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TitlePresence of Mies
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Table of Contents
                            Acknowledgments
Contents
Introduction
Practice
Technology
Reworkings
Minimalism
Openings
Afterword
Images
Toronto-Dominion Centre
Contributors
Illustration Credits
Bibliography
                        
Document Text Contents
Page 137

lection of essays published in 1968 under the title Men in Dark Times, Arendt com-

mented on the conditions, which

Heidegger described with uncanny precision in those paragraphs of Being and Time that

deal with “the they,” their “mere talk,” and generally everything that, unhidden and unpro-

tected by the privacy of the self, appears in public. In his description of human existence,

everything that is real or authentic is assaulted by the overwhelming power of “mere talk”

that irresistibly arises out of the public realm, determining every aspect of everyday exis-

tence, anticipating and annihilating the sense or the nonsense of everything the future may

bring. There is no escape, according to Heidegger, from the “incomprehensible triviality” of

this common everyday world except by withdrawal from it into that solitude which philoso-

phers since Parmenides and Plato have opposed to the political realm ... the sarcastic,

perverse-sounding statement “Das Licht der Öffentlichkeit verdunkelt alles” (“The light of

the public obscures everything”) went to the heart of the matter ...2

Given this clear acknowledgement on Arendt’s part of Heidegger’s position, it was

evident that I was obliged to relinquish the too-volatile term Öffentlichkeit. As an

alternative, the related term Offenheit, or “openness,” was proposed. While less

contentious, it seemed to me not only to be less pithy, but also so vaguely related

to the concept of “the public” as to be rather questionable. Still, its appropriateness

to a possible Heideggerian perspective on Mies van der Rohe was evident enough.

Then too, it is worth noting that, even at this early stage of my thinking about

the topic, I was skeptical as to whether it would prove possible to discern any tangi-

ble evidence of a Miesian preoccupation with “the public” in any event, even after

the close re-examination of his oeuvre in this respect, which it was thought my

paper might constitute. Instead, I had a rather opposite impression. Mies’s well-

known preoccupation with the so-called “spirit of the age” would, in all likelihood,

have precluded any profound or considered engagement on his part with matters of

“publicness” or of “plurality.” I had, of course, been influenced in my thinking in this

regard by Fritz Neumeyer’s compelling recent reinterpretation of Mies’s thinking,

The Artless Word.3 Neumeyer has made it newly clear how Mies had sustained an

intense commitment throughout his career to manifest in his works what he saw as

the deep and inexorable forces of the age, be they congenial or uncongenial. A

statement from Mies’s “Baukunst und Zeitwille” of 1924 seems apt: “The individual

becomes less and less important; his fate no longer interests us.”4

Viewed in the light of such a comment, the familiar photomontage from 1953–54

(fig. 2) for the interior of a project for the Chicago Convention Hall can be seen to

manifest a concept of “the public” that has more to do with Jean-Jacques

Rousseau’s fateful concept of the “general will,” or Elias Canetti’s more recent idea

of “the crowd,” than with the much more pluralistic notion of “voluntary association”

that Arendt and others have taken over from Jeffersonian political theory.5

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Page 138

To sum up, given Comay’s reservations (given, as well, my own doubt as to

where my assignment would lead), I agreed to the title “Openings” for the session

she and I would share.

The Historical Context for a Possible Connection between

Mies, Arendt, Guardini, and Heidegger

Prior to her fateful first encounter with Martin Heidegger in 1924, Hannah Arendt

had attended classes given by Romano Guardini at the University of Berlin. For a

short period early in her academic career, Arendt was interested in the “Christian

existentialism” that Guardini represented — particularly in so far as it was derived

from Sören Kierkegaard, whom she admired. But it would appear from the material

published concerning this period of her life that this interest was very short-lived.6

By the time she came under the sway of Heidegger — and subsequently Karl

Jaspers — Arendt’s thinking had moved rapidly onward. Interestingly enough, in

1952, during one of her return visits to Europe, she saw fit to attend a lecture —

which turned out to be highly charismatic and very well-attended — given in

Munich by her former teacher, Guardini. But she described her reaction afterward

in a letter to her husband: “It was moral philosophy on the highest level but

entirely inadequate.”7

In The Artless Word Neumeyer speculates that Mies may have met Guardini for

the first time in November 1925. He shows how Guardini’s influence on the evolv-

ing thinking of the architect grew rapidly over the next two or three years. Indeed,

Neumeyer sees Guardini as having had the decisive, final influence on the forma-

tion of thought that had been in process since the beginning of the decade. Having

begun in a sort of tectonic medievalism deriving from the work of H.P. Berlage, Mies

moved through a phase of keen interest in Naturphilosophie, and then into the

spare and reductivist materialism that he saw as both required and guided by the

“spirit of the epoch.” It was, according to Neumeyer, Mies’s encounter with

Guardini’s thought that moved him from this well-known phase into that of his full

theoretical maturity as an architect, first manifest in the key text of 1928, “The

Preconditions of Architectural Work.” In that text, Mies demonstrated his realization

that the rigorously reductive materialism of his immediately preceding position was,

in fact, insufficient. As Neumeyer puts it,

Guardini called for something with which Mies was in profound agreement: another new,

but not unilateral modernism in which subjective forces were restrained by objective limits,

but in which, conversely, the potentially threatening powers inherent in technology were sub-

ordinated to the subject, to man and his life.8

By 1928, of course, Arendt had become the student of Heidegger, and had also

begun and ended the personal relationship with him that only came to light after

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