Guggenheim

Introduction

Perhaps the most impressive demonstration of this Miesian tenet is the German pavilion in Barcelona, which celebrates the Dionysian freedom for dynamic modern spatial arrangement, opulently realized, while resting on the foundation of a classical podium, Platonic and Apollonian.1

In the years after the war, metaphors of construction and reconstruction became popular, and architects, builders, and engineers were greatly admired. The new approach to architecture was modern in its lack of historical styles yet traditional in its principles. Architect Le Corbusier (1887—1965) encouraged this modern classical approach of purity, clarity, and refinement.

The building that most clearly expressed these principles was the Barcelona Pavilion (1928—29), designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886—1969). Built for the 1929 Exposición Internacional (International Exposition) in Barcelona, the German government's pavilion held the opening reception. The exposition encouraged major urban development for the city, which became a test ground for new architectural styles. Various approaches were represented at the exposition, including the more classical noucentisme (1900s), which replaced modernisme, the dominant style at the turn of the century in Catalunya. The fair also brought international avant-garde trends to Spain.

Simple, unembellished, and featuring a flat roof, Mies's structure differed greatly from the surrounding pavilions. While the extensive use of glass and the chrome-plated columns show its modern setting, the Barcelona Pavilion is a "synthesis of classical form and modern technology,"2 following the Miesian belief that it was possible to reconcile new with old. The building mixed new materials, such as glass, steel, and chrome, with classical ones, such as Roman travertine, green Alpine marble, ancient green marble from Greece, and golden onyx from the Atlas Mountains. In another form of unifying the contemporary and the ancient, Mies also used new materials for the specially designed chairs, ottomans, and tables, which borrowed the x-shape of the old Roman curule.3 Installed near a shallow open-air pool was another nod to classicism, the allegorical sculpture by Georg Kolbe (1877—1947) titled Morning (Der Morgen, 1925). This pairing of the classical body surrounded by clean contemporary architecture made the pavilion's "marriage of the modern and the antique complete."4

When the exposition closed in 1930, the building was disassembled but not forgotten. As time went by, it became important not only in Mies's career but also in 20th-century architecture as a whole. In 1983, the Fundació Mies van der Rohe was founded with the express purpose of rebuilding the pavilion. The reconstruction adhered to the original characteristics and materials as closely as possible. Completed in 1986, it stands on the original site and is open to the public.

Notes
1 Fritz Neumeyer, "Mies's First Project: Revisiting the Atmosphere at Klosterli," in Terence Riley and Barry Bergdoll, Mies in Berlin, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2001), p. 317, quoted in Kenneth E. Silver, "A More Durable Self," in Silver, Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918—1936, exh. cat. (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2010), p. 37.

2 Ibid., pp. 316-17.

3 Kenneth E. Silver, "A More Durable Self," in Silver, Chaos and Classicism, p. 37.

4 Ibid.

Questions

  • Look at several views of the reconstructed Barcelona Pavilion on the Fundació Mies van der Rohe Web site at http://www.miesbcn.com/es/fundacion.html. Instruct students to create a list of adjectives that describe their responses to the structure.
  • Mies van der Rohe believed that architecture could reconcile both old and new. Did he achieve this goal in the Barcelona Pavilion? Explain.
  • Mies adopted the motto “less is more” to describe his way of arranging a building’s components to create an impression of extreme simplicity. Ask the class to respond to this phrase. Do your students agree or disagree? Explain.

Activities

  • Search for images of the buildings and installations left behind from the 1929 Exposición Internacional in Barcelona. Some of them have become city landmarks, such as the Palacio Nacional (National Palace), Fuente Mágica (Magic Fountain), Teatre Grec (Greek Theater), Pueblo Español (Spanish Village), and the Estadio olímpico (Olympic Stadium). Ask your students to compare these buildings with Mies’s Barcelona Pavilion.
  • In collaboration with the industrial designer Lilly Reich (1885—1947), Mies also designed a leather-upholstered metallic chair especially for the pavilion. This icon of modern design is still manufactured today. The Barcelona Chair was adapted from a Roman folding chair known as a curule (See images at resources). Have students compare the chairs and answer the following questions. Which would you prefer to own? Why? Which would you prefer to sit on? Why? Next your students can research another historical style of furniture and incorporate one or more elements into a contemporary design. When they finish, they can share their drawings with other students along with the antique inspiration for them.

    International expositions have captivated imaginations and inspired ambitious, unusual architectural projects. Consider pavilions created for Expo 2010 Shanghai at http://en.expo2010.cn/pavilions/hqzg.htm and have students design a pavilion that expresses how they would represent their country or city to the world. They can use traditional drawing materials, Google SketchUp, or another program to create 3-D models. Download Google SketchUp at sketchup.google.com.

  • When Adolf Hitler (1889—1945) was elected in 1933, the Weimar Republic ended, and a few months later, the Nazis closed the Bauhaus (1919—1933), the influential design school where Mies was the director: see http://www.bauhaus.de/index+M52087573ab0.html. Mies emigrated to the United States four years later and continued to work as an educator and architect. View some of the buildings he created in the United States at http://www.greatbuildings.com/cgi-bin/gbc-search.cgi?search=architect&architect=mies+van+der+rohe.