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Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: a tribute to his monumental impact

On the German-American architect’s 135th birth anniversary, a glimpse into Mies van der Rohe Haus and its adaptive program that attempts to capture the zeitgeist of this work.

by Devanshi ShahPublished on : Mar 27, 2021

The impact and influence of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s architecture know no bounds. As one of the most important architects of the 20th century, his work still resonates with our contemporary understanding of design and architecture. While the phrase 'less is more' is often associated with the ideology of his work, people often forget that he elaborated on that adding, “It is important not to confuse simple with simplistic”. Lemke House may seem like an unassuming structure in the grander scheme of Mies’ work, however it is an important link between his earlier work in Germany and later works in America. He was the director of the Bauhaus school at the time the Lemke House was built, which speaks to its chronological importance. Since 2002 the structure has been home to the Mies van der Rohe Haus, and this year the curatorial project of the Mies van der Rohe Haus has envisioned a unique exhibition, titled Mies goes Future. The exhibition pays homage to the core values of Mies, and are a true tribute to his ideas.

The adaptive nature of the centre and exhibition captures the zeitgeist of Mies. In an exclusive correspondence with STIR, Wita Noack, Director at the Mies van der Rohe Haus, offers a short history of Lemke House and how the foundation got to using it.

Wita Noack, along with her book ‘Konzentrat der Moderne: Das Landhaus Lemke von Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’ | Mies goes Future | Mies van der Rohe Haus | STIRworld
Wita Noack, along with her book titled Konzentrat der Moderne: Das Landhaus Lemke von Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Image: © Greg Bannan

Devanshi Shah (DS):Can you tell us a little bit about the history of how the Mies van der Rohe Haus came to be set up at the Lemke House?  

Wita Noack (WN): The Lemke House is the last house designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in Germany, before his emigration to the United States in 1938. Mies designed the house for Karl and Martha Lemke, who lived there until 1945, before their home was seized by the Red Army and converted into a garage. From the 1960s until the fall of the Berlin Wall, the East German secret police used the home for various purposes such as a laundry storage area, a kitchen, and as janitor’s living quarters, all of which necessitated a number of renovations and modifications to the house and garden. In 1977 the house was declared a protected landmark by the East Berlin Magistrate. During the political upheaval and reunification in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the house remained under the jurisdiction of the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen district. It was later opened to the public and its use was tailored to contemporary needs. From 2000 to 2002, a complete and landmark-worthy restoration of the house and garden was carried out according to historic plans. Since then, the house serves as an exhibition pavilion for modern art, attracting visitors from all over the world, who are interested to see and explore the architecture of Mies van der Rohe. 

Exterior view of the Lemke House during winter | Mies goes Future | Mies van der Rohe Haus | STIRworld
Exterior view of Lemke House during winter Image: © Greg Bannan

DS:Also tell us about your overall vision for the cultural and curatorial programmes at Mies van der Rohe Haus?

WN: Over the years the focus of the programmes at the Mies van der Rohe Haus (Lemke House) lies on the house itself and its history as well as the culture of modernism; architects and artists are invited to engage with the architecture of Mies van der Rohe while creating art pieces that correspond with the house. Each year together with Ingolf Kern, Chairman of the Board at the Mies van der Rohe House, we create themes and the programmes for the institution. 

DS: Anything in particular we can look forward to this year?

WN: Particularly this year, since we are celebrating the 135th birthday of Mies van der Rohe, we have put together additional programmes including new research projects, exhibitions and educational programmes as well as a birthday party in the garden on August 8. The film and exhibition project titled Mies Goes Future is a different format than usual. With the digital forum consisting of films and exhibitions inviting artists, architectural historians and architects, we would like to create a broad platform where the protagonists can think freely about the future of the institution, especially since the house becomes too small to host all the guests visiting and so much can be offered for them in a separate setting such as a visitor service or an extension building. 

DS: What are some of the other programmes we can look forward to seeing?

WN: In the summer we show the American artist and minimalist, Tadaaki Kuwayama, and of course the Mies Goes Future project is designed as a long-term study and we look forward to the protagonists who will be part of this ongoing exploration of ideas. 

Esenija Bannan and an interior view of Lemke House | Mies goes Future | Mies van der Rohe Haus | STIRworld
Esenija Bannan and an interior view of Lemke House Image: © Greg Bannan

Mies goes Future as an exhibition is completely different. The format itself extends over a year and is in a constant state of change, and evolves based on the contemporary conversations about Mies and this work. In its early stages the exhibition already features a sketch by Alvaro Siza. Curator Esenija Bannan helped STIR to understand the minutiae of this engaging and elaborate project.

DS: Can you talk us through how you conceived the idea of Mies goes Future as a long-term exhibition project?

Esenija Bannan (EB): The future of the Mies van der Rohe House in Berlin (Lemke House) has been part of an ongoing conversation. Due to the big visitor flow the historical structure needs to be relieved and a visitor centre accommodating all important functions of the museum including a research centre, bookstore, museums shop, a checkroom and a café, is much needed. Over the years this conversation received numerous support and exchange of ideas. The Portuguese architect, Álvaro Siza, created a sketch as an impulse for the extension building for the director of the house, Wita Noack, during his visit in February 2019.

I was invited to participate in this ongoing conversation as a curator and to create an exhibition concept. Mies van der Rohe’s architecture inspires and raises questions for many architects and architectural historians, curators and artists. We saw a lot of potential in inviting protagonists from various disciplines and engaging in a conversation with them about how they can envision the future of Mies, we wanted to explore the possibilities. 

Two Corners, pen on paper, 2019 | Mies goes Future | Mies van der Rohe Haus | STIRworld
A sketch by Álvaro Siza, Two Corners, pen on paper, 2019 Image: © Álvaro Siza

DS: Please tell us how the project will be presented in the space itself.

EB: The film and exhibition project consist of a digital forum and a selected exhibition. The exhibition will be installed in the same spot at the Lemke House, where it coincides with the ongoing exhibition programme in the other three exhibition spaces inside the home. The installation will range from artworks created by various conceptual artists on site and a film presenting the creative process. This way the visitor has a chance to see what kind of artwork can be created in dialogue with the space and the architecture of Mies. Each of the presentations will be filmed and presented in the digital forum as well. 

DS: Who are some of the different individuals invited to participate? Who can we look forward to seeing in the future?

EB: We have invited Fritz Neumeyer, I like to call him the Godfather of Mies van der Rohe. He has written so many books about Mies and is absolutely fascinating to listen to. I am honoured and grateful that the French architect and architectural historian Jean-Louis Cohen accepted our invitation. We will speak with and film Anna Ramos, director of the Fundació Mies van der Rohe in Barcelona and David Chipperfield, who will talk about Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin he just finished restoring; a masterpiece, Mies completed when he returned to Berlin in 1968. The conceptual Berlin artist, Katrin Guenther, and the Brazilian artist, Isabel Borges.  

The first film of the series featuring Fritz Neumeyer can be viewed below.

13 mins watch The introduction to Mies Goes Future | Mies van der Rohe 135th birth anniversary | STIRworld
The introduction to Mies Goes Future Video: Courtesy of Mies van der Rohe Haus

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