Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) is one of the greatest pioneers of modernist architecture. Mies was born in Germany and never received any formal form of architectural education due to the lack of affordability by his family. 

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In his early years, he worked in a stone-carving shop under his father, who was a stonemason, which refined Mies’s workmanship skills and helped him to develop a better understanding of materials. Later he was apprenticed to some architects where he had to sketch the outlines of architectural ornaments. It further refined his skills in linear drawing which turned out to be useful for the architectural career of Mies. 

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Mies Van Der Rohe _©Hans Namuth

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe served in the German military during World War I. He is also well-known for being the last Bauhaus Director before it was forced to close during 1933 under pressure from the Nazi government. Later on, during 1938, he left for Chicago and settled down there. Serving as the last director of the Bauhaus, Mies focused on a disciplined form of architectural education. The ideals and rationalist view of minimalism approached by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe has been followed through the 20th century, until today – the modern age.

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“Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. There it begins.”

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

What is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe known for?

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Mies van der Rohe with a model of Crown Hall _©Arthur Siegel

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is renowned for his architectural quote ‘less is more’. His style of work merges the lines between the exterior and interior, ensuring a form of transparency in visual interaction and flexibility in spatial organization.  Mies used contemporary materials emphasizing open spaces and minimalism. Believing to embody a continuous flow of space, blurring the lines between interior and exterior, Mies introduced the concept of “skin-and-bones” architecture – which is balanced work of architecture involving a minimal framework of the structural scheme and unobstructed free-flowing spatial integrity.

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“It is not possible to go forward while looking back.” Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

The Core House designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe 

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The Core House virtual perspective _©Desenho de Luciana Fornari Colombo

The Core House was designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1951. It is a remarkable, yet unbuilt venture that started as a personal research project for Mies and continued without any financial support from any client. The design was developed in Muse’s office with the collaboration of Myron Goldsmith and the students at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT)’s school of architecture, where Mies worked as a teacher and director. 

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The Core House Plans and Elevations_©Desenho de Luciana Fornari Colombo

According to Myron Goldsmith, who collaborated with Mies in the design, “the main ideas that Mies van der Rohe speculated and tested in this project were: architecture as background for people, absolute minimum use of elements, how far one could go in a unified space (what had to be closed, what could be opened), how far one could go in simplifying the unconventional living idea and how to live within it.”

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A Virtual Look into Mies van der Rohe’s Core House_©Archilogic
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The core house plan_©https://vitruvius.com.br/revistas/read/arquitextos/11.130/3782/en

Assembling Spaces and Functions 

The layout of the Core House resembles a square space enclosed with a glass façade, including four exterior H-shaped columns to support the flat roof. The interior and special layout was done in such a way so that other services could be flexibly arranged around the service core. Fascinatingly, instead of permanent walls, the architect chose to divide the functional zones using lightweight partitions, curtains, and furniture.

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The Core House Structural Layouts _© Desenho de Luciana Fornari Colombo

The name, perceived as “The Core House” accentuates the impression of a well-defined service core attained through the minimal use of walls. Later on, the project became popular as ‘50 x 50 House’. However, for providing ideas to individuals for how they could adapt to the design, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe also proposed other variations in the size of the house and service core arrangements. There are two other drawings of the square module of the house in different sizes, 40 x 40 feet and 60 x 60 feet square respectively. The architect anticipated that the spaces within the area – the number, size, position, and function of rooms could be changed according to convenient circumstances.

Mies’s original drawings do not contain specific zoning or interior planning within the space. The following interior arrangement is hypothetically proposed by the author Luciana Fornari Colombo of the article, “Mies van der Rohe’s Core House, a Theoretical Project on the Essential Dwelling.”

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The Core House Hypothetical Layouts_© Desenho de Luciana Fornari Colombo

The four slender columns are dislocated from their usual corner position and placed on the center of each plane, highlighting the sense of spatial continuity and creating the perception of the roof as a light floating plane.

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The Core House Structure Diagram _© Desenho de Luciana Fornari Colombo

Dinner in Yesterday’s Bedroom?

In an article published in the Chicago Daily Tribune on the August 1952 ‘Dinner in Yesterday’s Bedroom: It’s Possible in This Flexible Plan’ by Anne Douglas, an interview with Mies addresses the specialty of this project. As Douglas had defined, ‘The heart of the house is the core…’ 

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The original organization of the Core House by Mies van der Rohe (left) and a theoretical version of the Core House with conventional walls(right)_© Desenho de Luciana Fornari Colombo

In the interview, Mies stated that the Core House project was not inspired by a client, but by a universal need as lots of people in those last few years had asked for a modern house within the range of $30,000 to $40,000. Although it was difficult to work out individual houses considering the affordable cost overall, the concept of the Core House module was an attempt towards solving the problem.

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The Core House – like other designs of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, has elegant simplicity and minimum visual obstacles. Being enclosed with glass facades on all sides with a few mullions, the structure is exposed in all directions blending into the surrounding nature. 

The influence of Mies’s Core House can be found in the “Ben Rose Automobile Pavilion” designed by David Haid, a former student of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

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Ben Rose Automobile Pavilion at Highland Park, IL, 1974_© Nikki A. Johnson

“We must remember that everything depends on how we use a material, not on the material itself … New materials are not necessarily superior. Each material is only what we make it.”

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Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

The Core House turned out to be an influential project in the career of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, as it introduced the clear span pavilion with a square plan with a minimal quantity of structural supports. He applied this sort of design in many subsequent institutional projects – the Chicago Convention Hall (1952-4), the Bacardi Office Building in Cuba (1957-60), Georg Schaefer Museum (1960-3), and the Berlin New National Gallery (1962-8)

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Diagram showing circulation and structure of the Berlin’s New National Gallery_© University of Hong Kong, Department of Architecture

Limits Within Transparency

Mostly, Mies’s forms have been more feasible with wealthy clients. Regardless of having variations in sizes and flexible layouts, the Core House did not develop as a mass-produced design. Unfortunately, the transparency of the structure resulted in a lack of privacy for common people. The Core House project was not expected to be built, it was more of a research experiment by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, in which the architect would be able to encounter certain architectural concepts and analyze their confinements in various circumstances. 

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Considering the Core House as an impractical project is overlooking its imperative achievements. Rather than being a prototype that did not work, it is much more of an alternative to expanding established limitations.

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Portrait of Mies Van Der Rohe_© LIFE Magazine

“The long path from material through function to creative work has only one goal: to create order out of the desperate confusion of our time.”

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

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The Core House is considered to be a remarkable example of a theoretical project by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. He implied this self-imposed challenge on his further designs later on, while it allowed the architect to design freely – expanding the specific boundaries. Therefore, even though theoretical projects are unbuilt, they certainly provide innovative concepts and opportunities for bringing architecture in front of its disciplinary limits.

References

Colombo, L. F. (2011, March). Mies van der Rohe’s Core House, a Theoretical Project on the Essential Dwelling. Vitruvius. Available at: https://vitruvius.com.br/index.php/revistas/read/arquitextos/11.130/3782/en

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[Accessed: 19 Aug 2021].

Devine, B. (2016, November 17). A Virtual Look Into Mies van der Rohe’s Core House. ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/799586/a-virtual-look-into-mies-van-der-rohes-core-house [Accessed: 20 Aug 2021].

Author

A final year student currently pursuing B.Arch. in Bangladesh. Her passions are intertwined with Art, Travel, Architecture, and Literature. She aspires to travel, learn, evolve with time and thereby bring something to light through journaling her journeys.

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