ARCHITECTURAL BOUNDARIES: LUDWIG MIES VAN DER ROHE AND PHILIP JOHNSON Architecture has undergone a rapid and revolutionary transformation in the modern era. Through the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, this essay attempts to chart the transition in architecture from nineteenth century Romanticism and Neoclassicism to High Modernism. Mies van der Rohe redefined architectural boundaries and emphasised the beauty of simple forms, the importance of functionality and the versatility of new materials such as glass, steel and marble. An analysis of the work of Philip Johnson reveals the development from High Modernism to Postmodernism, where playful and ironic decoration and humanist theories were reintroduced into what had become a ‘cold’ Modernist aesthetic. Both architects challenged and reorientated the direction of twentieth century architecture.† Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson were seminal to the development of architecture in the twentieth century. Mies van der Rohe dramatically altered architectural boundaries by transforming the design of buildings from the ornate and decorative historicism of the nineteenth century, to the sleek and geometric shapes and styles characteristic of Modernist architecture. He designed innovative structures, such as the skyscraper, with an emphasis on functionality and simplicity of materials. Johnson’s theories and exhibitions introduced the International Style to America and his buildings expanded and challenged Modernist tenets, reintroducing Classical and humorous motifs. Mies van der Rohe produced austere and elegant spaces and constructions, whereas Johnson created new Postmodern possibilities and reinvigorated High Modernism. He did this by Lorna Clarke is in her third year of a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws degree at the Australian National University, and is a current resident of Bruce Hall. †
Images of The Farnsworth House (Ludwig Mies van der Rohe) and Glass House
(Philip Johnson) are given on colour plate 7.
Cross‐sections | Volume II 2006
injecting self referential appropriation into architecture and allowed architects once again to use time honoured materials and designs. To understand the transition of architecture from nineteenth century Romanticism and Neoclassicism to twentieth century Modernism and later a rejection and adaptation of Modernism in the form of Postmodernism, the role of Mies van der Rohe and Johnson in this process must be acknowledged. Architectural movements in the nineteenth century, such as the Classical and Gothic Revivals, the Empire Style and Neo‐Baroque and Neo‐Renaissance, were predominantly picturesque, ornate, sublime and extravagantly grand.1 An emphasis on historicism ensured that structures were decorative, eclectic and lavish.2 For example, the curves of the Grand Staircase at the Paris Opera designed by Charles Garnier (1861‐74) are eerily suggestive of the staircase in Michelangelo’s Vestible of the Laurentian Library in Florence (1558‐59).3 Also, the main entrance of this building is reminiscent of Lescot’s Square Court in the Louvre in Paris (begun 1546).4 In contrast, Mies van der Rohe’s constructions rejected nineteenth century architectural precedents, thus redefining architectural ‘rules’ and changing architectural design from historicism to Modernism. Modernist architecture was characterised by its cubic forms, ‘clean’ lines, pure functionality and contemporary materials. Many Bauhaus principles were invoked; form followed function and decoration was pointedly rejected. Phillip Johnson worked closely with Mies van der ...
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