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Friday, November 5, 2010

Lilly Reich

An icon of modern classic design and an international symbol of good taste, the Barcelona chair is one of the classiest chairs you can own. It is so much a part of the modern interior landscape that we might be forgiven feeling a certain familial loyalty to it and to its designer, Mies Van Der Rohe. Yet the Barcelona Chair was not designed by Mies alone. Multiple records state conclusively that this honor should be shared by his co-designer, a female architect and designer by the name of Lilly Reich (1885–1947). Many people maintain that Mies never intended to take all the credit for the Barcelona chair. He never denied her contribution, but his quiet nature did not make him a vocal supporter either.

Confined to traditionally acceptable female careers, Lilly Reich began her working life as a designer of textiles and women's apparel, but in 1912 she joined the Deutsch Werkbund, an organization often credited with sowing the first seeds of modern design and the precursor to the Bauhaus School. She worked in the studio of the famous Bauhaus designer Josef Hoffman, and by 1915 she had developed a professional reputation sufficient to be given increasing levels of responsibility at the Werkbund. In 1920 she became the first female to be made director of the Deutsch Werkbund.

It was also through the Werkbund that Reich met Mies and became his personal and professional partner. In the twelve years leading up to 1938, when Mies emigrated to the US, they were inseparable. Even after Mies left Germany, Lilly Reich continued to manage his personal and business affairs until her own death. She was at least as skilled a designer as Mies and was probably more articulate than he. Those who knew them regard her as the detail and execution person and Mies the broad conceptualist.

In 1939 Lilly visited Mies in the US but unfortunately did not stay. Shortly after her return to Germany, war broke out. In 1943 her studio was bombed. Luckily, when the bombing started she had moved 4000 drawings, including 900 of her own and 3100 of Mies’, to a farmhouse outside of Berlin to protect them.

Reich was drafted into a forced labor organization from 1943 to 1945. After her release and before her untimely death in 1947, she was instrumental in reviving the Werkbund, although it did not receive full legal status until three years after her death.

In addition to the Barcelona chair (also known as the Pavilion chair), Reich most likely deserves co-designer honors for the Brno chair, as well as several pieces of furniture in the famed Tugendhat House.


Bookcase, Tugendhat House

Cabinet, Tugendhat House

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