Mies van der Rohe and the Question of Space essay

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Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was an architect from German born in 1886 and passed away in 1969. He is acknowledged in the world architectural sphere as one of the founder members of modern architecture belonging to the twentieth century. He emphasized on clarity and so his strong point was the interior simplicity of developed structures (Moffett, Fazio and Wodehouse, 2003). Modern building materials were critical in providing required strength while covering little space in terms of width of internal partitioning, thus it was difficult to cater for his needs of expansive space in the interior. The preferred materials by this architectural regime were plate glass and finely finished industrial steel (Coates,  Brooker and  Stone, 2009). The glass enhanced the idea of space because it did not create virtual barriers. His philosophy in design was based on his belief “less is more”, especially with interior partitioning (Moffett, Fazio and Wodehouse, 2003). This belief was fueled by the fact that he picked up most of his design work during the period that came after World War II and by this time most of the American citizens were restraint in terms of materials and finances.

The free-flowing design as usual has an element of merging into both internal spaces created with that of the external environment. Mies had a bias towards ensuring each of the house rooms had a window or a door correlated with the external environment. This explains the extended shape comprised of lengthy and overlapped rooms with each having an external wall. The impression created is a constant urge to avoid splitting the internal space into tiny cubicles, but rather let the walls defining the rooms stretch out as if attempting to detach from the house. The plan is abstract in its nature with thin internal partitions that overlap to create a continuous flow of space (Coates,  Brooker and  Stone, 2009). The building plan clearly deviates from pre-modern designs that emphasize on centralization of rooms and adherence to a form of symmetry. Asymmetrical wall and partition overlaps are highly visible. This makes one wonder how the roofing came out. This, however, is one of his few designs that actually had a balanced partitioning between vertical and horizontal internal walls, thus a lot of ninety degrees junctions were perceived.

In the diagram (a), there is practically no internal partitioning, but convenience of room separation is encouraged or brought about by bending the direction of flow of the rooms. This phenomenon of having narrow but lengthy room extensions is recurrent in Mies’ work. Having few or no internal walls in a building would naturally require narrower and more lengthy external wall designs in order to have enough weight support for the roofing. Under the plan (b), he has introduced internal partitioning with the bold outline indicating probably the main internal steel partitions and the faint ones as a representation of the glass partitions. The glass partitions are made more distinct for the sake of the visual continuity enhancement of space as he always desired (Pile, 2005). In plan (c), he has employed open partitions which express freedom with limited borders. Just as in (a), he intends to bring about the sense of change in rooms but at the same time retain his free flow space policy. This is a form of restrictions that allow freedom.

This design/plan is simple and defined by two main overlapping adjacent segments,  therefore maximum external wall surface for each room is open to the external environment. The floor plan indications give maximum view from anywhere inside the building in all directions as a result of using limited interior partitions. The space is well enhanced through minimum or an absence of the interior partitioning. It is worth noting that the choice of design was entirely based on how much Mies needed the user of the final structure/building or house to take part in the process by finishing the internal partitions. The type of preferred furniture, its arrangement and internal décor would be vital for this exercise (Tegethoff, Rohed and Dyckes, 1985). This formed an integral part of Mies definition of space. The building plans and the designs would not be complete if Mies did not visualize the environment and the final occupant desires which explain why someone at first glance would raise eyebrows at his work.

This plan forms a third version with internal partitions being more lateral with very few interruptions as compared to the first two, hence giving the internal space a seemingly lengthy outlook. He has, however, retained the asymmetrical imbalance due to exposure of all rooms to the external wall. This might look a little awkward but Mies had effectively incorporated the use of internal columns, just inches from the external walls so as to maintain the open space theme (Sherwood, 1978). Columns were a defining factor in Mies’ construction because they were made up for the necessary roof support in his space-minded designs. Looking at this design, the lateral partitions create a version of corridors without which it might be more about a safety measure in terms of fire incidences rather than his idea.

This is one of his latest designs in the quest to embrace modernity. It is different from the other three plans due to introduction of arcs in the interior. The internal partitions are more vivid than before and one notices the conventional implications. Owing to the larger area and plan of the house, the roofing would need more internal support for the weight by the walls and adjustments to the final roof design would be easier based on intermediary consideration of these internally supporting walls (Spaeth, 1985).

This is a plan defining how partitioning was more distinctively imposed due to the nature of intended activities. This is a commercial building plan of a library. Public or commercial designs are influenced by more requirements from the authorities in terms of security and emergency cases. These are defined by precautionary measures like fire exit routes, extra lighting and ventilation. Buildings and constructions in urban spaces had more restrictions and regulatory requirements, which explains why some of his work looks more or less the same as any other designs by different architectures. Furthermore, the general designs cannot take a free flowing approach due to an increase in the intended number of people. This forced Mies to consider symmetry as part of his space strategy. The centrally located rooms/partitions were more expansive than those that bordered the external/ perimeter wall. This is what exposed the smaller partition to the openness desired by the architect.

This did not, however, stop him from exercising his original ideas about space as indicated in the commercial building below. One notable fact in Mies’ plans is the ability to self-ventilate as opposed to other architectural designs in modern times which encouraged artificial ventilation through air conditioning systems (Hawks, 2008). As opposed to the larger central partitions, Mies expanded the peripheral offices and turned the central partitions into a single narrow corridor. One can be able to detect his original idea from this version because every room or partition has a touch to the peripheral/ external wall. Conversely, working environment demands enclosures rather than open corridors or partitions. Consequently, glass was the preferred partitioning material in as many areas as was allowed by clients. In residential housing, simple elegance and convenience was promoted because most people in the high society expected to house fewer servants after the Second World War. This was possible in embracing modernity which encouraged and oversaw improved technology and changing lifestyles that made work easier.

In conclusion, Mies did not only work out a plan but included details from the exterior. Looking at most of his work, the plans were never drawn by himself showing exclusivity in organization. Mies considered details of how the surroundings would look like. He seemed to think borderless and have the building as part of the environment rather than an intrusion. This must be the reason for his famous “God is in the detail” remark (Cohen, 1996). He also considered that the final occupants and the only distinction between domestic and commercial buildings was the intensity of used partitioning. Commercial buildings required more space restrictions while domestic plans had very few partitions based on the increased number of occupants who still needed some privacy. He did not lose a touch of space in either case because more lateral partitions were used, and thereby glass was preferred. His work represents the factual fewer decorations that are well-executed in order to add more to aesthetic beauty than make emphasis on partitions and material.

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