Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Of Mies and Mien

Just before my illness I was on secondment in Minneapolis-St Paul [MSP], a ridiculous long moniker for a city that we in Canada would just call Welland. Arriving in Downtown MSP the first thing you notice is that there are NO buildings in the International Style. This immediately tells you that from sometime in the 1950s until the 1990s the town was in decline. Even my home town of St Catharines [Pop 280,000] has a building representing that period.

Today's Google Doodle celebrates the greatest International Style architect of all time, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Mies to his friends. Le Corbusier is a vastly superior visionary, but he never built anything, so that rules him out. Philip Johnson comes close, but his primary contribution is that he moved the International Style into Post Modernism

A little known fact about Mies is that he never lived in his own buildings. For living he adored luxurious fin de siècle 19th Century architecture, so he lived more like Jules Verne than George Jetson, whilst designing buildings whose vernacular is still as fresh as the latest pop song.

Mies has more than a few Canadian connections. Phyllis Lambert, the Bronfman heir, gave Mies his greatest commission in the Seagram Building in Manhattan.

The Toronto Dominion Centre is essentially a clone of that project. Although it is gradually being eroded. The shopping Mezzanine has been destroyed by renovations. However Shawn Micallef tantalizingly informs us there's a Mies van der Rohe-designed Cinema mothballed somewhere in that complex.

My favorite, and the gem I save for last, is that he designed an Esso Station in a suburb of Montreal. This is an almost inconceivable marvel. Imagine a Daniel Liesbkind Chrystal Harvey's in Newmarket. No, really, that's what we're talking about. A purely functional building for a chain franchise in an unremarkable place. Designed and built by the greatest architect of his time at the height of his powers.

Needless to say the owners attempted to demolish it in 2008. Fortunately it was built somewhere French, where culture is air, and the community refused to demolish, somehow acquired it, and it is now a community centre.

Mise à jour - La Station: bâtiment public intergénérationnel

No comments:

Post a Comment