fbpx

Women in Architecture: Lilly Reich

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re spotlighting an often overlooked contributor to the Modernist Movement, Lilly Reich. Popularly known for being a close confidant and collaborator of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Reich was a spearhead of the times in her own right, contributing many acclaimed designs that are still prominent today. Learn more about her extraordinary life and work below:

The Life of Lilly Reich

Lilly Reich was born on June 16, 1885, in Berlin, Germany. Throughout her childhood and early adult life, many of her interests belonged to the arts and crafts, specifically embroidery. At 23 years old, Reich traveled from Germany to Vienna, Italy, where she found work at Josef Hoffman’s visual arts production company. Reich continued to explore her passion for embroidery in Vienna, and thanks to the many other artists and designers who worked with her, she eventually discovered new mediums, including textile, clothing, and even designing store windows. 

In 1911, Reich returned to her home in Berlin, where she was determined to find a career. Less than a year after moving back, she became a member of the Deutscher Werkbund, or German Work Federation. After shifting her design focus from textile and clothing to other forms of design like furniture and interiors, Reich’s professional reputation quickly blew up. And, in 1920, after eight years in the Deutscher Werkbund, she became the first woman elected to its governing board. 

A tubular steel footed daybed designed by Lilly Reich and Mies van der Rohe
A tubular steel footed daybed designed by Reich and Mies for a client, 1930, Courtesy of MOMA

Reich was working at Frankfurt’s Trade Fair Office in 1924 when she first met Mies. They immediately formed a connection that sparked a decades-long period of collaboration between the two. Continuing her dominance in design at the time, Reich became the creative director for Germany’s contribution to the Barcelona World Expo in 1929. The Expo’s most notorious contribution included the Barcelona Chair, which was designed by Mies and Riech respectively. Reich and Mies continued collaborating until his emigration to the United States in 1938. 

The Work of Lilly Reich

Reich’s ambition and adaptability also carried over into her career. While working with Mies, Reich designed several furniture series of tubular steel – one of the only women doing so at the time besides Charlotte Perriand. Inspired by the modern technology and materials of the time, she contrasted the coolness of steel with warm materials such as wood and leather – a staple of her creations. The furniture designs included everything from chairs and tables to bed frames and day beds. 

A design sketch of a cooking cabinet that takes the appearance of a closet.
Designs for Apartment for a Single Person, Lilly Reich, 1931, Courtesy of MOMA

Reich’s contribution to interior design expanded beyond furniture. In 1931, for the German Building Expo in Berlin, she embraced the ideals of domestic reformers of the time and designed Apartment for a Single Person. A radical idea for the time period, the design featured a cooking cabinet that took the appearance of a closet. However when opened, it revealed a sink, shelves, drawers and plenty of counter space. 

As a woman in her field during the early 20th century, Lilly Reich found a way to break traditional barriers and establish herself as a leader of the Modernist Movement. Whether collaborating with other visionaries like Mies or contributing her own ambitious designs, Reich always found a way to leave her mark on society, securing a legacy few can achieve.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and His Role in the Chicago Skyline

Mid-Century Modernism defines the Chicago skyline. Organic forms rise from Chicago’s foundation and cast shadows across the Lake while innovative use of glass reflects waves of light onto the city streets. The Willis Tower, Marina City, the Aon Center are all notable examples of the mid-century modern masterpieces towering over the city.

Chicago’s mid-century modern skyline would not be complete without the exceptional contributions of architecture titan Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Born 1886 in Germany, Mies emigrated to Chicago in the 1930s due to the rise of Nazism in Europe. Already an esteemed architect, in Chicago Mies accepted the position as head of the architecture school at the Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology). At IIT, Mies was commissioned to design buildings for the campus which still stand today. These buildings include Alumni Hall, the Carr Memorial Chapel, and S.R. Crown Hall, some of Mies’ many masterpieces. 

860-880 Lake Shore Drive
860-880 Lake Shore Drive

Mies aspired to create architecture that represented modernity with clarity and simplicity. In 1951, Mies completed the two residential buildings of 860-880 Lakeshore Drive which are considered Chicago Landmarks and are listed as National Historic Places. Initially, the towers were viewed critically. However, with time the buildings became the prototype for steel and glass skyscrapers around the world.

Mies also designed Chicago’s Federal Center Plaza which is composed of three buildings; the Everett McKinley Dirksen courthouse building, the John C. Kulczynski building, and the Post Office building. The three buildings situate themselves around a plaza with Calder’s red Flamingo sculpture at the center. The plaza serves as one of the main gathering points in the Loop, Chicago’s commercial center. 

Chicago’s Federal Center Plaza
Chicago’s Federal Center Plaza

Not too far away at 330 North Wabash sits the former IBM Plaza and Building, one of the last American projects designed by Mies. Built in 1973, the building was designed with advanced technology in mind and became well-known for the several atypical features it included as an office space at the time. Today, the Chicago Landmark is known as the AMA Plaza and includes the Langham Hotel, often regarded as one of the best hotels in the nation.

The Promontory, situated at 5530 S Shore Dr, stands 22 stories over Chicago’s Promontory Point and extensive shoreline in the Burnham neighborhood. Mies built the structure with a “Double T” design in which horizontal cross-bars join and the stems of the T’s form wings to the rear. Mies would employ this design in many of his future buildings. 

The Farnsworth House
The Farnsworth House

The Farnsworth House, designed as a vacation retreat for Dr. Edith Farnsworth, is located just outside of Chicago in Plano, Illinois. Though the Farnsworth House is not a grand skyscraper, it has left a lasting impact on the Chicago architectural landscape. The house was an exploration for Mies in the convergence of humans, shelter, and nature. Consisting of a glass pavilion raised six feet above a floodplain beside the Fox River, the house has been described as “sublime” an “a poem” and is now a public museum.

Today, Chicago’s skyline has completely transformed from what it was more than 50 years ago when Mies passed. However, even as it continues to evolve with every new development, Mies iconic buildings still stand out as striking, inspiring architectural masterpieces.

person name goes here

Maintenance Supervisor

Glencoe, IL





    Acceptable file types: *.pdf | *.txt | *.doc, max-size: 2Mb