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The Barcelona Pavilion, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

The Barcelona Pavilion was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1929. It served as the German National Pavilion for the Barcelona International Exhibition, held on Montjuïc. The sleek and elegant design combined with rich natural material presented Mies’ Barcelona Pavilion as a bridge into his future career, as well as architectural modernism.

The structure is a strong representation of the Modernism movement that was taking shape in Europe at that time.  Here the Architecture itself is a form of art as the industrial world moved from delivering quantity to showcasing quality.

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The spirit of the architecture is evident here as it provides tranquility – rather than providing a space for exhibition, the space itself along with the installations is the exhibit. Raised on a plinth of travertine, the Barcelona Pavilion separates itself from its context to create atmospheric and experiential effects that seem to occur in a vacuum that removes all consciousness of the city in which it is housed.

The pavilion’s design is based on a formulaic grid system developed by Mies van der Rohe, that not only serves as the patterning of the travertine pavers, but it also serves as an underlying framework that the wall systems work within.  By raising the pavilion on a plinth in conjunction with the narrow profile of the site, the Barcelona Pavilion has a low horizontal orientation that is accentuated by the low flat roof that appears to float over both the interior as well as the exterior.

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Usage of stone as a material of construction, in this structure, moved from being functional to becoming the display in the structure. In addition to the design, the materials are what give the Barcelona Pavilion its true architectural essence as well as the ethereal and experiential qualities that the pavilion embodies.  The pavilion meshes the man-made and the natural employing four types of marble, steel, chrome, and glass. Technology as it were until a few decades prior to this is now taken for granted as the architect dons the quality of an artist to provide aesthetics, while technology remains a silent partner. This is yet another example of the schism of art and technology. The technology is inherent in the structure and the architect’s role has gone beyond providing space to provide tranquility.

There are 3 points of focus in this structure. The use of Onyx, the Barcelona chair as it came to be known and the sculpture.

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  • Mies van der Rohe designed the Barcelona chair with footrest especially for the Pavilion, a chair lined with pale skin and silvery metal profile, over time, became an icon of modern design. The Barcelona chair is a model that continues to be produced and sold even today.

  • The sculpture – Georg Kolbe sculpture – decorating the pond located in the backyard of the pavilion is a bronze reproduction of Georg Kolbe Dawn by Mies van der Rohe himself.
  • The stunning piece of golden onyx placed in the main space, became the focus of attention for visitors, not only for its size and thickness, and also for his colorful visual appeal.

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The pavilion was dismantled at the end of the exhibition in 1930, but over time this work became a key reference in the history of twentieth-century architecture as well as the path of Mies van der Rohe, which is why in 1980,  promoted by the Catalan architect Oriol Bohigas, began to take shape in the city council the idea of ​​reconstructing the building in its original location. Work began in 1983 and reconstruction was inaugurated in 1986.

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The structure and its installations stand to represent modern Architecture. Mies projected this pavilion simply as a building which would not house art or sculpture, rather the pavilion would be a place of tranquility and escape from the exposition, in effect transforming the pavilion into an inhabitable sculpture.

This piece has been written by editor of Gallopper.com, Ar. Sibani Sarma, as a part of her curriculum for the course “The Architectural Imagination” from Harvard University.