Mies van der Rohe interpreted evil or published evil? The case of the Seagram | Rodrigo Almonacid

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Mies van der Rohe boceto de la perspectiva de acceso al Seagram Building a nivel de calle desde Park Avenue, New York (h. 1955).
Mies van der Rohe´s sketch of the perspective of access to the Seagram Building to level of street from Park Avenue, New York (h. 1955).

I recognize to be carried away about the work of Mies van der Rohe since I initiated my investigations to achieve my first book to publish Mies van der Rohe: the space of the absence (2006). In spite of that this predilection for Grain – in these days, everything one rare avis – takes me again and again on his work, the truth is that I do not stop remaining absorbed whenever I try to face one of his works especially. There it is when humbly one recognizes the enormous difference of talent, is clear. But, Mies was a human being, little the “humanize” probably (if you read the “personal” episodes in Franz Schulze’s Mies van der Rohe: critical biography, already you will say to me), of doubtful convictions (the same thing felt affinity for the communism on having stuck fast to the Friends’ Company of the New Russia of the hand of the not doubtful at all Eduard Fuchs, that one brought the Nazi closer to justify itself and take charge of the project of the Pavilion of Germany for the World Fair of Brussels of 1935) and very succinctly in his words written or pronounced publicly. But the “humanize” in the end, with his enormous talent and his limitations.

I say this not to demythologize his figure (I neither can do not even want), but to bring it over, to make her more tangible, more ours. I insist in ésto because I think that his work is very slightly few, and even worse published for the great public. I do not refer to the critical texts or of investigation that has been piled up throughout the time, but to the graphical publication of his work.

The history, they say, the winners write it, but in case of Grain it seems to be upside-down, so I think that his monographs and more popular studies have distorted his work notably. And they have done it on the basis of an unnecessary simplification of his planes, or, annulling the original sources of the knowledge. It is true that in occasions is needed to re-draw planes they to be accommodated to certain publishing line, which is in the habit of supposing the graphical simplification. But in case of Mies,

Was it / be really necessary? Sincerely I don’t think so.

In any project of Grain the architecture diminishes to almost at all (let’s remember his motto “beinahe nichts”), and his graphical representation also assumes such a condition, in logical coherence (today unfortunately so absent in the contemporary Architecture, except contadísimas exceptions). If to the habitual difficulty for dealing or to come closer the work of the German teacher adds that of the misrepresentation of the message, it does not surprise me that Grain makes to itself almost inaccessible.

Only I will put an example, on which I am investigating recently, to illustrate this reflection: the Seagram Building (1954-58). I will compare the reproductions of this work New Yorker in Werner Blaser’s classic “Paperback” edited in Spain for G.G. and the one that appears in the mentioned book of his “biographer”, Franz Schulze, of the publishing Hermann Blume. And I will remain, for not spreading, with the plant and the image it completes (not partial) of the building in question, simply.

Solo pondré un ejemplo, sobre el que estoy investigando recientemente, para ilustrar esta reflexión: el Seagram Building (1954-58). Compararé las reproducciones de esa obra neoyorkina en el clásico “Paperback” de Werner Blaser editado en España por G.G. y la que aparece en el citado libro de su “biógrafo”, Franz Schulze, de la editorial Hermann Blume. Y me quedaré, por no extenderme, con la planta y la imagen completa (no parcial) del edificio en cuestión, simplemente.

Let’s see separately:

Selección de imágenes para publicación del Seagram Building por W.Blaser (“Paperback”).
Selection of images for publication of the Seagram Building for W.Blaser (“Paperback”).

1ª. In the “Paperback” the plant chosen by W.Blaser is that of the level of street, the most popular, that one that reflects the front square opened between the Park Avenue and the vertical volume. Of his plant almost only we can deduce that it is a question of a building that it rises on props of the level of street on a square reticle of props between which there get accommodated 4 cores of elevators of the tower.

After this principal body we feel a volume served by a stairs central and flanked by other two cores, but nothing more, so he lacks some graphic design that explains his nature or disposition to us. Almost it would seem that this back part does not belong to the Mies´ project.

And it is not of surprising, because the photo of “entire body” of the building that is published is a frontal image from the building of face, with the line of horizon placed to a height very raised with regard to the plane of the soil and with a perfectly symmetrical setting that conceals us (as the representation in plant) what there is after him prism of bronze and dyed glass.

El Seagram Building según F.Schulze en Mies van der Rohe una biografía crítica
The Seagram Building according to F.Schulze in Mies van der Rohe: a critical biography.

2ª. In the “critical biography” F.Schulze narrates the Seagram with the same plant of street, only that this one turns out to be notably more detailed: in the “tower” the carpentries and gyratory doors are read of all I them access to the building, we verify that the “guts” of the cores of elevators are not alone of elevators but they shelter stairs, spaces of service and facilities and emergency exits; and in the later part the squared pattern of props is represented, a few interior divisions forming three pieces, and the closing of glass and exterior amounts that spreads completely even the dividing one of the lot, with a subtle retranqueo in the wall curtain on having attacked to the above mentioned party wall that he us warns of the presence of another type of closing (that then for the photo we will deduce that it is a question 52 and 53 as both income of goods of the building from the streets).

The image that one presents in the page that accompanies the commented plant is a profile setting, as a lateral gathering, which allows us to understand better the complexity of the project in his volumetry: a front prism of great slenderness with his monumental face towards the Park Avenue, helped in his later part for an attached volume that “was blurring” the ideal contour of the tower of 3×5 vain ones on having added other one of 1×3 narrower. If we look thoroughly we see that her added conserve was squeaking the same wall curtain of profiles and breastworks of bronze, but with plates of marble instead of dyed glasses. And this, joined the volumetric question it allows us to understand that this it was squeaking works as a real structural support, authentic prop against the wind of the tower, since it incorporates sendos walls of concrete in prolongation of them of those that they accompany on his two cores of stairs, in perpendicularly to the major width of the prism definitively.

To this reinforcement it is necessary to add the central body that rises over the two lowest wings, rightly occupying the same width of 3 you were squeaking that the body added to the tower, with major depth (3×3 you were squeaking) to help to solve this difficult volumetric transition between the prism and the low body in touch with the soil.

Since you itself could have verified, reading darling, the first description is necessarily brief, since little can be collected of the contributed information. His impression of monumentalidad, of opaqueness, of object imposed on the place categorically it is a message so direct as wrong. From the second one, and not without difficulty, one can extract great more information and to deduce at least a series of topics that will be fundamental to be able to understand the work in future: one at least feels already the principal questions that have orientated the formal, volumetric aspects and up to structural; there are understood much better the use, the hierarchy of the diverse accesses, the scales to which every piece attends inside the set, the idea of prism as screen that “it” “conceals” and that is left to see after the recess in the avenue, etc.

Evidently, none of two explanations is sufficient for yes same, but while the first one scarcely opens one the way for his interpretation, the second one an interest wakes us up for the enormous deductive fertility with scarcely a few information more. Yes few ones, but highly relevant. Because

every element that Grain drew had a meaning and a sense, so much or any more than that it was not drawing..

Rodrigo Almonacid [r-arquitectura] · PhD architect
Valladolid. april 2014

Note:

I would be glad very much to know that this post has served you, reading darling, to continuing your own path in the understanding of this one or other Mies´one acts. Though I do not lavish with equal intensity this affinity towards the work of Le Corbusier or Wright (badly that him in spite of the ultra-wrightiano, FB friend and blogger José Ramón Hernández Correa), I you have to warn that with them (and others) also there have been committed serious injustices (or turpitudes III y IIIrd), only that affect them something less because always they were “more “illustrative” with his stories. If you encourage to dust some Mies´book, you will see that his Architecture contains universal problems and logical solutions (those of Mies are really exceptional in his great majority for his beauty, since recently friend has exposed my FB miesiano and architect – blogger of the year Jaume Prat), something what any architect faces on having tried to approach an architectural project. And if I have obtained it, reading, alone darling I ask you to make me know across the comments of this blog, and you will make me very happy; so much like to repeat with another post for that I wait is so much or more interesting than this one. Thank you in any case. I close here, that so much to treat of the Seagram me has remembered it rich that it was his gin, and it is not a bad occasion to drink for 60 years that have passed since Grain received the order. And less badly, because the alternative was going to be a horrible building done by a few architects of certain commercial success in Miami of whom already you can imagine the result: not with five gin-tonics of Seagram’s it had a pass. Lucky Mr. Seagram listened to the attentive voice of his educated daughter, that if not …

Empecé jugando con el TENTE, luego me manché con la tinta china de los “Rotring”, y acabé estudiando Arquitectura. Cosas que pasan… Me licencié como arquitecto en 1999 con Premio Extraordinario Fin de Carrera (cuando el Autocad era aún proscrito por la mayoría de mis profesores ), y me convertí en Doctor en Arquitectura cum laude en 2013 por la E.T.S. Arquitectura de Valladolid (defendiendo una tesis sobre Arquitectura y Paisaje en la obra de Arne Jacobsen), donde soy profesor desde hace más de una década. Allí desarrollo una de mis pasiones: investigar, reflexionar, escribir y transmitir ese conocimiento. En 2000 abrimos un estudio de arquitectura en Valladolid: [r-arquitectura] , una oficina de tamaño reducido que surfea (¿por el Pisuerga?) entre mil buques adaptándose a las olas según vengan. Así, he crecido como arquitecto, pensando como un sastre: cómo lograr diseñar y construir “trajes a medida” con el mayor esmero posible, y respetando la personalidad del cliente. Así nos hemos ganado la confianza de todos nuestros clientes y de los expertos que premiaron nuestro trabajo en concursos de arquitectura. Y ahí andamos… Desde 2012 me he ido sumergiendo en la red como un niño entusiasmado con su nuevo juguete: empecé en las redes sociales, luego con este blog, más tarde colaborando en blogs de referencia para los arquitectos, y al final me he especializado como experto gracias a un postgrado del IEB.School sobre “Marketing digital y Community Management”. Y todo ello sin perder de vista nunca la Arquitectura. Y si me queda algo de tiempo libre, siempre acabo volviendo a leer a Borges, a Kafka o a Kipling; o a escuchar a Debussy o a Sigur Ros; o a ver (una vez más) una peli de Star Wars con mi familia…
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