Its a cliche at this point but I, for one, didn’t know it was an architecturally derived one. According to the beautifully written piece in the Opinionator Thursday, the “phrase “less is more” was actually first uttered by a German, the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.” I found this piece fascinating for a number of reasons so I’ve reproduced it below. You can also find it here at the NY Times website.
I think the timing is particularly appropriate for the holiday weekend. Rather than burying our heads in the sand of Rah Rah American Patriotism, I think we can aim a little higher – for a new path that will actually improve our standing in the world and our own lives. Taking a renewed interest in how we can make our offices, public buildings, and homes both “less” and “more” couldn’t be more timely.
When Less Was More
By JAYNE MERKEL
We tend to think of the decades immediately following World War II as a time of exuberance and growth, with soldiers returning home by the millions, going off to college on the G.I. Bill and lining up at the marraige bureaus.
But when it came to their houses, it was a time of common sense and a belief that less truly could be more. During the Depression and the war, Americans had learned to live with less, and that restraint, in combination with the postwar confidence in the future made small, efficient housing positively stylish.
As we find ourselves in an era of diminishing resources, could “less” become “more” again? If so, the mid-20th-century building boom might provide some inspiration.
Economic austerity was only one of the catalysts for the trend toward efficient living. The phrase “less is more” was actually first uttered by a German, the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who like other people associated with the Bauhaus emigrated to the United States before World War II and took up posts at American architecture schools. These designers, including Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, came to exert enormous influence on the course of American architecture, but none more so than Mies.
Mies’ signature phrase means that less decoration, properly deployed, has more impact than a lot. Elegance, he believed, did not derive from abundance. Like other modern architects, he employed metal, glass and laminated wood — materials that we take for granted today but that in the 1940s symbolized the future. Mies’ sophisticated presentation masked the fact that the spaces he designed were small and efficient, rather than big and often empty. Read the rest of this entry »
William Zbaren Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed these towers on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive in the 1940s. They were recently renovated.