Mies the Dandy
Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Navarra
González-Presencio, M. (2015). ""Mies Dandi"", Revista de Arquitectura, 17, pp. 19-26
El artículo parte de la preocupación de Mies por vestir con distinción y de la elegancia de su obra para ensayar un cruce de correspondencias con la figura del dandi decimonónico y de manera especial con el pensamiento de Baudelaire y su libro El pintor de la vida moderna. No se trata de dilucidar si Mies fue o no fue un dandi o si quiso serlo, sino de considerar su carácter y, sobre todo, su obra a la luz de algunos de los perfiles que el dandismo aporta a la modernidad; de ofrecer una mirada distinta sobre la posición ( individual) del genio alemán en relación con algunas de las cuestiones recurrentes del debate de la vanguardia, especialmente aquellas que hacen referencia a las relaciones entre arquitectura y ciudad.
By considering Mies van der Rohe’s character and his work through the lens of the contributions of dandyism to modernity, this article offers a different perspective on where the German architect stands in terms of some of the recurring questions in the conversation on cutting-edge design, especially those on the relationship between architecture and the city. Dandyism started in England during the Regency period and was embodied in the slender figure of the young George Bryan “ Beau” Brummell. For many, this idle, sophisticated, ascetic youth – who was also melancholic and cynical – represents the true dandy, whereas later generations, who brought intellectual finesse to dandyism, was merely an adulteration. However, it was precisely with the appearance of figures such as Barbey d’Aurevilly, Oscar Wilde and Charles Baudelaire, who epitomized this ideal of dandyism, that the myth of the dandy took shape as an intellectual option. Of particular interest is the comparison between the dandy’s manners and their meaning and the forms of Miesian architecture. In order to pursue this line of thought, let’s look at two key concepts in dandyism: “ the system” and “ strict rules.” For the dandy, rules guarantee freedom. By a similar token, voluntary submission to geometry and repetition does not hinder Mies’s creativity. It is his awareness of the limits that makes his work sublime. Mies has been criticized for creating a Platonic universe, a ceaseless, featureless space where life can scarcely be expected to exist. Dandies also attempt to impose their spiritual superiority on the urban masses by following a set of strict rules, as manifested by precise repetition of the same daily rituals, discretion and refined attire. In America, Mies’s most important urban proposal was the design for the new Illinois Institute of Technology campus. His plan was criticized for its apparent lack of communication with the rest of the city. One criticism of the poetics of Mies’s work is that he avoids reflecting on the context. Instead, he proposes an independent, universally applicable design system apparently unconcerned with the complexity and discontinuity of the contemporary city. However, Miesian reduction can also be seen as a specific response to big cities in terms of order, clarity and efficiency, a systematic repetition that provides security against organic complexity. It is an aristocratic pose that Mies adopts by relentlessly insisting on the same unvarying formula, not out of a sense of superiority or as a stylistic choice, but because of the certainty of the solution. His architectural objects, silent and unyielding, ever beautiful and elegant, can be identified with the figure of the stylish flâneur, who plays the roles of spectator and attraction with respect to the crowds that roam the city. This distinction sets these architectural objects apart from all other constructed masses, just as the dandy’s distinction sets him apart from the crowd. It is based on contention, a formal sobriety that rests on the accuracy of the volumes and the precision of the sections modulating the facades. Dandies achieve it through sober attire and elegant composure.
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