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Monday, 9 December, 2002, 15:06 GMT
Mies Van Der Rohe 1905-1938
Newsnight Review discussed a new exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, of the work of Mies Van Der Rohe the master of structure and space.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)

A good deal of what van der Rohe does I really like, because it's classical. Even though it looks so revolutionary, it's actually very classical. This is a really important exhibition from lots of points of view. It originates from the Museum of Modern Art. Most of what you see there belongs to them, and it's an opportunity for them to put it together and tell the story. It has already been to Germany and Barcelona, and it's very courageous of the Whitechapel to put it on, because it's huge and it's incredibly difficult to hang, which is one reason why we haven't seen as much of it as we might. But, what I find so interesting is that it actually deals with the moment of enlightenment. Which you try to work out just when that happened. Suddenly, up shoots a shaft of light and in come these wonderful experimental spaces. I had thought of him as somebody who doesn't think about the landscape, and it gets completely disproved because of these beautiful drawings in scale from views he couldn't have even seen the buildings at.

I think that the point Germaine made about it integrating it into the landscape is important as well, because one thing when you look at these, you think it would only take someone coming in and putting a bag down in the wrong place to completely skew the whole thing. That's also kind of given people the impression that they're lovely spaces but they're not organic. But what the Tugendhat has, which you mentioned, is absolutely beautiful in an arched bit of land looking out like an eye looking out of the land.

I think the thing that the exhibition did set out to do and did successfully do was knock down that illusion that somehow these are alien things that have landed on the planet and have nothing to do with the landscape. I thought it really succeeded in knocking that over.

I think it's surprising how some of these buildings still look quite shocking, and quite brutal in some ways. I think when you look, you know you get down and you look into the models and you imagine actually walking into them. I mean there was this one, the first really modern one and it's in the same section as his last really traditional house. When you got in and you looked down and you realised it was impossible to see where the entrances were. When at last you had figured out where they were, one of them you had to approach with sort of five flights of stairs and then along a completely blank brick wall and then along a really narrow alley, again bounded by two brick walls that would be higher than you. Past a big glass wall and then under a place where the storey above would overhang you. So suddenly from the light right into pitch black to find this tiny little door. It's so forbidding, it's so inhumane. I could just see in that why people, sometimes when he built houses for people and they turned around and said, "I can't live in this, it's just unliveable." You could see that sometimes.

But what the exhibition does show is that, by separating the structure, so the walls are no longer load-bearing, and then what happened in skyscrapers was the legacy he gave to the rest of the 20th century. OK it may have been destroyed by a system built in the '60s and so forth, but the idea that the possibility that technology could change architecture forever┐

The best bits of the exhibition are those that aren't built - the dreams. One other thing is that we are very struck by the great beauty in this exhibition. They have played to that, they've done these beautiful computer generated things that are all gleaming and glistening and clean, but if you actually look at say these pictures of the Tugendhat House, you know if you look closely at them they are all corroded, the white is filthy, dirty and stained, the paving stones are covered in mould and the steel is corroding. These are the honest pictures. That's what it looks like when it's been built.

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