An oasis of tranquility away from Barcelona’s bustling city streets, the pavilion by Mies Van der Rohe and Lilli Reich was Germany‘s re-appearance on the world stage after the First World War, as well as the display of an architecture’s Modern Movement. It was intended to engage the industrial world in a more humane manner, demonstrating what man can accomplish with his power over resources. It was a 1929 masterpiece, one of the most significant artistic and architectural structures in architectural history, located in a quiet tucked away corner at the foot of the National Art Museum of Catalonia and Montjuïc.

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ludwig mies van der rohe barcelona pavilion_©CemalEmden

Architects

Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe (1886-1969) was a German architect who, with his simple “skin and bone” architectural form, pioneered the concept of modern architecture. International Style was defined by him as a distinct strain of modern architecture. Mies was drawn to the use of simple rectilinear and planar forms, clean lines, pure color, and the extension of space around and beyond interior walls. He is an architect who popularized the phrase “less is more” to describe the desire for less visual clutter in design. Mies’ minimalist style was popular in the twentieth century and remains popular until today.

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LudwigMiesVanderRohe_©Wikipedia

Lilly Reich (1885–1947) was a textile, furniture, interior, and exhibition space designer from Germany. She collaborated with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for over ten years during the Weimar period in the 1920s and early 1930s. Two of their most well-known modern furniture designs from this period are the Barcelona Chair and the Brno Chair. During the early Modern Movement, Reich was a key figure in architecture and design. The artistic result of the first Lilly Reich Grant for Equality in Architecture call was unveiled at the Pavilion in Barcelona.

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Lilly Reich portrait, 1914_©wikipedia photo: G. Engelhardt Fotografie.

Description

The structure was used for the official opening of the German section of the exhibition. It is notable for its simple and direct design and spectacular use of lavish materials. In the vibrant city of Barcelona, the pavilion, with its minimalist style, sits as if, to defy Gaudi‘s highly ornamented design. The Barcelona Pavilion was designed with the idea of “less is more.” Mies envisioned his pavilion as nothing more than a structure; it would not house art or sculpture; rather, the pavilion’s form would be an inhabitable sculpture in and of itself. The pavilion, which was built from simple and elegant materials, appeared to be the main concept behind this building, giving birth to minimalism in architecture.

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The building complex_©Pepo Segura

Stages of Construction

The original pavilion, built for the 1937 Paris International Exhibition, was intended to gain international support against the Spanish fascists and in defense of the legitimacy of the republican government. The first thing is the accuracy of its location and the mastery of the laws of such a specific place by Mies. Then, the basin is created where it interacts, on the same plane, the boundary between inside and outside, something that does not go unnoticed today, much less at the time when it was conceived. The first objective of this classic element was to deal with the slope by creating new topographic levels that were saved with some pebbles. Then, several elements are set up in the plant that reminds us of the importance of structure in the shape of space. There are walls, pillars, and reflections. These reflections build new spaces only existing in our gaze, but perception includes them along the way, making precision an aesthetic value of the highest architectural quality. The elementality here is freedom to roam and perceive a multitude of reflections. The centerpiece of the pavilion was Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica – certainly one of the most important works of twentieth century art. The original Pavilion also celebrated the work of many other artists in the service of the republican cause – Joan MirÓ, Alexander Calder, Luis Bunel, and others. Thus, the result is pure architecture, pure visuals, pure experience, brief but intense.

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The Pavilion_©Adria Goula

This Pavilion was demolished in 1930, not even a full year from its completion. Leaving behind little remains of historical drawings, a limited range of black and white photographs and excavated footings. Decades later, when modernism resurfaced in 1983, Catalan architects decided to permanently rebuild The Barcelona Pavilion. Reconstruction architects: Ignasi de Sola-Morales (1942-2001), Cristian Cirici(1941) and Fernado Ramos. The reconstruction of the Barcelona Pavilion ignited a new interest in modernist design that is still withstanding today. The building form reflects happiness and awe at its first glance itself. There are aesthetic touches from high quality materials: the big slabs, floor to ceiling glass walls, steel frames and the “iconic red curtain”. The placement of everything creates a feeling of “movement and dynamic circulation”. The circulation of movement as space is the only concept. The organizations make it their mission to promote ecological, climate-positive urban spaces in the face of social and environmental challenges. 

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A new exhibition on the site of Barcelona Pavilion demonstrates the potential of locally sourced timber for construction on a mass scale_©Adria Goula

The latest temporary installation inside the pavilion investigates the usage of carbon-reducing architectural materials by contrasting the carbon footprint of the original materials used to make Mies’s Pavilion with the cross laminated timber (CLT) panels. While the project suggests the suitability of CLT for constructing buildings with far less environmental impact, it ironically also demonstrates that with suitable wood panels alone, one could never have achieved the poetry that the original Pavilion achieved. 

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The mass timber panels were sustainably sourced from Spanish forests and used in a way that highlights their robust and tactile qualities. _© Adria Goula

The Structure

The free plan concept was used, which allows the designer to use columns and ceiling only for main building support without the idea of wall placement for support. The floating room concept is another concept used in the design. The floating rooms may be supported by a column or may have no physical connection to the foundation, but their weight is transmitted to the main foundation via the walls and pillars that support the central building. The structure is simple, but every detail is deliberate and well-crafted. The building has so much exposed that is both revealed and hidden that it cannot be formally defined, but it can be summarized as “the fluidity and interconnection of the inner and outer”. The pavilion displayed to the world a was liberal, democratic, and contemporary. Ponds in the outdoor space increase the reflective effect; at the bottom of the ponds, a base of black glass is used.

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Barcelona Pavilion Study Drawings and an Interview by Paul Rudolph.1986_© Ar. Paul Rudolph

Mies designed the building complex, which includes a main open-plan pavilion with a rectangular footprint based on a 1.09-meter square module, in which all spaces flow into one another as a single hall. A passage flanked by a long stone bench connects this main volume to a second, smaller building made of plastered masonry, which contains two offices and two bathrooms. The entire complex is built on a 1.3-meter-high Roman Travertine podium that “raises” the structure above ground and creates an elevated terrace. The more familiar entrance, used by the public, is on the east; the entrance for the King and Queen of Spain, as well as other dignitaries during the festivities, is on the west.

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Barcelona pavilion precedent analysis_© Architect’s journal

The two buildings are covered by two thin flat roofs; the main pavilion roof is supported by I-beams and eight cruciform steel columns encapsulated in a chromium-plated steel jacket, as well as several rectangular steel columns concealed within the walls. This design, combined with the white color of the roof slab painting, gives the impression that the roof is “floating” without any support.  The appearance of floating gives the volume a sense of weightlessness that fluctuates between the housing and the cover, where inside becomes outside and openness is created.

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Crucified columns supporting floating roof_©Gilli Merin

The Barcelona Chair

The same features of minimalism can be applied to the prestigious furniture specifically designed for the pavilion, among which is the iconic 6249 | Barcelona chair. First produced in 1929, the Knoll Barcelona chair was the result of collaboration between Meis and Lilly Reich, who transformed the spatial experience. The famous Barcelona Chair was created for the use of Spain’s King and Queen during the formal ceremony. The Barcelona chair is easily the most recognizable element of not only the Barcelona pavilion, but of the Bauhaus itself. Playing to the understanding of gesamtkunstwerk (the total work of art), the chairs were an integral part of the building’s design, created specifically for the pavilion. The use of leather contrasted with the steel, contributing to a dialectic of contrasts. The soft cushions in rectangular forms and hard steel in following curves exhibited the beauty of a chair in conversation with itself, its use, and its nature. The epitome of elegance has now been fine-tuned with soft upholstery, a more forgiving padded seat and full grain leathers-resulting in a relaxed version of this iconic design. The reconstruction architects decided not to include some of the missing furniture, as the unstable tables or a revised version, at least initially. 

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The Barcelona chair setting in a pavilion_©Fundació

The human element can be found at the pavilion in George Kolb’s bronze statue “Alba” (dawn). Dawn, a figurative statue by German sculptor George Kolbe, was installed in the pavilion’s reflecting pool. “Standing in the northwest corner of the inner court, Kolbe’s siren-like figure of Dawn beckons from afar and acts as a mediator in the pavilion’s experience,” Mertin writes. The sculpted form’s curves and movement complement the stillness of the water and the straight lines of the building. The pool of water below and the glass in front of the statue reflects it, amplifying its presence. One can’t help feeling the solidarity with Alba, whose movement is both frozen and live at the same time. The sculpture is standing at the edge of a shallow pond on its own platform. Its positioning allows its reflection to be seen within the water as well as against the marble and glass walls, creating the illusion of expanded space.

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Alba the statue by Kolbe_©Maciej jeżyk
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_Supporting stone_©Maciej jeżyk

The Materials

For the reconstruction, glass, steel, and four different types of stone (Roman travertine, green Alpine marble, ancient green marble from Greece, and golden onyx from the Atlas Mountains) were used, all with the same characteristics and provenance as those used by Mies in 1929. Travertine, green marble, and red onyx were used to convey the luxury and excellence in execution. Tones of beige, rust, and green echoed nature and spoke to a primitive and visceral knowledge of color throughout history. The stone was polished and laid bare for all to examine, contemplating the beauty and logic of nature constrained by the geometric lines of the tile’s edges. The stone, glass and steel-modern design of the pavilion reflected an intense connection to the land, history, and the emerging future.

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four different types of marble_©Pepo Segura
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The stunning piece of golden onyx placed in the main space_©Pepo Segura
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Walls with glass and steel frame_©Pepo Segura

Proportioning allows them to correlate and bring life to the space. The earthy stones with smooth edges next to the rough pale cement. Along with the onyx and marble, the marble travertine adds motion and color. The steel reflects light and contrasts with the rock.  To make the ceiling more sky-like and the ambiance more expansive, Mies used material asymmetry to create optical symmetry, rebounding the natural light. Glass and steel frame and the walls built with large blocks of marble, transforming the pavilion into a “work of art” with its stunning colors and patterns.

Juxtaposition of glass, steel and marble under white roof canopy_©Pepo Segura

The pavilion, which opened to the public in 1986, has been hosting performances, special events, and site-specific installations by well-known artists and architects.

References:

  1. Books

Citations for books with two or three authors:

none

  1. Articles

Citations for Journal Articles accessed on a website or database:

  1. Glancey, J. (2014). Why the ‘Barcelona’ Pavilion is a modernist classic. [online] www.bbc.com. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20130924-less-is-more-a-design-classic.
  2. Online sources

Citations for websites:

  1. RTF | Rethinking The Future. (2021). German Pavilion by Mies Van der Rohe: A Formulaic Grid System. [online] Available at: https://www.re-thinkingthefuture.com/case-studies/a2938-german-pavilion-by-mies-van-der-rohe-a-formulaic-grid-system/.
  2. ‌www.architecturalrecord.com. (n.d.). Mies’s Barcelona Pavilion Re-Built in Carbon-Saving Wood | Architectural Record. [online] Available at: https://www.architecturalrecord.com/articles/15882-miess-barcelona-pavilion-re-built-in-carbon-saving-wood [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  3. Wikipedia Contributors (2019). Barcelona Pavilion. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barcelona_Pavilion.
  4. Himelfarb, E. (2022). Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion gets a timber twin for a week. [online] The Spaces. Available at: https://thespaces.com/mies-van-der-rohes-barcelona-pavilion-gets-a-timber-twin-for-a-week/ [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  5. news-bollywod.web.app. (n.d.). Barcelona Pavilion Steel Column . To Better Understand The Building, A Study Will Be Performed On The Factors That Affected The Conceptual Design Starting From. [online] Available at: https://news-bollywod.web.app/barcelona-pavilion-steel-column.html [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  6. ArchDaily. (2020). Artistic Intervention ‘Re-enactment’ Highlights Lilly Reich’s Works in the Barcelona Pavilion. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/935480/artistic-intervention-re-enactment-highlights-lilly-reichs-works-in-the-barcelona-pavilion.
  7. senacatal (n.d.). November 9, 2017. [online] Architect’s Journal. Available at: https://senacatal.wordpress.com/2017/11/09/ [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  8. ‌ Archilovers (2022). The ‘Mass is More’ installation transforms the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion. [online] Archilovers. Available at: https://www.archilovers.com/stories/30255/the-mass-is-more-installation-transforms-the-mies-van-der-rohe-pavilion.html [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  9. issuu.com. (n.d.). The Place of Georg Kolbe’s Sculpture ‘Der Morgen’ in Mies van der Rohe’s German Pavilion by Peter Byrne – Issuu. [online] Available at: https://issuu.com/peterjbyrne/docs/the_place_of_georg_kolbe_s_sculpture__der_morgen_i.
  10. www.citytoursbarcelona.com. (n.d.). Mies van der Rohe Barcelona Pavilion. [online] Available at: https://www.citytoursbarcelona.com/english/mies-van-der-rohe-barcelona-pavilion [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  11.  www.phaidon.com. (n.d.). Why are these nudes in the Barcelona Pavilion? | art | Agenda | Phaidon. [online] Available at: https://www.phaidon.com/agenda/art/articles/2014/august/18/why-are-these-nudes-in-the-barcelona-pavilion/ [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  12. WikiArquitectura. (2017). German Pavilion in Barcelona. [online] Available at: https://en.wikiarquitectura.com/building/german-pavilion-in-barcelona/.
  13. Fundació Mies van der Rohe. (2019). Pavilion Image Gallery – Fundació Mies van der Rohe. [online] Available at: https://miesbcn.com/the-pavilion/images/.

Citations for Social Media:

  1. www.instagram.com. (n.d.). #barcelonapavillion hashtag on Instagram • Photos and videos. [online] Available at: https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/barcelonapavillion/?hl=en [Accessed 8 Nov. 2022].
  2. Images/visual mediums

Citations for films/videos/DVDs:

  1. The German Pavilion in Barcelona. (2016). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ug0_oG1Aa-0.

Citations for YouTube videos:

  1. BARCELONA PAVILION I MIES VAN DER ROHE I A WALK THROUGH IN 4K. (2019). YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hr9KR6t_mEM.
  2. fabroc8 (2016). MODERNITY AT ITS BEST: The Barcelona PavilionYouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-Q5femExdo.
  3. www.youtube.com. (n.d.). The Barcelona Pavilion. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3UIZq3ARD0.
  4. www.youtube.com. (n.d.). The Birth of Minimalism | Barcelona Pavilion (Mies van der Rohe). [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OQJI7IdNVI [Accessed 8 Nov. 2022].

Citations for images/photographs – Print or Online:

  1. Emden, C. (2018). Turkish photographer Cemal Emden narrates one of the masterpiece of modern architecture, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1929 for the International Exposition in Barcelona, Spain. Available at: https://divisare.com/projects/395780-ludwig-mies-van-der-rohe-cemal-emden-barcelona-pavilion [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  2. Wkipedia ed., (2022). Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_Mies_van_der_Rohe [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  3. wikipedia (2022). Lilly Reich. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilly_Reich [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  4. Segura, P. (2022). The building complex. Available at: https://www.inexhibit.com/mymuseum/the-german-pavilion-in-barcelona-by-mies-van-der-rohe/ [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  5. Goula, A. (2022). The pavilion. Available at: https://www.archilovers.com/stories/30255/the-mass-is-more-installation-transforms-the-mies-van-der-rohe-pavilion.html [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  6. Goula, A. (2022). A new exhibition on the site of Barcelona Pavilion demonstrates the potential of locally sourced timber for construction on a mass scale. Available at: https://www.archilovers.com/stories/30255/the-mass-is-more-installation-transforms-the-mies-van-der-rohe-pavilion.html [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  7. Goula, A. (2022). The mass timber panels were sustainably sourced from Spanish forests and used in a way that highlights their robust and tactile qualities. Available at: https://www.archilovers.com/stories/30255/the-mass-is-more-installation-transforms-the-mies-van-der-rohe-pavilion.html [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  8. Rudolph, P. (2016). Barcelona Pavilion Study Drawings and an Interview by Paul Rudolph.1986. [Hidden architecture] Available at: http://hiddenarchitecture.net/barcelona-pavilion-study-drawings-and/ [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  9.  BARCELONA PAVILION PRECEDENT ANALYSIS. (2017). Available at: https://senacatal.wordpress.com/2017/11/09/ [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  10. Merin, G. (2016). Crucified columns supporting floating roof. [DIVISARE HOMEPAGE] Available at: https://divisare.com/projects/324907-ludwig-mies-van-der-rohe-gili-merin-barcelona-pavilion-1929 [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  11. Segura, P. (2016). The Barcelona Chair. [Fundació] Available at: https://miesbcn.com/the-pavilion/images/ [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  12.  jeżyk, M. (2018). Alba the statue by Kolbe. [DIVISARE HOMEPAGE] Available at: https://divisare.com/projects/338931-ludwig-mies-van-der-rohe-maciej-jezyk-barcelona-pavilion [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  13. jeżyk, M. (2018). Supporting stone. [DIVISARE HOMEPAGE] Available at: https://divisare.com/projects/338931-ludwig-mies-van-der-rohe-maciej-jezyk-barcelona-pavilion [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  14. Segura, P. (2016). four different types of marble. [Fundació] Available at: https://miesbcn.com/the-pavilion/images/ [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  15. Segura, P. (2016). The stunning piece of golden onyx placed in the main space. [Fundació] Available at: https://miesbcn.com/the-pavilion/images/ [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  16. Segura, P. (2016). Walls with glass and steel frame. [Fundació] Available at: https://miesbcn.com/the-pavilion/images/ [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  17. ‌ Segura, P. (2016). Juxtaposition of glass, steel and marble under white roof canopy. [Fundació] Available at: https://miesbcn.com/the-pavilion/images/ [Accessed 7 Nov. 2022].
  18. Other source types

Citations for interviews:

  1. Architecture, H. (2016). Barcelona Pavilion Study Drawings and an Interview by Paul Rudolph. [online] Hidden Architecture. Available at: http://hiddenarchitecture.net/barcelona-pavilion-study-drawings-and/ [Accessed 8 Nov. 2022].
Author

Komal is an aspiring environmental enthusiast with a masters degree in environmental architecture and is engaged towards achieving a net zero society globally, by profession. She is currently working towards a paradigm shift in the construction industry by exploring possible uses of rice straw as a building material and working as a volunteer for change. She believes writing architectural content aids in the development of the mental skills required for creative thinking. Furthermore, she would like to make this world a better place to live in.

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