Pedagogical Grammars

Steel as the American Language

Luis Fernández-Galiano 

Mendelsohn, Peterhans, Hilberseimer & Mies across from Chicago Orchestra Hall, c. 1940

Mies moves to the United States in 1938 without speaking English, and without knowing the language of American construction either. But during his first decade in Chicago this taciturn German develops the vocabulary and syntax of a vernacular industrial language, and by the end of his second decade that anonimous and exact language will be the corporate Esperanto of a world living under the pax americana; during his third and last decade, the arthritic master will enjoy the unanimous recognition bestowed upon someone who was by then the most imitated architect, though after his death in 1969 this choral admiration would turn into criticism toward his platonic idealism, his hermetic abstraction and his elitist refinement: a climate of revision, favored by the changing political temperature of the times, that would end up tarnishing his centenary in 1986, celebrated halfheartedly even by the MoMA which houses his legacy and fromwhose advocacy ofmodernity it can hardly be detached. After all, it was the tenacity of the museum’s director, AlfredBarr, that procured Mies the commission that would take him to America: after failing in his attempt to entrust him with the museum extension, for which Nelson Rockefeller and the conservative-nationalist wing of the board of trustees had chosen Philip Goodwin and Edward Durrell Stone, Barr persuaded Helen Resor, his ally in the progressive-internationalist wing of the MoMA, to hire Mies as architect of the works in her Wyoming ranch, which she did after firing Goodwin, who left behind the foundations of a house over a stream. In order to complete it, Mies was invited on a six week trip that would last eight months, during which he matured the idea of moving there for good, and shortly before whose end he would negotiate in Chicago the teaching contract which would allow him to settle in America... [+]

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