Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd, Brokerage
1300 Yonge Street, Suite 100 Toronto, Ontario M4T 1X3

Toronto Luxury Real Estate: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

I thought it was important to highlight this mid-century architect, a German-born pioneer of modernist architecture and the final director of  the Bauhaus School, a critical mid-century architecture school. Mies left Germany for the United States in the wake of the Nazi rise to power. They did not condone this modern movement and the school was closed. In the United States Mies headed up the school of architecture at the Armour Institute of Technology (later renamed the Illinois Institute of Technology) in Chicago.

The reason I wanted to share a bit of information about Mies is because of downtown Toronto’s spectacular TD Centre, a stunning example of his work. Mies van der Rohe was the design consultant for John B. Parkin and Bregman + Hamann, the architects, and Fairview Corporation, the developer. The towers were built between 1967 and 1991. The design integrity has been maintained right down to his iconic Barcelona chairs in the lobbies. I always enjoy heading up to Canoe restaurant to take in the architecture and I had the pleasure of working in one of these towers in my first job out of university.

Mies’ style of architecture was similar to other avant-garde architects of the day. He  worked to assemble his structures using modern materials as efficiently as possible, featuring clean lines and shapes and minimal colour to incorporate the outside into the interior as best he could. 

Mies is also famous for Farnsworth House, a commission for a country retreat outside Chicago. This glass house is raised six feet above the flood plain of the Fox River and is supported by eight simple posts. With this home he played with the relationship between people, shelter and nature. The most unique feature of this home is that no interior wall touches the floor, and walls of glass the create an exoskeleton around the home.  It certainly was advanced for the time it was built, 1947-1957. The house became so famous it was purchased in 2004 for $7.5 million, including the 60 acre property, and turned into a museum that is managed by National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Farnsworth House is said to have been a strong influence for Philip Johnson’s Glass House located near New York City.

Other buildings of significance that Mies van der Rohe designed include the National Gallery in Berlin, the Seagram Building in New York (which is very similar to the TD Centre towers), the Chicago Federal Complex and the Houston Art Gallery.

The Bauhaus movement was all about providing well-designed buildings and furniture for the common man.  So Mies was much like Charles and Ray Eames in his design pursuit. I think many of us have or dream of having a Barcelona chair! Unfortunately, in 2020, this iconic chair has become rather cost-prohibitive.

In his 1981 book about modern architecture, From Bauhaus to Our House, Tom Wolfe called the Barcelona chair “the Platonic ideal of chair”, and wrote that, despite its high price, owning one had become a necessity for young architects. “When you saw the holy object on the sisal rug, you knew you were in a household where a fledgeling architect and his young wife had sacrificed everything to bring the symbol of the godly mission into their home.”

Fun Fact: Ludwig Mies was his original name  but he changed his name to Mies van der Rohe as he made the transformation from tradesman to architect. Mies in German means lousy so by adding his mother’s maiden name to his name it appeased the German elite.

Ludwig Mies van Der Rohe 1927 chrome-plated tubular steel and cane chair currently on display at the MOMA in NYC.