Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s “The Industrialization of Building Methods” (1924)
Translated from the German by Philip
Johnson. From Mies van der Rohe.
(Museum of Modern Art. New York, NY: 1947).
• • •
Our building methods today must be industrialized. Although everyone concerned has opposed this until recently, it is now being discussed even outside the building trades. This seems like progress, even though few are yet really convinced.
Industrialization, which is advancing in all fields today, would long ago have overtaken the building trades, in spite of their obsolete thinking, if there had not been special obstacles. I consider the industrialization of building methods the key problem of the day for architects and builders. Once we succeed in this, our social, economic, technical and even artistic problems will be easy to solve. How can industrialization be carried out? The question can be answered if we consider what has thus far  prevented it. Outmoded building methods are not to blame; they are the result rather than the cause.
There have been many attempts to find new building methods which have succeeded only in those branches of the industry in which industrialization was possible. The potentialities of assembly methods in building have also been exaggerated; they are in use only in factory and barn construction. The steel industry pioneered the manufacture of fabricated parts ready for assembly, and today the lumber industry is trying the same thing. In all other building, however, the roughwork and most of the interior fittings are carried out in the traditional way—by hand work. Hand work cannot be eliminated by changes in organization of the building industry, nor by improving work methods, for it is just this hand work that keeps small contractors going. It has been demonstrated that the use of larger masonry blocks can lower material and labor costs, but this in no way eliminates hand labor. Besides, the old brick masonry has many advantages over these newer methods. The problem before us is not the rationalization of the present methods, but rather a revolution in the whole nature of the building industry. The nature of the building process will not change as long as we employ essentially the same building materials, for they require hand labor.
Industrialization of the processes of construction is a question of materials. Our first consideration, therefore, must be to find a new building material. Our technologists must and will succeed in inventing a material which can be industrially manufactured and processed and which will be weatherproof, soundproof and insulating. It must be a light material which not only permits but requires industrial production. All the parts will be made in a factory and the work at the site will consist only of assemblage, requiring extremely few man-hours. This will greatly reduce building costs. Then the new architecture will come into its own. I am convinced that traditional methods of construction will disappear. In case anyone regrets that the house of the future can no longer be made by hand workers, it should be borne in mind that the automobile is no longer manufactured by carriage-makers.
[From G, No. 3, 1924]