What does “less is more” mean to you?
Tracing back the origin of the phrase invites new perspectives on the concept.
One day in 1907, a twenty-one-year-old architect named Ludwig Mies van der Rohe steps into the office of his supervisor, Peter Behrens. Mies is here to discuss the exterior design plans for west courtyard of the AEG Turbine Factory in Berlin. Unlike the famous, imposing cathedral-like facade of the front factory at street elevation, the west courtyard presents as a utilitarian factory, supported by large columns spaced 5.75 meters apart. “There was nothing to do on this thing,” Mies recalls later. He presents Behrens with a handful of potential facade drawings. After reviewing the draft sketches, Behrens utters three words that will shape the future of Mies’ career, “Less is more.”
Less is more. Mies cannot stop pondering the phrase. Behrens meant it in a literal sense: it would only detract from the design of the building to adorn the west courtyard with unneeded ornamentation. But Mies can’t escape the niggling sense in his mind that he had contributed virtually nothing to the design of the facade, even though he was carrying the draft of the design in his hands! It was almost as if the design was self-evident, dictated by the physical engineering requirements of the building itself.
For Mies, “less is more” evolved into a design principle: the appearance of buildings should not mask their structural components, but visually integrate them. The less you try to hide columns, beams, and joists — but incorporate them into the aesthetics of the facade itself — the more honest and spacious the structure. The artistic quality of the building and the raw technology that makes the building possible should be fused together.
The story of this conversation between Behrens and Mies highlights that from its inception, the concept of “less is more” is open to subjective interpretation.
So, I am curious: what does “less is more” mean to you personally?
Mertins, Detlef. (2014). Mies. London, New York: Phaidon Press. p. 36
Personally, the phrase ‘ less is more’ is a mantra for a particular lifestyle that reflects the simplicity of action, deed and thought. It represents the human need to find value, solace and community by peeling back ‘the onion layers’ of jargon that often impedes genuine relationships. Finding the simple thread that binds us together is far more powerful than accumulating ‘ friendships’ on social media.
Likewise, behind all universal concepts, however complex, is a simple theory/ idea that drives the imagination and creative thought process; complexity often hides the nugget of truth that lay behind ones accomplishments. The success of any discipline is dependent upon enunciating its purpose in clear simple language.
Environmentally, this phrase speaks to our consumer appetite and the ever present need to purchase things for personal enjoyment as if the more we accumulate, the more we will thrive. However, why do we spend over half of our lives buying items and the rest of our lives trying to rid ourselves of the very objects we amassed? Simply put, sometimes ‘ more’ offers us ‘ less’ time and space to rediscover who we are and where are we going. Jane Goodall long ago gave up her possessions to free herself from distractions to live a ‘ more fuller’ life. I am not suggesting that we all adopt this approach to life but we should all re examine how might balance the equation so that ‘ less’ leads us all to a more meaningful and rewarding existence on this planet.
Has there been any discussion about how "less is more" is not so much about a minimalism aesthetic, or about presenting things as their component parts and fully valuing what makes up the core of something (a building, a daily practice, an object) and is likely a way to mask capitalism and the process of production?
Follow me for a moment...
If we consider "less is more" we're able to create more by using less. We we remove all of the unnecessary from something, it provides us more resources over all to generate more of the same.
The process of Japanese production, in my understanding, follows the principles known as "lean." At the very basic elements, this is all about "less is more."
Remove the unnecessary.
Perhaps it is not about valuing and appreciating something for what it truly is. Perhaps it's all about being more efficient, producing more, and making more money.
It's a half formed thought if nothing else.