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

Text by Esther CañadasPhotographed 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.