Design: His Was the Simplicity That Stuns

Reconsidering Mies, the century's absolute modern master

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's life was well timed. He was born at the right moment (100 years ago next month) and in the right place (prosperous middle Europe) to lead the radical transformation of architecture during the 1920s and '30s. He left his native Germany just ahead of probable persecution by the Nazis, arrived in Chicago just as his austere vision was catching on among U.S. architects and developed his pragmatic skyscraper design just as the war ended and corporate America found itself instantly in need of such a prototype for acres of new high-rise office space.

Even his passing,...