This week I am profiling an unbuilt design by Mies Van Der Rohe. This house was commissioned by Ulrich Lange in 1934-5, the son of Herman Lange, one of Mies Van Der Rohe’s wealthy clients. Mies had created other houses for the Lange family in the town of Krefeld, Germany where this house was to be sited. The war and permitting restrictions prevented this project from being realized so it remains just an unbuilt concept. The house itself was to be massive at 45 meters long (aprox 147 feet) by 21 meters wide (aprox 68 feet) yet was utterly devoid of any ornament or articulation. The facade facing the street presents itself as a long brick wall interrupted by an opening in the wall at its center with a curtain wall behind it.
I have to say that this is one of the most compelling house designs I have ever come across and was compelled to learn as much about it as I could. Records indicate that Mies was engaged by Lange in 1934 to design a home for his family. The design development process generated two distinct designs both incorporating an inclosed courtyard. Below are the elevations from the first scheme and the later final approved scheme.
The first scheme separated the house into two wings, a sleeping wing and and a living wing. The two wings were placed at right angles to each other and connected by the curtain walled space while the final design incorporated the two wings into one long volume. In terms of precedent, the Ulrich Lange house is very similar in design to Mies’s Landhaus Lemke house in Berlin in its arrangement of the rooms and use of a L-shaped design. The primary difference between the two designs being that the courtyard space was open in the Lemke design while the Lange house opted for an inclosed courtyard.
Using Mies’s final elevations and images from the computer generated model shown in the video below, I was able to painstakingly reconstruct the floor plan of this design. I had to use intuition and a study of Mies’s style of laying out bedrooms/bathrooms in his previous work as my guides to formulate the exact layout of the floor plan. The house had 4 bedrooms and 4.5 baths with a detached 2-car garage.
Mies appears to have borrowed ideas from his contemporaries to create some of the details in the Ulrich Lange house. The Lange house foyer has a similar skylight to Corbusier’s Villa Savoye(1928) that you are greeted by as you enter the front door. Mies’s unique curving wall in the main living hall is also noteworthy for its similarities to the Villa Malaparte(1938) rooftop wind sail designed by Malaparte four years after Mies’s design for the Lange house.
The house is divided into public and private spaces by a lavish granite wall that defines the rear boundary of the living room. All spaces to the front of the wall are public, while all spaces behind it are private.
Other revolutionary ideas Mies employed were supporting the roof structure over the punctuated wall. Contemporary architects such as Marcio Kogan employ similar strategies as developed by Mies in their work today.
The enclosed courtyard
Mies’s sketches suggest that the walled courtyard should hold some kind of garden, however the possibilities for the space are virtually limitless. The roof high walls make it ideal for a vegetable garden as deer couldn’t possibly jump over the wall and get into the beds. Alternately a swimming pool could be placed in the space. I imagined a sculpture garden divided by brick partitions. This scheme allows for a private viewing of a sculpture from the circular window in the study.
There is so much right with this house that it is hard to find fault with anything, yet circulation seems to be the one aspect that wasn’t as fully developed as it could have been. There appears to be only one entrance/exit into the house at the front door. Given the size of the house and the wealth of its owners, I am surprised that there wasn’t a tradesman’s entrance into the kitchen from the motor court to allow for deliveries to the house without alerting the family’s attention to their arrival. The two-sided curtain wall in the living hall appeared to lack any means of egress out to the enclosed courtyard. I altered the design to accommodate that requirement. Also the detached garage would make carrying the groceries inside more of a hassle in bad weather. The porte corchére did roof the connection between house and garage, but you were still exposed to the elements. However, the issue of carrying groceries probably didn’t even enter into Mies’s mind as those lowly tasks would be handled by servants in all likelihood. I would have also added more skylights into the bathroom/closet spaces in the master bedroom wing as those rooms would be dark without artificial illumination. However, we can’t be too hard on Mies as the house never went beyond the design development phase, so these small oversights which probably would have been corrected had the design progressed further can be forgiven.
A house of this size would be ideally suited for a large estate encompassing tens of acres. To fill up the site, I created an observatory to complement the main house. The parti for the Lange house in its most basic form is a single line, with a beginning and an end point. The antithesis of this is a circular building where a curving line circles infinitely. You can see my photos of the house and its plans for its site in the gallery below.
The video clips shown below are taken from the documentary “Mies in Krefeld” produced by qatsi.tv. These show the Ulrich Lange house and other unbuilt projects designed by Mies.
Original Link to the video and its list of credits.