Grandfather Mies

Grandfather Mies
His grandson Dirk Lohan is also an architect and became committed to the ethos of truth

The resemblance to his grandfather in stature and facial features is unmistakeable: Dirk Lohan is the grandson of Mies van der Rohe or, more precisely, the son of Mies’ second daughter Marianne. Lohan was born in Rathenow, which is about 70 kilometres west of Berlin, in 1938. This is the same year that Mies left Germany to take over the Architecture Department at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago. Lohan initially met his grandfather in 1952 during the latter’s first visit to Germany after the war. In the late 1950s, Lohan went to the ITT as an architecture student. At the age of 19, he already had the opportunity to gain his first experience at Mies’ booming architecture office of that era, but then returned to Germany once again. He received his Diploma in Architecture from the Technical University of Munich in 1962 and already collaborated on his grandfather’s projects in North America during the same year. In the years that followed, he was involved in Mies’ important projects – such as the Toronto Dominion Centre and the Federal Center in Chicago.

Since Mies never really felt at home in the English language, his grandson became his closest confidant and conversation partner. They cultivated a jour fixe on Thursday evenings for a period of seven years until Mies’ death in 1969, during which they talked about everything and anything and Mies explained his philosophy of building to him.

Mies had to rely on a wheelchair for the last ten years of his life and he had to cut back his work due to arthritis. His grandson also became an important source of support for him in the office as a result. Lohan assumed a major role in the organisational management of Mies’ last large building project, the New National Gallery in Berlin.

Er hat die Moderne nicht verschlafen: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe  während eines Aufenthaltes in Pura/Tessin, auf einer steinernen Bank liegend, Oktober  1933

Er hat die Moderne nicht verschlafen: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe während eines Aufenthaltes in Pura/Tessin, auf einer steinernen Bank liegend, Oktober 1933

Gerade in Dessau zu sehen: Ludwig Glasers Blick auf das Federal Center in Chicago, das Mies zwischen 1959 und 1964 baute.

After Mies’ death in 1969, Lohan initially continued running the company with two of his grandfather’s former students under the name of Office of Mies van der Rohe. Starting in 1975, they operated under the name of Fujikawa, Conterato, Lohan & Associates; they subsequently used the acronym of FCL. Since 2004, the name of the firm has been Lohan Anderson. Lohan is now one of five directors and responsible for the design work and long-term strategy of the firm, which is among the major and leading offices in the fields of architecture, urban and landscape planning and interior design in the USA.

In 1972, Lohan assumed the restoration of the Farnsworth House, which was originally built by Mies in the years 1950-1951.

Lohan‘s first contract of his own was a major project from the start: Building the headquarters of the McDonald’s hamburger chain as a corporate campus, which was a loose collection of individual buildings with stone and brick facades placed on the grounds of a tree-covered meadow with a size of more than 32 hectares. Training and research centres, offices, seminar rooms, auditoriums and accommodations were part of the building program.

At first glance, Lohan‘s later designs hardly have anything in common with the modern rigorism of Mies van der Rohe. This applied to other corporate campuses that were commissioned and the many office buildings in the city centre that Lohan built since the 1980s or even the Oceanarium in Chicago.

Yet, there is one exception. Lohan wanted to build the glass high-rise, which was once designed by Mies in the 1920s, at Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse railway station in 1992-1993. Mies’ project was a utopian dream in his day. Lohan could have realized the building with modern technology about 70 years later. However, this and some of Lohan’s other large projects in Berlin after the fall of the Wall were left unrealized. These included the America Memorial Library, the Olympic Hall and the American Business Centre. With great hopes, Lohan had opened his own office in Berlin just for this purpose. However, Lohan did not build anything during his brief interlude in Berlin.

Lohan’s building philosophy is committed to the ethos of truth, just like that of Mies. However, Mies’ view that architecture – if it is good – is always an expression of its time (spatially-conceived will of the time) was adapted by Lohan as a consideration of the contexts. Regional traditions and the local environment are not simply ignored in his buildings. His perspective differs in this regard from that of Mies, who believed in building the same way anywhere in the world. On the other hand, Lohan’s use of currently available technology is somewhat similar to Mies’ approach. Above all, the energy efficiency of buildings – which was ignored during Mies’ times – is an important topic for Lohan in this regard.

It was Lohan’s destiny to learn from one of the greatest architects of modernity and then be forced to prove and assert himself as an architect in postmodern times. The will of the time – at the very latest since the 1980s – no longer tolerated modern purism. The consequence was that Lohan “humanised” modernity within the sense of his contextualism and enriched it with variations and textures, as he expressed it, in order to create individual buildings.

During his visit in Germany on the occasion of various events for the anniversary of his grandfather’s 125th birthday on 27 March 2011, Lohan said: “When I work, I don’t constantly think about how Mies would do this and what would Mies say?” Things also work without doing this. In any case, Lohan’s office cannot complain about a lack of work.

Ronald Berg

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