Jerry-Built America

"By their fruits, so shall ye know them."
—Jesus of Nazareth

The year 1986 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig Mies, the man who, under the name of Mies van der Rohe, did the most to shape modern American architecture. Of the numerous books that marked Fred Butzen is a technical writer for a publisher of computer languages and operating systems. this occasion, perhaps the most important is the biography by Franz Schulze, a scholar and critic of contemporary architecture. Thorough, honest, gracefully written, richly illustrated, and well designed, it invites a reevaluation of Mies's work as the most catastrophic failure of art in the 20th century, suited Mies well, for he was drawn to where the spirit of the times was manifesting itself most powerfully—i.e., to where "the action" was. In the 1920's, the action was certainly among the radicals.

From 1918 to 1927, Mies worked mainly on theoretical projects which attracted attention at exhibitions. In 1926, he built the first of his works in the modern, geometric style: a monument to Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Photographs indicate that the monument was visually compelling, if one ignores the huge steel hammer and sickle at its side. Mies does not appear to have been a Communist or committed to any cause other than himself and his work; rather, he would work...

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