Lilly Reich - The woman behind Mies furniture

January 3, 2024

Lilly Reich - The woman behind Mies furniture design successes


From her early work with the Wiener Werkstätte to her influential contributions to the Bauhaus School, Lilly Reich was a pioneering architect who shaped modern architecture and design. Learn more about her collaborations, particularly with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who left an indelible mark on the world of design despite the challenges she faced in a male-dominated field.



Lilly Reich (1885-1947) was a prominent figure in the modern movement of architecture. At an early age, she joined the Wiener Werkstätte, a visual arts production company led by the Austrian architect Josef Hoffmann. Later, Reich was the first woman to be elected to the board of the Deutscher Werkbund, a German association of artists, architects, designers, and industrialists established in 1907. The mission was to promote German design on the global market, and the Werkbund became an essential element in the development of modern architecture and industrial design, particularly in the later creation of the Bauhaus School of Design.


Lilly Reich was appointed the artistic director of Germany's appearance at the Barcelona International Exposition in 1929. The German government had made its aspirations for the pavilion clear: the building represented "our desire to be absolutely truthful, giving voice to the spirit of a new era."

The commission to design the pavilion went to the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969), who later became one of the most recognized architects of the 20th century. For the Barcelona exhibition, Mies created a modernist radical expression with free-flowing surfaces limited by marble, mirror chrome, glass, and onyx.

The pavilion became a major attraction at the exhibition, as did the MR 90 lounge chair, later named the Barcelona chair.


Three years later, Lilly Reich was asked to join the Bauhaus School to direct their interior design workshop. Bauhaus was the ground-breaking school of modernist art, design, and architecture but was closed down by the Nazi party when risen to power in 1933.


Despite her exceptional contributions to modern German architecture Lilly Reich became famous after her death, primarily because she collaborated with Mies van der Rohe. Mies became the last director of the Bauhaus School, but considering the Nazism's strong opposition to modernism, Mies emigrated to the United States in 1938.


Lilly Reich and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe were partners for some years, and people publicly speculated that Reich may have been responsible for some of van der Rohe's successes in designing furniture. But as often happens to women, Reich was overshadowed by her famous male partner.

”It became more than a coincidence that Mies's involvement and success in exhibition design began at the same time as his personal relationship with Reich... It is interesting to note that Mies did not fully develop any contemporary furniture successfully before or after his collaboration with Reich.”

ALBERT PFEIFFER – KNOLL INTERNATIONAL  

Learn more about Lilly Reich here.

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