Mies’s first ventures into architecturenwere free-lance commissions tonbuild homes. He soon secured a positionnwith Peter Behrens, one of Germany’snleading young architects andnan advocate oiSachlichkeit. Behrensnbuilt public architecture — factoriesnand pavilions — and in his ofEce Miesnheard the other young architects discussnhow industrialization affected artnand society.nIn 1913, Mies married Ada Bruhn,nthe daughter of a wealthy inventor. Anyear or so older than Mies, Ada wasna wealthy, self-consciously modernnwoman who had studied “eurhythmies”nand was willing to tolerate andnunderwrite her husband.nAfter spending World War I as anclerk in the army, Mies returned tonBerlin. It was a revolutionary time,nwith sachlich radicals competing withnexpressionist ones. Mies cofounded anjournal called G (for Gestaultung) andnspent much time in artistic politicking,nallowing his thought on architecture tonsolidify. As he wrote in G: “Essentiallynour task is to free the practice ofnbuilding from the control of aestheticnspeculators and restore it to what itnshould exclusively be: Building.” Architecture,nto him, was an independentnand self-contained art, while patronsnwho attempted to influence it in waysnnot dictated by building itself weren”aesthetic speculators” whose influencenshould be minimized.nThe early 1920’s also saw the publicationnof Spengler’s Decline of thenWest. It appears to have affected Miesndeeply; his copy is heavily marked.nFrom then to his death, Mies’s writingsnwould be punctuated by Spengleriannassertions: “Architecture is the will ofnan epoch translated into space” orn”Not yesterday, not tomorrow, onlyntoday can be given form.” Spenglerngave Mies the second pillar of hisnthought: that the only authentic architecturenis that which embodies thenspirit of its time. This principle alsonof his personality. Schulze speculatesnthat Mies was led to his style by thendesire to express the industrial characternof our time and, second, by a desirento create buildings of pure architecture—nan architecture that expressesnthe essence of building, in thenmanner and materials of the day. Thenpersonally expressive, the stylish, theninfluence of “aesthetic speculators”nhad to be stripped away to let thenessential building of the 20th centurynshine through.nSchulze claims that Mies’s interestnin essences came from his reading ofnSt. Thomas Aquinas, a philosophernwhom Mies would quote on occasion.nThomas, Schulze claims, expressed ansystem in which “essences” overarchnthe material world, and Mies saw hisnwork as a reaching for these essences.nMies believed that if he removed thenparticular from a building, it wouldncome closer to incorporating the essencenoibuilding. Aquinas, however,nasserts exactly the opposite: that onlynthrough the particular does essencenreveal itself. In a building, essence isnknown not by how the building isnconceived, nor even by how it appears,nbut by what it does: as Hopkins put it,nWhat I do is me. And it is precisely innthe doing that Mies’s buildings fail.nSchulze, who is an honest critic,ndoes not disguise the impractical naturenof Mies’s work. Only Mies couldnbuild a house in the Fox River Valleynof Illinois (the Farnsworth House) andnnot include screens to keep out thenmosquitoes and flies. Only Mies couldnbuild an art gallery (the National Gallerynin Berlin) and not include wallsnupon which to hang the paintings.nWho else but Mies could design anbuilding of glass that denies naturalnlight to the people who work there (thenpost office of the Federal Genter, Ghicago)?nMies’s buildings not only fail innpractical terms, they also fail to fulfill anpublic purpose. As Philip Bess, a Chicagonarchitect and critic, has noted,npublic architecture must give publicnexpression to the logic of the institutionsnthat commission it. If this is notndone, both the building and institutionnare the weaker for it: The building isndeprived of the personality that theninstitution would bestow on it, and theninstitution is deprived of a way tonannounce its mission — and be remindednof it. For example, a cathedralnserves both as a pronouncement of thenfaith to nonbelievers and a reminder ofnthe faith to believers. By contrast,nMies’s chapel on the IIT campus mustnbe labeled “Ghapel” to be distinguishednfrom any of his other buildings.nIn truth, the only essence Mies’snbuildings express is that of solipsism.nIt is clear that in Thomistic terms,nnnMies’s “essential” buildings should notnbe called buildings at all. Rather, Miesnbuilt a weird kind of walk-throughnsculpture that, almost by accident,nhappens to be marginally habitable. Inneliminating the influence of “aestheticnspeculators,” Mies appears to havenminimized the importance of the usersnof his buildings and discounted theirnneeds or desires wherever they conflictednwith his art. It is noteworthy thatnMies’s most successful building, thenBarcelona Pavilion, had literally nonfunction whatever — it was meant tonbe walked through and admired, andnnothing else.nThese problems would be tolerablenif Mies were just one architect amongnmany; however, he has been tremendouslyninfluential. His sculptures donreflect the influence of industry; theyndo appear quite “modern,” smooth,nmachine-like, orderly, rational. Ours isnalso a time that values excessively thennotions of idealism and historicism —nin that sense, Mies is quite expressivenof the spirit of the day. You cannotnignore Ludwig Mies when you mustnwork in one of his sculptures or payntaxes to support one or see a classicnbuilding razed to make way for one. Inknow of no other artist who has sonmany victims — no other word is appropriate.nInevitably, the reaction to Mies setnin even before his death. The truencatastrophe, however, is that debate innarchitectural circles, whether for Miesnor against him, is still on his terms. Bynand large, architects still assume thatn”building alone matters” and that truenarchitecture must embody the Zeitgeist.nThere is considerable discussionnabout just what the Geist of the Zeit isnand how best to express it; there is evennsome uneasiness about the sterility ofncontemporary architecture; but fewnseem aware that the assumptions thatnunderlie the discussion are wrong.nThis failure of thought has gone a longnway toward destroying our cities.nMichael Mies, the architect’s father,ninsisted on building for God. MichaelnMies’s God was much more literal —nand more human — than LudwignMies’s spirit. Only when we cease tonfollow Mies van der Robe creating forn”spirit” and “essence,” and insteadnheed Michael Mies and create for Godnand for man, will we begin once againntruly to build.nAPRIL 13881 37n