Mies van der Rohe Paperback – Oct 1 2006
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About the Author
Claire Zimmerman worked on MoMA's 2001 exhibition "Mies in Berlin" and authored several essays for the exhibition catalog. A doctoral candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center, she holds a Master's in architecture from Harvard University and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania. She has taught at Yale, Barnard College, and Florida A&M University.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The volumes in Taschen's Basic Architecture Series are a must for anyone interested in the history of architecture. At $9.99 a volume, they are an affordable and attractive introduction to the works of the most influential architects of the past century. The sole hesitation I have with this volume is Claire Zimmerman's writing style. She writes in a flowery academic style that is off putting. However, at $9.99 a volume, you cannot go wrong. Recommended.
Not bad though for the price.
The book breaks things down to help make it easier for everyone to understand. From the beginning, Zimmerman explains why buildings are arranged certain ways, or what the primary materials Modernism uses to help a reader new to this type of architecture understand what made Mies so masterful. The author does not bog the reader down with too many technical terms, but gives just enough information to help understand Modernism with baseline knowledge. The use of photographs also helps break down the architecture to further a general public’s understanding.
The numerous illustrations are one of the greatest strengths of the book. There are lots of great photographs in color to help exhibit principles of Modernism, Mies’ work, and other influences like art and architecture of previous time periods with which to contrast or show influence. The pictures are highly useful in tandem with the text as Zimmerman can explain why Mies designed a building in such a way and contrast that building with something more traditional. The photos can help shed light on what made Mies different than some of the other exemplary architects.
Another strength of the book is that it does a nice job of giving background on Mies. Instead of only discussing Mies’ work that made him the iconic man he is today, Zimmerman goes into who and what influenced him from early on in his career and how “he remained absorbed in a single task; finding solutions to the new architectural problems of an industrialized age” (7). The author also looks at the influences of philosopher Romano Guardini and architects Peter Behrens and Karl Friedrich Shinkel had on a young Mies, demonstrated in a number of his buildings and his design philosophy, “less is more.” Although the book does a great job of examining Mies’s background and influences, it does have minor issue.
One issue with the book is its organization; it is not ideal. Some “chapters” are one page while others are multiple pages long are broken up like case studies. While it is not a bad idea to break it up in that manner, it just does not seem flow. Some of Mies’ most iconic designs such as the Farnsworth House and the Seagram Building receive great attention and are more fully explored and developed whereas some of this smaller, lesser-known buildings receive only a paragraph or two. It makes sense why the author would choose to have this focus since most people want to read about the big name projects. While this organization is not detrimental to the book, anyone can pick up a book on Mies van der Rohe and read about these big name buildings. Zimmerman could have taken the chance of devoting more time to some of the smaller projects that were possibly more formative of his profile and more influential to his later, more iconic designs. Or perhaps grouped the projects thematically such as public housing, institutional buildings, or private residences. Again, this was not a major draw back of the book, merely a small observation that could have improved the book’s organization.
Overall, Zimmerman does an excellent job of presenting Mies as a figure within the Modern movement, but more importantly as a figure who stands out as the figure in Modern architecture. Zimmerman’s ability to break down Modernism, trace Mies’ progression from a young man in a small town to international architecture icon, and show how these buildings were innovative and new demonstrates her expertise as an architect and an architectural historian.
From his early work in Germany to his later work in the United States, Mies focused on issues such as flexible use and open space. That flexibility allowed him to design residential, commercial and artistic buildings using essentially the same ideas, altered for the specific purpose at hand.
In addition to less well-known projects, this book gives us some information on the better known Seagram Building, Farnsworth House, and Crown Hall on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology. Little by little, a picture of the man and his work comes together in what is, ultimately, not a bad read at all.
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