Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s “Two Glass Skyscrapers” (1922)

Translated from the German by Philip

Johnson.  From Mies van der Rohe.

(Museum of Modern Art.  New York, NY: 1947).

• • •

Skyscrapers reveal their bold structural pattern during construction.  Only then does the gigantic steel web seem impressive. When the outer walls are put in place, the structural system which is the basis of all artistic design, is hidden by a chaos of meaningless and trivial forms.  When finished, these buildings are impressive only because of their size; yet they could surely be more than mere examples of our technical ability, instead of trying to solve the new problems with old forms, we should develop the new forms from the very nature of the new problems.

We can see the new structural principles most clearly when we use glass in place of the outer walls, which is feasible today since in a skeleton building these outer walls do not actually carry weight.  The use of glass imposes new solutions.

In my project for a skyscraper at the Friedrichstrasse Station in Berlin I used a prismatic form which seemed to me to fit best the triangular site of the building.  I placed the glass walls at slight angles to each other to avoid the monotony of over-large glass surfaces.

I discovered by working with actual glass models that the important thing is the play of reflections and not the effect of light and shadow as in ordinary buildings.

The results of these experiments can be seen in the second scheme published here.  At first glance the curved outline of the plan seems arbitrary.  These curves, however, were determined by three factors: sufficient illumination of the interior, the massing of the building viewed from the street, and lastly the play of reflections.  I proved in the glass model that calculations of light and shadow do not help in designing an all-glass building.

The only fixed points of the plan are the stair and elevator shafts.  All the other elements of the plan fit the needs of the building and are designed to be carried out in glass.

[From Frühlicht, 1922]

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~ by Ross Wolfe on October 25, 2010.

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