The modern city, with its towers of glass and steel, can be at least in part attributed to the influence of architect Mies van der Rohe. Equally significant, if smaller in scale, is Mies' daring design of furniture, pieces that exhibit an unerring sense of proportion, as well as minimalist forms and exquisitely refined details. In fact, his chairs have been called architecture in miniature exercises in structure and materials that achieve an extraordinary visual harmony as autonomous pieces or in relation to the interiors for which they were originally designed.
Mies van der Rohe began his career in architecture in Berlin, working as an architect first in the studio of Bruno Paul and then, like Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius, Peter Behrens. In the mid-1920's, he began to design furniture, pieces that he conceived and created for particular interiors. In 1927, he met Lilly Reich, a Bauhaus alumnus who collaborated with Mies on his first versions of a cantilevered chair with a tubular steel frame. The cantilevered chair had a curved frame that exploited the aesthetic, as well as the structural possibilities of this material. Their experiments culminated in the virtuoso Brno chair designed between 1929 and 1930 with a chromed flat steel frame.
Two years later, Mies and Lilly Reich designed what is perhaps his most famous creation. Created for the German Pavilion at the Barcelona International Exhibition, the Pavilion chair was intended as a modern throne; a thick cushion upholstered in luxurious leather and set upon a curved metal frame in the shape of an X inspired by classical furniture. Perfectly proportioned and finished, the simple chair exuded an air of elegance and authority.
In 1938, Mies emigrated from Europe and moved to Chicago. The rest of his career was devoted to promoting the Modernist style of architecture in the U.S., resulting in rigorously modern buildings such as the Farnsworth House and the Seagram Building, designed with Philip Johnson. Perhaps the best summation of his work is Mies' own: thoughts in action.