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Werner Buch (1917-2007)

Dates of Interview:

January 25, 1989

Location of Interview:

Buch's home in Darmstadt, Germany


Inez Dresel, in German;
translated by Rolf Achilles into English

Length of Transcript:

59 pages
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Biographical Summary

Werner Buch was born in 1917 in Bad Neuenahr, Germany, and studied architecture at the Technische Hochschule in Berlin. From 1938 until 1941 he traveled and studied in the United States, first at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, and then in Chicago at the University of Chicago and at the Illinois Institute of Technology with Mies van der Rohe. Buch returned to Germany during World War II and worked in the aircraft industry in Halle/Saale, flying in the Wehrmacht. After the war, while working for Radio Frankfort as a newswriter and editor, he continued to study architecture at the Darmstadt Institute of Technology where he earned his principal diploma in 1952 and Ph.D. in 1961. In 1955 he began to teach there and did so until 1982. Since 1966 Buch has also practiced architecture independently. Buch died in Berlin, Germany on January 20, 2007.

Interview Highlights

Buch speaks about his architectural studies in Berlin; interest in the United States; studying with Mies van der Rohe; his personal relationship with Mies; Ludwig Hilberseimer; the Barcelona Pavilion; his last days in Chicago; returning to Germany via Japan and Russia; his arrival in Germany; Mies and Hugo Haring; Mies and Heinrich Tessenow; working in the armament industry; further study of architecture in Darmstadt; Lilly Reich; his interest in technical problems; the Edith Farnsworth House; and his work as an architect and engineer.

Architecture by Mies van der Rohe, exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago, 1938-1939.
Institutional Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Interview Excerpt

"We know Mies read a lot and thought intensively. The essentials he would compress into a short, clear formula. There was no room for speculation and rhetoric in his teaching. He was for the concrete, he was for work. With the generation of 1968 he would not have had much sympathy with their fixation on the sociological, psychological, political, with their constant discussions, back-stabbing inquiries, criticizing and so forth. He had had similar experiences when he took over the Bauhaus from Hannes Meyer. The politically radical students did not give up delivering noisy oratory in the cafeteria. The classrooms and study rooms were empty. With a note of satisfaction, Mies explained his first official activity: he had the cafeteria closed and brought the students back to their workplaces. He liked this story so much that he told it to me often, and in German. We must have been alone then. Also in German, he related his efforts of keeping the Bauhaus going in Berlin after the Nazi takeover. He wanted architecture, not politics. He finally realized that that would not be possible and that for the Nazis architecture was also National Socialist politics. These conversations did not fit with the image of Mies as the man of a few well-chosen words. On these occasions, he even showed something like compassion. Later I didn't remember specifics, but only my feelings of rage and shame that we drove such a man as Mies out of Germany. Later, the theme of architecture and politics occupied me very much." (p.8)

Funding for this oral history was provided by the Seymour H. Persky Fund for Architecture at The Art Institute of Chicago.
Publication of this oral history in web-accessible form was made possible by the generous support of The Vernon and Marcia Wagner Access Fund at The Art Institute of Chicago, The James & Catherine Haveman Foundation, The Reva and David Logan Family Fund of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, and Daniel Logan and The Reva and David Logan Foundation.