I don't think so. I cannot see any reason why he should have, because we didn't talk about it, and I was really a young boy then. But I really learnt this idea from him, you know, and that I must have been open for this particular fuel, you know, because of these old buildings I have seen.

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