In his life, which lasted from 1886-1969, architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was the architecture director of Germany’s Bauhaus, that bastion/think tank of artistic progressivism, and then — after getting away from the Nazis — he led U.S. architecture into the 20th century with his Chicago high rises, college buildings and New York’s iconic Seagram Building, pretty much on everyone’s short list of great Modernist buildings. And yet the starting point of this concise but imaginative, artfully photographed and superbly edited documentary is a gas station he designed near the end of his life for a new community in Montreal.
Why, after all his accomplishments, would Mies want to design a gas station, directors Joseph Hillel and Patrick Demers ask. The answers aren’t all that simple: Everyone wanted to design something in Montreal around the time of Expo ’67, and it turns out Mies’ colleagues did most of the work. But it’s also a beautiful building, worthy of admiration for applying form to function in a way that’s harmonious with the surrounding environment.
The directors use that gas station as a stylish, evocatively symbolic starting point for a look at the cigar-smoking architect whose observation “less is more” has become a mantra for contemporary life. Among those interviewed are Rem Koolhaas and Joseph Fujikawa (who worked with Mies), and the film also visits and observes such other buildings of his as Seagram, Ill., Institute of Technology and the breakthrough steel-and-glass towers at 860-880 Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. Grade: B