I’ve been immersed in a pandemic-delayed trawl through the Mies van der Rohe papers in the Library of Congress this week. A few finds that merit publication (forthcoming), but also no small amount of joy. I get the sense that his taciturn, grumpy reputation was mostly fictional; he comes across as incredibly warm and (occasionally) funny. But terse, definitely terse.
Sometime in the late 1950s he delivered a “lecture” to the Architectural League of New York City, but–never confident in his English ability, he asked that it be all questions and answers. The conversation mostly focused on the Seagram’s building, but the crowd got in plenty of larger issues as well. The typescript in the archives hasn’t, I think, ever been published, and given Mies’ reluctance to speak or write very much it’s an important collection of his thought.
It ends with an anonymous questioner tossing up a classic softball…and Mies hitting it out of the park:
QUESTION: Now there are a lot of young people here tonight and I wonder, Mr. van der Rohe, if you would like to give them some advice. Some of us probably are well along and saying we are not going to contribute much to architecture, but these youngsters might like to hear some advice about how they should approach their first commission, or what they should think about—certain clarities that you’ve mentioned. Perhaps you’d like to repeat them or….
VAN DER ROHE: I think there is one thing what I would do—I would work very hard.
Typescript titled “Architectural League,” in folder “Interviews with Mies, Box 62, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Papers, Library of Congress Manuscript Reading Roo