“Less is More”
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is best known for his popular aphorism “less is more,” which describes the simplicity of his modernist architectural style. As described by Robert Hughes in Visions of Space, Mies van der Rohe transformed America’s major cities from heavy, clad masonry to high-rising steel and glass skyscrapers. Mies van der Rohe’s style was praised and adopted by many other architectural professionals. However, not all architects were fond of Mies van der Rohe’s “less is more” style. In 1966 Robert Venturi published Complexity and Contradiction, a novel that denounces the simplicity of modern architecture. Venturi praises hybrid, compromising, distorted, and ambiguous architecture over the popular pure, clean, straightforward, and articulated architecture of Mies van der Rohe (Venturi 22). “Less is a bore” became Venturi’s famous counter-aphorism to “less is more.” When comparing the concepts of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Robert Venturi, “less is more” is more appealing because of the avoidance of decoration, openness of space, and preciseness of design of Mies van der Rohe’s architecture. Avoiding decoration is an appealing attribute of “less is more” that is exemplified by the comparison of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and Robert Venturi’s Vanna Venturi House. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe built the Farnsworth house in 1946 for Dr. Edith Farnsworth in Plano, Illinois as Kenneth Frampton explains in Modern Architecture: A Critical History (235). Both the interior and the exterior of this house avoid decoration. The box-like exterior of the house is composed of exposed steel and large windows while the inside of the house contains minimum furniture (Frampton 235). On the other hand, Robert Venturi’s Vanna Venturi House is full of decoration. In the Theoretical Anxiety and Design Strategies: in the Work of Eight Contemporary Architects, Rafael Moneo states that the Vanna Venturi House was constructed in 1961 in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania for the mother of Robert Venturi (61). When viewing the house from the outside, one notices the sloping roof and the fragmented front façade with the ornamentation of an arch. The aesthetic contradictions of complex and simple as well as the opened and closed spaces of the floor plan make the design of this house ambiguous. To most people, the house design does not relate to its social or physical environment (Moneo 65). The Vanna Venturi House is a rejection of modernist architecture. Through the comparison of the Farnsworth House to the Vanna Venturi House, the decoration is very much related to the time period in which a structure is built. Visually, the 50 year old Vanna Venturi House appears to be an older, more outdated home than the Farnsworth Home. However, the Farnsworth House is approximately 15 years older, but appears to be brand new. The avoidance of decoration enables homes to appear modern for a longer period of time. In addition, decoration is a distraction. The avoidance of decoration enhances a home’s connection with nature as exemplified by the Farnsworth House. The beauty of the trees and the landscape comes to life from both the inside and the outside of the Farnsworth House. The Vanna Venturi House, on the other hand, draws attention to itself and away from its setting in nature. Finally, the use of decoration has no purpose. The ambiguous shapes on the Vanna Venturi House do not improve the house structurally. Therefore, avoidance of decoration in “less is more” has many benefits that improve the architectural appeal and connection with nature.
The idea “less is more” is also more favorable because of the openness of space that is illustrated through the difference between the Seagram Building and the Guild House. Although on the surface, “less is more” means less decoration, the concept also means less structure with more open space. The Seagram Building is a 39-story office building that was...
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