Ludwig Mies van der Rohe? Google him.


Mies' final work: the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, Germany.


Sebastian Willnow

BERLIN, Germany -- Who is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe? Google him -- oh wait, you're already on Google. The search engine's homepage today features the work of German architect Mies in honor of his 126th birthday, renewing interest in his self-described "almost nothing" minimalist architecture, according to The Guardian

The Google Doodle, which depicts Mies' Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology, is a bit of a belated birthday gift to Mies, who passed away in the US at the age of 85 in 1969.

But the move is bringing fresh interest to the iconic architect's life and work as curious web-surfers seek out the search engine's reference. 

Mies was born in 1886 to a German stone carver and decided to quite literally build on the family business by moving to Berlin to pursue architecture, where he started his own firm in 1912, according to The Christian Science Monitor

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In 1921, he formally changed his name to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Rohe being his mother's maiden name and "van der" possibly added "to avoid insulting German aristocrats who would look down on anyone giving him- or herself a self-styled German high-born name without being born to the title," said The Christian Science Monitor

His work is characterized by clean lines and simplicity -- a conceptual austerity that the Guardian said was a part of his overall aristic ethic, describing Mies as "philosophically driven towards his reductivist goal," bent on "revealing the underlying 'truth' of the world, primarily through pure geometric forms and proportions."

The artitect seems to have flirted with various philosophies as the Nazis gained power, however, reported The Guadian, with the ousting of "the provincial name...with its reminders of his lower-middle-class upbringing in the deeply conservative Catholic Rhineland" to usher in "the more cosmopolitan Mies van der Rohe," who left his wife and children for "a succession of mistresses, and wild nights with Berlin's avant garde."

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Indeed, as the head of the German architectural school Bauhaus, Mies was at the forefront of Germany's active avant-garde architectural scene in Berlin, a fact not lost on the Nazis. Although they did make him eventually close the school, The Guardian pointed out in an investigative report on Mies' Nazi ties that the architect toed the political line of the time, even signing a motion in support of Hitler in 1934.

Mies was "pathologically strong-willed," said the Guadian, describing him as someone who "had schooled himself as modernism's cold, steely heart. He wasn't verbose and dilettantish like Le Corbusier. He didn't douse himself with sociology like Walter Gropius. He didn't dress the flamboyant dandy like Frank Lloyd Wright, all cape and cane. All were diversions, Mies thought. Instead, he presented himself as a monolithic figure, silent and sober, like a monk. He read St Thomas Aquinas, St Augustine, Plato and Nietzsche. He had certainty. He had a plan, and politics wasn't part of it."

Which is why Mies moved to the US in 1937, where he is responsible for a number of remarkable works, notably Baltimore's Highfield House, Chicago’s “twin towers,” Manhattan’s Seagram Building and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington DC, reported The Washington Post

He also designed the Tugendhat villa in the Czech Republic, a structure that inspired "The Glass Room," a novel shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize. The government recently spent $9 million to restore the three-story house, reported Reuters

The architect has had his fair share of his critics, however. American architect Robert Venturi once turned the phrase "less is more" to "less is a bore" to describe Mies' work, a comment he later rather passionately disovowed, saying every architect should "kiss the feet of Mies van der Rohe," reported The Guardian