Keywords Change this

Women In Architecture

Birth date / place

June 16th 1885, Berlin, Germany

Selected Architecture

Practice / Active in Change this

Berlin, Germany

Linked to Change this

Josef Hoffmann
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Article last edited by Bostjan on
December 13th, 2016

Lilly Reich Change this

Change thisBerlin, Germany
born 1885, Berlin
1 of 2

About Change this

Lilly Reich (June 16th 1885 – December 14th 1947) was a German modernist designer. She was a close collaborator of Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe. Lilly Reich was born in Berlin, Germany in the year 1885. She started her career as a designer of textiles and women's clothes. This experience was to be formative for her - giving her a particular interest in contrasting textures and materials, and specific skills with regard to the use of textiles in furniture.

Early professional career

In 1908 she put her embroidery training to use when she went to Vienna to practice at the Wiener Werkstätte, or Vienna Workshop, a visual arts production company of designers, artists, and architects. There she worked in the studio of Josef Hoffmann.

She made it back home to Berlin in 1911 and began to design furniture and clothing on her own account. At the same time she worked as a shop window decorator. In 1912 she joined the Deutscher Werkbund, or German Work Federation, a group similar to the Vienna Workshop whose purpose was to help improve the competitiveness of German companies in the global market. In the same year she designed a sample working-class flat in the Berlin Gewerkschaftshaus, or Trade Union House.

It received much praise for the clarity and functionalism of the furnishings. She contributed work to the Werkbund exhibition in Cologne in 1914. In 1920 Lilly became the first woman elected to the governing board of the Deutscher Werkbund. From 1924 to 1926 she worked at the Messeamt, or Trade Fair Office, in Frankfurt. Here, she was in charge of organizing and designing trade fairs.

Collaboration with Mies van der Rohe

It was at the Trade Fair Office that she met Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who was vice president of the Deutscher Werkbund. This sparked a period of involvement with furniture design for van der Rohe as the two collaborated on many projects together. She was van der Rohe's personal and professional partner for 13 years from 1925 until his emigration to the US in 1938. It is said that they were constant companions, working together on curating and implementing exhibitions for the Werkbund, as well as designing modern furniture as part of larger architectural commissions such as the Barcelona Pavilion in 1929 and the Tugendhat House in Brno.

The Barcelona chair

Two of van der Rohe's and Reich's best known modern furniture designs are the Barcelona chair and Brno Chair. In 1927 the two worked on “Die Wohnung” in Stuttgart for the Werkbund. She designed many interiors for this exhibition including “Wohnraum in Spiegelglas.” During her career she designed store windows, exhibition displays, and fashion. In 1929 she became the artistic director who was to be responsible for the German contribution to the Barcelona World Exposition. This is where the famous Barcelona chair made its first appearance. However, Lilly Reich is rarely mentioned in textbooks nor given proper credit for her contributions.

Albert Pheiffer, Vice President of Design and Management at Knoll, has been researching and lecturing on Reich for some time. He points out that: "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."

Later years

In 1932 Lilly was asked by van der Rohe to teach at the Bauhaus and direct the interior design workshop. At the school she was one of the first female teachers. Unfortunately for Reich, the Bauhaus was closed shortly after in 1933 by the Nazis. This cut her career short. In 1938, just before the Second World War, Mies emigrated to the U.S. Reich continued to manage his affairs in Germany, until her death. She eventually visited him in America in September 1939, but did not stay, returning instead to Berlin.

Her studio was bombed in 1943, and she was sent to a forced labour organization where she remained until 1945. After her release at the end of the war, she was instrumental in the revival of the Deutsche Werkbund, but died in Berlin before its formal re-establishment in 1950. she also started to teach again at the Hochschule für bildende Künste but not for long because she became ill and had to resign. She died a few years later in 1947 in Berlin.



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