Lessons from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

His architecture has been described as expressive of the industrial age in the same way that Gothic was expressive of the age of ecclesiasticism.

– Mies van der Rohe Society

As an architectural hub of the United States, Illinois can boast some amazing examples of 20th century architecture within its iconic Chicago skyline.  In addition, traveling into the city’s suburbs allows for additional opportunities to see, feel and touch the genius that came from 2 founders of the modernist movement in architecture – Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Chicago celebrates 2 primary “schools” of architecture, each of which defined the 20th century in Illinois.  The first Chicago School of architecture came from the influence of architects like Wright and their emphasis on structure, as well as function over ornamentation.  While the second school emerged from the significant contributions of Mies that demonstrated extreme clarity, simplicity, and unobstructed free flowing open space.

Mies’ mastery of form, function, and beauty are supremely identifiable in his Farnsworth House built in Plano, IL in 1951.  We took members of our ROI design staff to visit the property and reconnect with his architectural style, but walked away with several lessons.  The greatest of which was that Mies’ contributions to modern commercial interior design are timeless and remain on-trend today.

The Farnsworth House has been described as sublime, a temple hovering between heaven and earth, a poem, a work of art.

LESSON:  Open Layout

As the Farnsworth house’s white steel frame and all glass walls create a divider from exterior to interior, there are no existing walls defining living spaces inside the secluded retreat.  Instead, Mies leaves subtle suggestions of living spaces, but ultimately the homeowner will position furnishings and create “rooms”.

Commercial properties have recently embraced the open office concept and choose to use task specific furniture to define an area or glass partitions to create an aesthetically open, but private space.


LESSON:  Less is More

More than a well-used Mies quote, it was Mies’ trademark architectural style.  Although the structural materials he used may have been bold and significant, their strength became integral to overall design and, therefore became more subtle and precise in placement.

Mies’ buildings, beyond merely affecting our lives, endow them with greater significance and beauty. His buildings radiate the confidence, rationality, and elegance of their creator and, free of ornamentation and excess, confess the essential elements of our lives. In our time, where there is no limit to excess, Mies’ reductionist approach is as pertinent as ever. As we reduce the distractions and focus on the essential elements of our environment and ourselves, we find they are great, intricate, and beautiful. Less is more. – Mies van der Rohe Society

Commercial offices are no longer highlighting the equipment or products that make doing business look cluttered or messy.  There is a place for everything, and everything has its place.  And, if it isn’t necessary – it’s not a part of an office design.

LESSON:  Connecting with Nature

The Farnsworth House was plotted for construction in a flood plain within 64 acres of land along the Fox River.  The commanding surroundings and landscape inspired the development of a structure that blended the boundary between man and nature.

Mies believed reconnecting the individual with nature is one of the great challenges of an urbanized society.  – Mies van der Rohe Society

The idea of bringing the outside in using glass, natural light, and adding living foliage is a highly sought and rewarding contribution to any office environment.


LESSON:  God is in the Details

Often the simplest looking structures or designs require the greatest attention to detail.  In the case of the Farnsworth House, the use of 8 steel columns took 167 drawings to complete his design. And, that was just one part of the detail he imparted…

Mies did not overemphasize functionality, instead tempering usefulness with elegant materials, fluid space, and an original aesthetic.  – Mies van der Rohe Society

A connection to any office or commercial design space requires understanding your audience and how they will use and / or interact with it.  When you implement a carefully thought unexpected detail, the success and fulfillment of the space is guaranteed.

LESSON:  Lived in Spaces

Living and moving within a space should be easy and fluid.  The enjoyment of the inside and outside – the same.  The furniture you use should supplement those experiences, not interfere.

Mies believed our built environment is meant to be lived in.  – Mies van der Rohe Society

Mid-century modern style’s popularity has given new life to the opportunity to blend residential and commercial furniture & seating within a commercial office environment.


Mies van der Rohe Society


2000 Fox Lane
Elgin, IL 60123-7814
Phone: 847.622.9711
Fax: 847.622.9750