At an estate sale over the weekend, I picked up the Detroit Guide, fifth edition, published in 1983. The write-up on Lafayette Park:
MIES VAN DER ROHE TOWNHOUSES
Lafayette at Rivard
In the 20th century, the two major centers of architectural inovation were Chicago, with Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and their followers, and the Bauhaus in Germany. Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe were leaders of the latter group, which also included artists and craftspeople. When Hitler forced the Bauhaus to close prior to World War II, Gropius and Mies van der Rohe came to the United States, where they continued to have a profound influence on architecture. Mies van der Rohe is best remembered for his minimalist Barcelona chair of 1929, Crown Hall and Lakeshore Apartments in Chicago, and his philosophy of “less is more”
The Bauhaus credo said that ornament was unnecessary. Only what is essential for living deserves to be. No frills. This so-called International School typically featured exterior walls of glass which served to bring the outside inside. Furniture was meant to be sparse but of the best design, which translated into expensive. To live up to the Bauhaus ideal, occupants had to keep their possessions at a minimum and what they did decorate their rooms with had to be of the absolute highest standards. Thus, less is more.
Mies van der Rohe did a series of townhouses and a pair of high-rise apartments in Detroit’s Lafayette Park in the 1960’s. The townhouses are regarded by most architects as outstanding examples of the 20th century design. They are hard to see now that the landscaping around them has matured, but the buildings cover a large area at the northeast corner of Lafayette and Rivard. To appreciate them best, you must walk through the complex.
Since owners are responsible for the yards in front and back of their units, the uniformity the architect sought is lacking. Each townhouse consists of a living room, dining room, a small but functional kitchen, three or four bedrooms and two bathrooms. In the basement is a work area and space for a family-style room. A connecting tunnel underground permits discreet removal of garbage. Initially, the units all had black asphalt tiles on the floor. But most owners have since yanked them out or covered them with Oriental rugs. Mies van der Rohe would not approve of what many owners have done to their interiors, filling them with antiques and other clutter. For some, obviously, less is more can be a bore.