MIES IS MORE (amended)

(above) Lafayette Park row-housing, Detroit, designed by Mies van der Rohe.

Is this what Mies van der Rohe meant by his remark, “Less is more”?

A minimal architecture enables a maximum variety of living within.

The spare and relatively neutral frame that such an architecture places around space not only allows without conflict all manner of furniture, bric-a-brac, appliances, artworks, as well as human activities to exist within it, but actively invites them in order to relieve its own plainness and sameness. Heavily ornamented or aggressively shaped walls, floors and ceilings defining spaces demand not only attention but also respect for what they express in themselves. If they are not respected, by juxtaposing against them aggressively different things, then the result will be aesthetically uneasy and perhaps unpleasant, depending on one’s tolerance of or taste for conflict.

The neutrality of modern architecture such as that of Mies, Rietveld, Le Corbusier, and later works by Gropius, Breuer, and Bunshaft was argued as its great virtue because it did not (or so the argument goes) impose aesthetic values on an open, free, democratic society. Many modernist architects were, in fact, socialists, or flrted with democratic-socialist ideals, who placed on the exterior, public space of architecture an emphasis on the broader social good over individual self-expression and other forms of self-interest. This was a position challenged by post-modernist architects who proposed designs more in keeping with capitalist, free-market ideals of ‘anything goes,’ juxtaposing—collaging—widely and sometimes wildly disparate things. In this way, the aesthetic sensibilities of our time evolved.

But in the days when Mies designed the row-housing for Detroit’s Lafayette Park middle-class housing development, architectural neutrality still seemed to hold the promise of great social freedom. Seeing this series of recent interior photographs in identical units in this development, is convincing testimony that at least here the promise was kept.


The photos below were made by photographer Corine Vermeulen (corinevermeulen.com):

The photos above appear in a recent New York Times article, authored by Danielle Aubert, Lana Cavar, Natasha Chandani (placementpublication.org):


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