This was my first visit to Berlin, and I was thinking about Bauhaus and Mies. Inevitably, the next morning I decided to visit Mies’s Lemke House at the outskirts of Berlin. I arrived there after a U-Bahn ride and a bus connection and was surprised how unassuming and humble that house looked from the street. But when you enter the house you realize that it was not the size of the house that mattered but the quality of living spaces Mies created. The house is full of natural light and his use of glass wall partitions successfully incorporates the garden space into the house.
Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) was probably one of the four or five greatest architects of the 20th century, beside Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright. Before immigrating to America in 1933, Mies was the director of Bauhaus, a school founded by Walter Gropius. The Bauhaus became associated with International style in architecture also known as Modernism. The buildings in modernist style were devoid of ornamentation and placed a greater emphasis on functionality and simplicity of form. Mies coined the famous phrase, “Less is more” which sums up the spirit of the modernist movement in architecture.
Lemke House was built in 1933 for Karl and Martha Lemke, who owned a printing and graphic arts institute. They were the patron of arts and friends of Mies, who often invited business associates to this lakeside house for parties. For the outside of the house Mies picked Holstein red brick. The floor to ceiling glass windows and partitions are made of slim metal frames divided in panels of three, adding symmetry to the clean and elegant horizontal lines of the house. The house and garden compliment each other and the garden is preserved to highlight the connection between indoor spaces and the outside terrace.
The house was furnished by Mies and his then girl friend Lilly Reich. The original furniture was made of wood and not of tubular steel so well associated with Mies. Lemon wood was used for bed and wardrobes and dark ebony was used for desk in the studio.
One thing that becomes apparent from this house was Meis’s approach of using large glass windows to visually connect indoor and outdoor spaces. This theme is ever-present in his buildings from Barcelona Pavilion (1929) to Farnsworth House, (1946) outside of Chicago. Mies understood the materials he employed in the construction of his buildings, mainly glass and steel. He was able to use them with a great deal of elegance and simplicity than any of his contemporaries. Mies had a rare and refined aesthetics when it came to light, space and form. He created living spaces contained by glass and steel diminishing the distinction between indoor living spaces and the outdoors whether it was landscaped garden outside of the house or the blue sky in his highrise buildings. He was undoubtedly a master builder.
Karl and Martha lived in the Lemke House until 1945, when it was taken over by the Red Army. From 1945 until the re-unification of the East and the West Berlin the house had been used as a garage, as an office of the State Security GDR, and a caretaker’s home. The house is now open to public and is preserved by the Berlin Municipality.