Standing in the German Pavilion in Barcelona was like being inside a clear, ordered mind. German architect Mies van der Rohe designed it in 1927 for the international exposition in the Catalan capital two years later. It has a flat roof resting on columns and the glass and marble walls inside can be moved around since they don't support the building. Another marvel inside is two of the famous Barcelona chairs Mies also designed for the occasion.
No matter where you stand inside, you see neat lines leading the eye to other spaces. You're never just in one area, but always have a glimpse of what lies beyond. It flows seamlessly from inside to outside, where a shallow pond lined with stones stretches down to the gift shop at the far end. That was where a stern-looking man sold expensive post cards, scratchy T-shirts and DIY paper kits of the building. I bought one of each - I was a tourist and in awe.
Mies was born in Aachen in 1886, trained with his stonemason father and got his first commission for a house at 20. In 1930 he became director of the experimental design School the Bauhaus and ran it until the Nazis forced him to close down. In 1936 he was appointed director of architecture at what was later renamed the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and built landmark extensions for the growing campus.
The pavilion, the Farnsworth House and the Seagram building in New York, where he did groundbreaking work in skyscraper design, define what made him one of the greatest architects of the 20th century. His most misused quote, “less is more”, describes only part of what made him so influential. With his emphasis on open spaces and exposed construction materials, Mies helped define modern architecture.
The pavilion is still carefully studied by modern designers. It can also change your thinking about any form of creativity. What I saw there - the form, the flow, the way space and materials are connected, enclosing without confining - changed my approach to writing. That might sound pretentious, but only until you experience the pavilion for yourself.
Maybe I'll get to see Mies's American masterpieces some day. But the hour or so in the German Pavilion was inspirational. And I still wear the T-shirt.
Words © Pieter van der Lugt. Original template by OS Templates.