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

Architect:
Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, (Germany)

 

Construction Date:
1929
(demolished the same year, reconstructed in 1986)

Location:
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.

Influence

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.

 

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