Skip to content

The Barcelona (German) Pavilion

Updated Monday 26th November 2001

Freed from the need for a building to have a function, the pavilion could allow modernism to be at its most extreme.

The Barcelona Pavilion Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: degreezero2000 under CC-BY-SA licence

Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, (Germany)


Construction Date:
(demolished the same year, reconstructed in 1986)

Barcelona, Spain

Welcome to Germany

The only practical function of the Barcelona Pavilion was to host the King and Queen of Spain as they signed the visitors' book at the Barcelona International Exhibition in 1929. It was not intended to exhibit the works of German manufacturers, but was rather supposed to make a bold statement about contemporary Germany. The building lasted six months before it was dismantled and the materials sold. Nonetheless, it remained an icon of the Modern Movement throughout the 20th century, and its reconstruction by a team of local architects was completed in 1986.

The Pavilion received little attention during its brief lifetime. The late twenties were a time when Modernists were struggling to gain commissions and acceptance of their ideas (CIAM had been set up the previous year as a means of giving the nascent movement some kind of organisational focus). Nonetheless, the building soon became a totem for Mies' like-minded contemporaries.

Less is More

Freed from traditional design constraints (i.e. no-one had to live or work in the building, and the only 'exhibits' were a few chairs designed by Mies- which tourists today love to lounge in), Mies was able to construct a building which came to epitomise what Modern architecture should be: clean, uncomplicated in appearance, with no apparent reference to past historical styles, and using modern technology to explore new ways of construction.

The building still looks modern today, partly because many of the design features are still copied by 21st century architects. The glass appeared to be load bearing which made the thin concrete roof seem to float above the stone podium on which the whole structure is based. The roof is held in place by cruciform steel columns which are clad in chrome. The walls are marble and travertine. The open-plan nature of the Pavilion allowed Mies to experiment with space, creating an ambiguity about what is interior and what is exterior, and there is a tranquillity about the place despite its completely open-ended structure.

The simple emptiness of the Pavilion was in itself a revolutionary feature. Despite the perfect vertical and horizontal lines, the building appears in no way hard or industrial, and yet it was new technology and methods of utilising concrete and steel made the whole thing possible. The two reflecting pools and Georg Kolbe's classical and curvy female statue combine with Mies' geometry to create a space which is amazingly calm and meditative; one in which Mies's famous dictum 'less is more' seems perfectly appropriate.


Today architects and students flock to the Pavilion to admire Mies' achievement, and to see for themselves a building whose influence can be seen in every building which seeks to do away with stone walls and replace them with sheets of plate glass. Mies himself went on to perfect the corporate glass and steel skyscraper in the United States, using many of the techniques he applied so successfully at his Pavilion. And although the Pavilion is, in a sense, pointless, in 1929 it stood as a monument to what the Modernist architect could achieve.


For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Building Stories Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license activity icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Building Stories

Meet the architects and explore the stories behind some of Britain's most iconic buildings.

The De La Warr Pavilion Creative commons image Icon iknow-uk under CC-BY-NC-ND licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

The De La Warr Pavilion

Modernism goes to the seaside.

Erich Mendelsohn Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Copyright article icon

History & The Arts 

Erich Mendelsohn

Some suspect that the architect of the De La Warr Pavilion was never enitrely committed to Modernism...

Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Copyright article icon

History & The Arts 

Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe

Bringing a simple approach to modernism, despite never having had formal training in architecture.

The Rise and Fall of the Slave Trade Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

History & The Arts 

The Rise and Fall of the Slave Trade

Dr Will Hardy examines Britain's role in the Atlantic slave trade.

Heritage Centres - SW England, West Midlands & S Wales Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission article icon

History & The Arts 

Heritage Centres - SW England, West Midlands & S Wales

Find heritage centres in Cornwall, South West England, the West Midlands and South Wales.

In smokiest Sheffield Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: Chemical Engineer article icon

History & The Arts 

In smokiest Sheffield

William arrives in Sheffield - finding a city struggling environmentally and economically.

Milton Keynes rallies in support of the Corn Laws Creative commons image Icon Adrian Cable under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license article icon

History & The Arts 

Milton Keynes rallies in support of the Corn Laws

On January 23rd, Milton Keynes celebrates 50 years as a new town. But the history of the villages which came together to form the heart of modern Milton Keynes reaches back far further - as this report of a meeting against the Anti Corn Law League in 1844 shows.

A 19th century autopsy unmasks a poisoner Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: gokalpiscan article icon

History & The Arts 

A 19th century autopsy unmasks a poisoner

14 physicians gather at a graveside to untangle a tale of American settlers, poison, weak alibis, murder and suicide.