Mies Van der Rohe´s Pavilion

Celebrating the 30 years of the reconstruction of the most famous pavilion of the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition 

Text by Esther Cañadas
Photographed by Yoye

June the 1st marks the 30th anniversary of the reconstruction of the pavilion that Mies van der Rohe designed for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona, a building that, after all those years, keeps its contemporary soul intact. The international press praised it back then as a unique work of art, a key piece in the history of 20th century architecture and in its creator’s career. But the construction of this pavilion wasn’t exactly easy sailing. The first obstacle was the German government’s refusal to build a pavilion that would be used simply as a reception area. This delayed the start of construction, and the project was approved only nine weeks before the opening of the Exposition, forcing workers to do unending shifts, even during nights, weekends and holidays. Georg von Schnitzler, the German commissioner, put all his effort, and even his money, to make the project a reality, despite the German authorities’ lack of trust and means. Von Schnitzler was the one who appointed Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich to do the job, since they had both successfully collaborated in different exhibitions in Germany. We don’t know exactly which percentage of it was Reich’s work, but we do know that she was designated artistic director, just like Mies. 

The pavilion was conceived as an empty space with the only purpose of representing Germany. This space was relevant in itself because it displayed architecture as a free art. To bring this idea to life Mies considered the exterior and the interior as two areas that should be naturally connected. The two ponds used like mirrors, the different types of marble reflected on the water, the floors and the low roof that seems to float in the air are some of the elements used to create this link between the two spaces. 

The building included the latest technical innovations, such as picture windows and the use of chrome, like in the famous Barcelona chair, the table or the cross-shaped columns. Mies was careful to choose the location for the pavilion too. He decided to erect it in a quiet area instead of the one suggested by the organizing committee. This decision reinforced the concept of the pavilion as a place to rest and relax. 

After the exhibition was closed, the pavilion was dismantled, and its large blocks of stone were sent to Germany. The building continued to awaken interest though, especially in architectural circles. In 1980, Oriol Bohigas headed the initiative to rebuild the pavilion, getting in contact with Mies himself. In order to erect it again they had to revise the photographic archive, since the project was modified on the go; it did not follow the original plan. The works started in 1983 and finished in 1986. Since then the Mies van der Rohe Foundation promotes knowledge of the pavilion and architecture in general and gives the prestigious Mies van der Rohe Award. 

The pavilion was created with the intention of connecting with other arts. Some of the activities planned to commemorate its 30th anniversary are meant to emphasize this, one of them being the ephemeral reconstruction of the ionic columns that Puig i Cadafalch built near Luis Martínez Santa-María’s pavilion. 

The importance of Mies van der Rohe’s pavilion lies in how its concept and design influenced the subsequent contemporary architecture. The use and mix of materials, Georg Kolb’s sculptures and the open plan the project followed brought to life a minimalist and elegant modern space –a temple of poetic architecture. • 

The importance of Mies van der Rohe’s pavilion lies in how its concept and design influenced the subsequent contemporary architecture.

La Ricarda

La Ricarda. The Lively Rational

Photographed by Gloria Silva & Yoye.
Written by Esther Cañadas

All that Ricardo Gomis and Inés Bertrand wanted was to create their own place in the world, detail by detail, until it was a true reflection of what they were and wanted to remain: two trailblazing individuals able to materialize the future in their own time.

Gomis had been involved in avant-garde movements for years. He was an intellectual who saw culture, art and experimentation as the means to achieve social and individual progress.

Gomis and Bertrand planned to create a house that expressed this in La Ricarda, a family state in the heart of the delta of the Llobregat River. Joan Prats suggested Antonio Bonet, who had moved to Buenos Aires after working with Le Corbusier, as the person most suited to the task. They first met in 1949, the final project was agreed by 1953 and construction started in 1957. The building process took a long time due to two main reasons: on one hand, Bonet stayed in Argentina and sent the work orders to the people in charge of each area from there. On the other hand, both him and Gomis, who worked as an engineer, were rationalist, perfectionist, passionate, ambitious professionals, eager to expand their own boundaries. They had both taken part in the avant-garde movements back in the thirties, they shared the same ideals and understood life in a similar way. They intensively discussed every aspect of the house: the fabrics, the furniture, the cutlery, the doorknobs… Every element had to respect the design and purpose of the house, they had to meet a need and have a raison d’être. Some of them were designed expressly by Bonet himself; the rest, like some pieces or Nordic design furniture, were carefully chosen and acquired.

The design of the house was meant to respect their owners’ essence. In other words, it had to be the original result of an architectural experiment, an open space to welcome friends and family members but also a refuge when it needed to be. And, of course, it had to be full of music, one of Gomis’s passions —in fact, he was an expert in sound reproduction.— For the Gomis-Bertrand couple this was indeed a very personal project. 

Bonet’s idea was to build the structure and façade in a free style. But Inés Bertrand wanted something more practical, so this first idea got simplified. The house was erected on a one meter high platform on the natural terrain to insulate it from the subsoil humidity, and its structure was formed by twelve vaults or Catalan voltes standing on four pillars. These pillars were thin enough to convey a sensation on lightness and they managed to stand up thanks to a special structure of beams and columns hiding inside the platform. The first plan was to build the vaults with concrete, but Emili Bofill, the builder of the project, suggested to lighten them building the first section with concrete and finishing them with bricks and some braces. The result was a very original ceiling made out of open vaults built with a completely new technique, which provided in addition excellent acoustics. 

The house was divided into units that were connected to each other and wanted to meet the needs of the family considering their particular occupations. This way, the living-room, the heart of the home, was designed as a multipurpose room with very few elements, like the chimney. The different areas of the room were demarcated with carpets. 

All that Ricardo Gomis and Inés Bertrand wanted was to create their own place in the world, detail by detail, until it was a true reflection of what they were and wanted to remain: two trailblazing individuals able to materialize the future in their own time.

Despite its large dimensions, the house looks rather simple. Its harmonious proportions and lack of sumptuous elements provide a cosy feel to it. The atmosphere is relaxed, making this house a good place to let the imagination run free. And all of this was achieved thanks to the owners’ determination to avoid everything superficial and to seek aesthetic coherence. 

The house lets the exterior in through modern glazed walls, while it merges with the surroundings, the light being one of the key elements in this relationship. The two spaces communicate through lighting games thanks to the different colours of the glass, the vitrified ceramic lattices, the inner indirect lighting and the use of different kinds of wood in some areas. The exterior of the house embraces the landscape as well, its undulating roof rocking along with the pines and the nearby sea. 

By 1962 the house was finished and ready to become a place of reference for celebrations with family and friends, many of which shared Gomis’s avant-garde ideals and interests. After the Spanish civil war, the cultural world of Barcelona was nearly nonexistent, and the few artists and intellectuals who remained there gathered frequently to promote avant-garde culture in the post-war years —this is how Club 49 was born—. La Ricarda was one of those meeting places. Here they listened to new records, organized concerts, plays and dancing performances, with guests like Antoni Tàpies, Tete Montoliu, Joan Miró, Joan Brossa, Merce Cunningham and John Cage. 

La Ricarda is now a masterpiece of Spanish rationalism that attracted 1.500 visitors from all over the world in 2015. It is the result of the spirit of an era of people who thought that they could make a better world. This legacy has been kept intact by Ricardo Gomis’s and Inés Bertrand’s children. However, it is a fragile construction near a huge airport now, which makes it unfit to live in. Its future is secure only in the short term; no one knows what will happen to this iconic house in the next decades. We can only hope that the public institutions take charge of it and preserve it, as a sign of respect to those who made it possible. 

Gomis and Bertrand were able to meticulously reflect their ideals and aspirations in La Ricarda, a place where architecture was a reflection of the soul. And that soul doesn’t seem to be willing to fade away. •