What is it?
The Barcelona Pavilion designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, was the German Pavilion for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona, Spain. This building was used for the official opening of the German section of the exhibition and it is important in the history of modern architecture for its simple form and its spectacular use of extravagant materials, such as marble, red onyx and travertine. The same features of minimalism and spectacular can be applied to the prestigious furniture specifically designed for the building, among which the iconic Barcelona chair.
Where is it?
Barcelona is the capital city of the autonomous community of Catalonia in Spain and the country’s 2nd largest city, with a population of 1.6 million within its administrative limits; its urban area extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of around 4.5 million people, being the sixth-most populous urban area in the European Union after Paris, London, Madrid, the Ruhr area and Milan. About five million people live in the Barcelona metropolitan area. It is the largest metropolis on the Mediterranean Sea, located on the coast between the mouths of the rivers Llobregat and Besòs, and bounded to the west by the Serra de Collserola mountain range, the tallest peak of which is 512 metres high.
Mies’s response to the proposal by von Schnitzler was radical: after rejecting the original site because of aesthetic reasons, Mies agreed to a quiet site at the narrow side of a wide, diagonal axis, where the pavilion would still offer viewpoints and a route leading to one of the exhibition’s main attractions, the “Spanish Village”. The pavilion was going to be bare, no trade exhibits, just the structure accompanying a single sculpture and purpose-designed furniture (the Barcelona Chair). This lack of accommodation enabled Mies to treat the Pavilion as a continuous space; blurring inside and outside. “The design was predicated on an absolute distinction between structure and enclosure—a regular grid of cruciform steel columns interspersed by freely spaced planes”.
However, the structure was more of a hybrid style, some of these planes also acted as supports.The floor plan is very simple. The entire building rests on a plinth of travertine. A southern U-shaped enclosure, also of travertine, helps form a service annex and a large water basin. The floor slabs of the pavilion project out and over the pool—once again connecting inside and out. Another U-shaped wall on the opposite side of the site also forms a smaller water basin. This is where the statue by Georg Kolbe sits. The roof plates, relatively small, are supported by the chrome-clad, cruciform columns. This gives the impression of a hovering roof.
Robin Evans said that the reflective columns appear to be struggling to hold the “floating” roof plane down, not to be bearing its weight. Mies wanted this building to become “an ideal zone of tranquillity” for the weary visitor, who should be invited into the pavilion on the way to the next attraction. Since the pavilion lacked a real exhibition space, the building itself was to become the exhibit. The pavilion was designed to “block” any passage through the site, rather, one would have to go through the building. Visitors would enter by going up a few stairs, and due to the slightly sloped site, would leave at ground level in the direction of the “Spanish Village”. The visitors were not meant to be led in a straight line through the building, but to take continuous turnabouts. The walls not only created space, but also directed visitor’s movements. This was achieved by wall surfaces being displaced against each other, running past each other, and creating a space that became narrower or wider. Another unique feature of this building is the exotic materials Mies chooses to use.
Plates of high-grade stone materials like veneers of Tinos verde antico marble and golden onyx as well as tinted glass of grey, green, white, as well as translucent glass, perform exclusively as spatial dividers. Because this was planned as an exhibition pavilion, it was intended to exist only temporarily. The building was torn down in early 1930, not even a year after it was completed. However, thanks to black-and-white photos and original plans, a group of Spanish architects reconstructed the pavilion permanently between 1983 and 1986.