Georgia Donaldson

Graduate Architect

Mies Van Der Rohe is undoubtedly architecture’s most valuable player.

Why? Because his buildings and ideas are still better today.

It’s appropriate that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day – many architects love Mies the most. I’ve read the books, got the postcards and memorized his quotes. “I don’t want to be interesting. I want to be good”. Being a semi-millennial this strikes a bit of a sore point. What has happened to “good” when we’ve been so busy becoming “interesting”?

MVDR’s work is of open plan spaces, ‘less is more’ simplicity and godly details. I’m not going to give you a biography or an essay of his architecture, but will tell you my experiences.

I recently travelled to New York and naturally, had a hit list of all the buildings I wanted to see, sneakily planning my days around them. One night I happened to walk past the Seagram building, designed by Mies (and Philip Johnson) in 1954. Having been obsessed with skyscrapers from an early age, this would have to be my favourite tower of all time. I felt guilty as I hadn’t planned the run-in. It was so satisfying to see the train track-like I-beams running up to the sky. It’s the perfect combination of ‘inside on the outside’ and it’s my favourite building because of the ideas behind it.




One of the biggest moves was the creation of an open public plaza at the front of the city block. By positioning the tower back from the street Seagram has a presence like no other. The 90 foot front setback allows people to see the building from multiple viewpoints and stand back and admire it. What kind of architect tells their client they are going to build half a building ($) on their lot for the public use? The lost NSA was made up – being the most expensive sale of a skyscraper at the time.




Mies wanted the structure visible. Building codes don’t allow for structural steel without fire protection, so the beams were made out of bronze (why not). They simply celebrate the structure on the outside of the building. A little known fact – Mies wanted uniform control of the façade and he composed the window blinds to only open fully, half way or shut because he didn’t want the blinds to look messy.




Mies’ influence is everywhere. When I lived in Melbourne I walked past the South Yarra Library by Yunken Freeman every day. It’s a black steel rectangle proportioned perfectly on the street corner. It’s essentially an exact replica and homage to Mies’ Crown Hall, another one of my favourite buildings. I would happily crane this onto a block for my own house today.

I hope you enjoyed this piece honouring Mies- we should all take a lesson.