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The Mass of Mies
Rem Koolhaas
19 April 2023
published in Issue Three

« Mies » was part of the Weimar avant-garde, ran the Bauhaus from 1930 to 1933, then closed it to emigrate to America in 1938 where he transformed the skyscraper from a fanciful improvisation into a generic, abstract prototype, to achieve immortality with the phrase « less is more ». How did his body work and how did he stage and project it in the course of his career?

First there is the testimony of a Bauhaus student that every time he encountered Mies approaching in a corridor, he thought he was seeing two people; only from up close did they merge into the single Mies.

If that is just a verbal recollection, a photo proves that his body actually consumed an unusual amount of space, particularly in width. It was taken in 1920, at the opening of the first international Dada-Fair in Berlin.

Mies’ back alone occupies twenty percent of the picture plane; twelve other visitors are compressed into the remaining eighty. The fact that the back is clad in very theatrical tweed amplifies its volumetric dominance — a strong fashion statement on an XL back — in flagrant contradiction with « less is more », the motto that would make him famous much later in his life...

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Erste Internationale Dada-Messe, organized by « Marshall » George Grosz, « Dadasoph » Raoul Hausmann and « Dadamonteur » John Heartfield, June 30 – August 25; 1920.

Crucial artists, such as Hannah Höch, Raul Haussmann, George Grosz, Kurt Schwitters and John Heartfield. Grosz, it should be noted, appears in poster form, taking up almost as much space as Mies, celebrating the willful disintegration of the bürgerlichen Begriffswelt.

Quoted in Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography, by Franz Schulze (The University Of Chicago Press, 1985). « It » is a ten-year-old project for a villa in the Netherlands.

Mies, Detlef Mertins, Phaidon, 2014

Mies in Postwar Germany, The Manheim Theater, Thilo Hilpert, 2001 interview with Paul Schneider von Esleben: « a spacious flat. I walked all the way through it, came into his bedroom, dressing room, bathroom, and then a big living room […] and then I noticed, sitting in an armchair, that they were all screwed to the floor. »