In the Words of Mies van der Rohe

"Less is more" and other famous quotes by architect Mies van der Rohe

Mies van der Rohe looking down at lighting a cigar in Chicago 1969
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe looking down as he lights his cigar in Chicago, 1969. By Hedrich Blessing Chicago History Museum/Archive Photos/Getty Images (crop)

Modern architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) is known for designing glass and steel buildings. His words also have a cutting edge. Check out these quotes from Mies van der Rohe's speeches and writings.

  • The head-turning Barcelona Chair looks simple, but apparently a lot of work went into its design. "A chair is a very difficult object," Mies van der Rohe said. "A skyscraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous."
    In Time magazine, 18 Feb 1957.
  • Maybe Edith Farnsworth had legitimate complaints when she sued Mies van der Rohe. Or, maybe she just thought that the glass-walled house he designed for her didn't live up to his philosophy: "Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. There it begins."
    Speaking about restraint in design, the New York Herald Tribune, 28 Jun 1959.
  • There's not much decoration on the towering Seagram Building in New York. Mies van der Rohe believed that "God is in the details."
    Speaking about restraint in design, the New York Herald Tribune, 28 Jun 1959.
  • The same thing can be said about his sleek, glass-walled Federal Center. You might even think that this building looks pretty much like all his others. "It is better to be good than to be original," Mies van der Rohe said.
    Quoted in Words of Wisdom by William Safire & Leonard Safire, 1989.
  • The words "less is more" are closely associated with Mies van der Rohe, but the phrase is not original to him. These exact words are found in a 1855 Robert Browning poem. Nevertheless, Mies embraced the sentiment as a mantra to minimalism, simplicity, and modernism. When postmodernist architect Robert Venturi reputedly quipped "Less is a bore," he was commenting on Mies van der Rohe's notorious belief that "Less is more."
    Speaking about restraint in design, the New York Herald Tribune, 28 Jun 1959.
  • But, while we like to poke fun at Mies van der Rohe, we can thank him for his reminder to honor and draw inspiration from glass, steel, and concrete. Early in his career, he said, "Each material has its specific characteristics which we must understand if we want to use it... This is no less true of steel and concrete [than of wood, brick, and stone]. We must remember that everything depends on how we use a material, not on the material itself... New Materials are not necessarily superior. Each material is only what we make of it... We must be as familiar with the functions of our buildings as with our materials. We must learn what a building can be, what it should be, and also what it must not be... And just as we acquaint ourselves with materials, just as we must understand functions, so we must become familiar with the psychological and spiritual factors of our day. No cultural activity is possible otherwise; for we are dependent on the spirit of our time."
    From his inaugural address at the Illinois Institute of Technology, 1938

    How famous is Mies van der Rohe?

    On his 126th birthday in March 2012, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe received the high honor of a Google logo doodle. Illustrating the S. R. Crown Hall (the IIT College of Architecture) the Mies van der Rohe Google Doodle topped Google search page results throughout the day.

    Learn More:

    • Mies Van Der Rohe At Work by Peter Carter, Phaidon Press, 1974, 1999
    • Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography by Franz Schulze and Edward Windhorst, University Of Chicago Press; Revised New edition, 2012
    • Mies Van Der Rohe by Claire Zimmerman, Taschen Basic Architecture Series, 2006
    • Mies by Detlef Mertins, Phaidon, 2014
    • What Is Neo-Miesian?
    • Architecture in Chicago