Not many females receive the credit they deserve for being innovators, let alone accredited within the architectural world. Lilly Reich however, is one of few architects and designers during the modernist movement to withhold a prominent standing amidst the architectural world dominated by men. Reich, born in Berlin, started her career as a textile and fashion designer, which was considered a more suitable career for women during this time. She then acquired a position in the Viennese workshop of Joseph Hoffman in 1908. Returning to Berlin in 1911, she became a member of the Deutscher Werkbund, and further went on to become the first female member on the board of directors. She also held a prominent role within the Bauhaus starting in 1932, as director of the weaving workshop and one of the only female teachers of interior design.
Reich meets Mies Van der Rohe in 1926 during her time at the Werkbund, she works and collaborates very closely with him on multiple projects. In particular, the Barcelona chair, one of her most well-known modern furniture designs, was one of their famed collaborative pieces. The chair was designed for the Spanish Royalty for overseeing the opening ceremonies of the exhibition, which references the chair’s historically aristocratic notion to the ancient Roman’s folding chair designs. The initial design was exhibited in 1929 for the International Exposition. In 1950, however, the chair was redesigned, as the frame changed to stainless steel, which did not need bolts to hold it together and would appear a seamless piece of metal, and the cushion material changed from pigskin to bovine leather. Most accreditation is given to Van der Rohe for the design of this chair, yet Reich’s role in the design was just as involved.
Reich’s background as a fashion and textile designer, is evident within the Die Mode der Dame exhibition, of 1927, in which her and Van der Rohe were commissioned to create a stand for the German silk industry for women’s fashion. The result was the Cafe Samt and Seide. Her preliminary profession in the textile industry, enhances the exhibition piece, relating her famed skill in textiles and exhibition design, as well as her interior design aesthetic. Here, like most of her other exhibition designs, the raw materials share the focal point with the products fashioned from them. The elements exhibited are the elements which define the space through the different colored silks and velvets hanging at different heights to organize the continuous exhibition space. The central concept was related to flowing or unrestricted space developed through the partitions of the velvet and silk materials. The exhibition explores ideals of an open space concept that modern architects were beginning to explore.
Many of her exhibition designs focus less on the applications of materials, but their inherent visual characteristics and their flexible ability to vary in form. The Dwelling of Our Time, a German Building Exposition, Reich displays numerous finishing and furnishing materials in collaboration with Van der Rohe’s house, as well as her own. They were viewed as a “his and her domestic design pair,” in which they were connected by a single wall. This proved that Reich was capable of excelling in a field where women were not usually accepted. They featured this new idea of open floor plans representing the ideals of modernism. Her designs for the materials display, relates finishes and furnishings in context with the architecture itself, it is a whole idea, not meant to function in isolation. It also relates the human presence to aesthetic considerations in regards to the architectural design, the relationship between object and space.
Reich’s exhibition designs, portray her attention to detail and her focus on the importance of materiality, not just as an application to a pre-existing design, but as the focal point of architectural space. Her close relationship with Mies Van der Rohe, was a turning point not only in her career, but his as well. Their collaborative works have been highly regarded and recognized. For women of this era, it seems the only way to success in a male dominated field, is to join forces with a well established male figure. Although some of her architecture and furniture designs are so closely linked to Van der Rohe, her strong reputation stems from her series of exhibition designs which introduced many of the modernist ideals.
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Miller, Wallis. “Constructing Identity.” The Dwelling of Our Time: Surface, Space, and German Identity (n.d.): 348-53. University of Kentucky. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
Miller, Wallis. “Mies in Berlin.” Documents.mx. Ed. Terrance Riley and Barry Bergdoll. Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2001. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.
Muschamp, Herbert. “A Modernist Steps Out Of the Shadows.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 08 Feb. 1996. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.
Schuldenfrei, Robin. “Questions of Fashion by Lilly Reich.” West 86th – Questions of Fashion by Lilly Reich. Trans. Annika Fisher. West 86th: Journal of Decorative Arts, Design, History, 17 Oct. 2014. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.