Barcelona Pavilion9 February, 2016
THE DESIGN IS SIMULTANEOUSLY SIMPLE AND COMPLEX, COMBINING A REGULAR STEEL SKELETON STRUCTURE WITH A SPACE THAT IS CHANNELED - FLOWING CONTINUOUSLY FROM ONE SECTION TO THE NEXT, WITH THE WALLS OF GLASS AND ONYX GUIDING VISITORS SEAMLESSLY THROUGH THE BUILDING.
Mies van der Rohe is widely celebrated as one of the pioneers of modern architecture. He is also an esteemed furniture designer, crafting pieces such as the iconic Barcelona chair over the course of his career. He never received any formal training, and instead learned the basic techniques of building from his father, a master mason. Mies adopted the motto, “less is more”, to describe his aesthetic, which is defined by carefully arranging components of his structures to create an impression of simplicity.
The pinnacle of Mies’s European achievements is the Barcelona Pavilion. Constructed in 1929 for the International Exhibition in Barcelona, Mies was granted the freedom to develop an edifice not limited by funding or requirements. As a result, he was able to employ high end materials, like green alpine marble and golden onyx, with a focus on creating a unique spatial flow. The byproduct of this work process was a building that critics acclaim as a milestone of modern architecture.
The design is simultaneously simple and complex, combining a regular steel skeleton structure with a space that is channeled – flowing continuously from one section to the next, with the walls of glass and onyx guiding the visitors seamlessly through the building. As the Pavilion did not incorporate a dedicated exhibition space, the structure itself became the exhibit. This architectural art form was enhanced with the placement of select furnishings and sculptures, and every visible detail was meticulously overseen by Mies, from the lighting fixtures to the heating pipes.
In the small courtyard basin, he installed Georg Kolbe’s Dawn in a position that could be seen from various locations within the building, so that its form was reflected in the water, marble, and glass. This creates the illusion that it is multiplied. This predetermined visual framing is typical of Mies, constructing the space around the artwork to optimise the viewing experience, rather than installing the piece retrospectively.
The original Pavilion remained standing for only a single year, as it was demolished in 1930. The initial plan was for it to be a temporary structure for the exhibition; however, soon after the dismantling, its significance was realised, and ideas turned to a possible reconstruction. Between 1983 and 1986, the Pavilion was finally rebuilt as a permanent structure, modelled on the original plans and staying as close as possible to the form and materials deployed in its fabrication by Mies 50 years before.