Reclining Chair without Arms (Perspective sketch)
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Pencil on paper
4¹⁄₁₆ x 6¹³⁄₁₆"

One of the leading lights of modernist architecture, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe created a body of work—ranging from tubular steel furniture to iconic office buildings—that influenced generations of architects worldwide. From domestic spaces like the Villa Tugendhat in the Czech Republic to large, elaborate office towers like New York’s Seagram Building, he imbued his buildings with a fluid spatial harmony reflective of his oft-quoted aphorism, “less is more.” While this quote may seem to reflect an overriding interest in achieving minimalist perfection, his passion for rich materials, surfaces, and texture reveals a creative mind equally preoccupied with the minutiae of architectural space, or, as in another quote attributed to him: “God is in the details.”

Nearly as important as the legacy of his buildings is Mies’s impact as a teacher of architecture. In Germany, he served as the final director of the influential Bauhaus school until its closing under pressure from the Nazis in 1933. Shortly after his arrival in the United States, he was offered the directorship of the Armour Institute in Chicago (later renamed the Illinois Institute of Technology), where he shaped a curriculum that influenced a generation of American architects.

America afforded Mies opportunities to work on a far larger scale than he had in Germany, as evidenced by the collection of sleek, glass-skinned office and apartment towers that populate cities across North America. Though in the period after his death many architects rejected his strict formalism in favor of the more eclectic language of postmodernism, his legacy continues to inform the teaching and practice of architecture today. —MoMA

(Photo: MoMA)