Mies in Berlin, June 21–May 11, 2001
Curator, Barry Bergdoll: From this photomontage showing Mies's design for a mixed-use building in Stuttgart, it is easy to understand just how revolutionary his architecture really looked during the 1920s. Wrapped entirely in glass, the hard-edged block stands in striking contrast to the traditional masonry buildings around it. Here, Mies grappled with the use of new building technologies, artificial light, and commercial advertising to create a monumental structure that stood out in the city during the day or night. In doing so, he not only accommodated the business concerns of the day but created a modern symbol of Germany's vibrant urban culture.
The building, designed for a 1928 competition, was to house a banking hall and rented retail and office space at a prominent intersection near a railroad station designed by Paul Bonatz. The station, whose design recalled past architectural styles, is shown on the right side of the photomontage. Bonatz, incidentally, was the Stuttgart architect who had criticized the modern architecture of Stuttgart's 1927 Weissenhof housing colony, planned by Mies.
Mies's proposal was to house the shops and offices in an eight-story block facing the street, and to put the banking hall in a three-story wing behind it. The facades were to be clad entirely in glass-clear on the ground floor to allow views into the shops and banking hall, and translucent in the upper stories. When illuminated at night, the whole building would glow like a prism, an idea first expressed by Mies in his 1921 Friedrichstrasse skyscraper. He even suggested that the names of the buildings' commercial tenants be called out in backlit metal letters across the facade, as in the photograph shown to the right.
This combination of architecture and media was rapidly emerging in Berlin during the 1920s and foreshadows the building-as-billboard that we now take for granted in urban districts like New York's Times Square.
The design impressed the judges, who gave Mies an honorable mention. But the commission for the Stuttgart project eventually went to Bonatz and his partner, even though they had only won third prize.