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The Barcelona Pavilion

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The Barcelona Pavilion
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Ben Elias Editor in chief

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The Barcelona Pavilion

Creator: Ludvig Mies van der Rohe

 

Ever so often, a piece is presented to the public that not only rewrites all rules within its space, but also creates an entirely new category in which future creators can find inspiration and direction in their work.

 

Such is the case with The Barcelona Pavilion, the main German contribution to the International Architecture Exposition of 1929 in Barcelona, Spain. Beyond presenting a spectacular interpretation of lines and angles, it did so at a time when something quite like it had never been seen before. To this day it stands as one of the earliest hallmarks of what we now know as modernist architecture.

CONCEPT

With a deadline of less than a year and under extreme financial pressure, the 43-year old architect Ludvig Mies van der Rohe (known to most at the time simply as “Mies”) was commissioned to design the Pavilion by the Weimar Republic as a symbol for the new, progressive Germany emerging from the ashes of the First World War. Coming of the success of his 1927 Werkbund exhibition in Stuttgart, Mies was urged by the commissioner George von Schnitzler to give “a voice to the spirit of the new era”.

EXECUTION

Based on a formulaic grid system and blurring the lines between inside and outside like no other building before it, the Pavilion was erected a year later at the foot of the National Art Museum of Catalonia.  

The structure was raised with eight steel pillars in a cross-like formation holding a flat roof. Mies opted for steel, glass, reinforced concrete and four different types of high-grade marble stones in his choice of materials for the Pavilion, at the time a spectacular and unexpected mix. Inside, it housed a single sculpture (George Kolbe´s “Alba”) and a single piece of furniture (the famed “Barcelona” chair, designed specifically for the building). As he noted later, Mies wanted the space to be a “zone of tranquility” for the weary traveler, devoid of clutter.

 

Although many of the Pavilions details have become iconic, some stand out above others, most notably the element known as the “Floating Roof”. Supported by eight slender columns, the roof had a large overhang that seemed to float both inside and outside, giving the appearance of a floating weightless structure that transcended the interior space to the outside garden effortlessly, an incredible concept for its time.

LEGACY

As this was an exhibition building created for a temporary purpose, it was torn down less than a year after its creation. However, the impact of the Pavilion on the succeeding generations of minimalist and modernist creators of all kinds (beyond just architects) cannot be overstated. Mies was the originator of the now famous sayings “less is more” and “God is in the details”, and nowhere is that more evidently on display than in this spellbinding piece.

Such was its influence in fact that in 1983, a group of Catalan architects rebuilt it based on black and white photographs and salvaged floor plans of the original Pavilion. Today it is open daily in its original location, and continues to be one of the most inspirational VERKs of all time.

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