German Pavilion by Mies Van der Rohe: A Formulaic Grid System — RTF | Rethinking The Future
Mies was a German-American architect. He was a director at Bauhaus. His architectural style drew inspiration from modern times while expressing the spirit of this era. He coined the phrase ‘less is more’ and was famous for following the true meaning of it in his buildings.
“One of the most influential and enigmatic buildings of the modern movement” — George Dodds
Commissioned by the German Republic in 1928, Mies van der Rohe had the responsibility for the design of German Pavilion.
It was to be built the following year, in the International Exposition of 1929 in Barcelona. The WWI had instilled people with fear and The German Pavilion was supposed to depict a new stance which was dominated by a modern and unambiguous system. It was a temporary exhibit but its fate was brought upon when it was demolished after six months. However, in 1986, it was rebuilt by Ignasu de Sola Morales, Christian Cirici and Fernando Ramos.
Mies’ minimalistic style of architecture was intact while placing the building in a contextual setting. The structure held a blend of with the future of a besieged nation that was getting ready to move forward.
The free-flowing building has minimal structural work. Each element and material used in the building is a portrayal of a certain value. Mies designed the building using a grid system which was developed by him.
The structure rests on a framework of a travertine-paver base. It highlights a relatively horizontal stature on a narrow site. The building is raised on a low plinth characterized by a low flat roof. As one walks up the plinth, the roof plane is extended into the outdoor court, forming a small canopy. There is only a thin demarcation between the interior and outdoor spaces. The movement on the inside is a cyclical process which leads to one discovering and rediscovering the architect’s vision at that time. One’s experience in this building offers an ethereal perspective which was previously unseen.
Following the theme of the building, two reflecting pools flank the interior space at either end. The smaller pool at the rear end has a sculpture placed in it and allows filtered light inside it. The bigger one at the entrance compliments the volume while it traverses the rest of the base. These have gravel added to their base making them inaccessible such that their only purpose is to act as a reflective surface. They complement the building by narrating a reflection of the past.
There are eight slender cruciform columns which support the roof of this structure. They allow it to effortlessly float above the volume while freeing up the interior to allow for an open plan. A single slab of onyx divides the interior space into two. The use of onyx with other rich materials like marble, travertine, chromed steel and different tints of glass make-up for a graceful combination. Moreover, the green granite creates a harmony with the surrounding areas of the site. It works profoundly to blend it with the lush vegetated conservatory area and hence make it a part of its surroundings.
The waves of shadows of the onyx make the space more lively. Italian travertine is most widely used in the building. It covers the plinth and the exterior walls adjacent to the pool. When exposed to the sun, the stone washes the light over the space adding another aesthetic feature to it. There are two Barcelona chairs in the interior space; the only pieces of furniture. The placement of the chairs brings a sense of royalty to mind as one enters the room. This furniture hence outlines the austerity as it welcomes visitors inside, but not to stay for long.
Lying in the shallow pool, a sculpted dancing woman rests on a pedestal. The sculpture is a bronze reproduction of George Kolbe’s piece titled ‘Dawn’. The woman appears to be in a motion pose while dancing slowly, adding the only curves contrasting in an otherwise geometrically resolute building. In this open planned structure, strong and sleek lines, reflective surfaces and the rigid structure portray the nation’s strength and power. Also, it gives rise to a masculine architecture that stimulates strength and hope for a nation that is yet to rise again. The statue of the woman is hence strategically placed outside in the rear pool. It represents a woman’s position in society at that time. The message delivered through this building was hence emitting power while awakening a woman’s repressed voice.
In this building, the experience was more than just a visual one. The tangible elements in the form of the rich materials and slender structure had a significantly more intangible value. It was a metaphor for rising Germany at that time. The line of vision for the building has been constrained by Mies himself. A visitor is forced to adjust to the views framed by him narrowed down through the building’s low stature. This building became a pristine example of using advanced technology for modern materials while maintaining harmony with nature.
An architecture student who understands the power of words and feels that architectural journalism goes beyond design by playing a pivotal role in initiating meaningful dialogue. He believes that architects can change the world and make it a better place to live, work and play in.
Originally published at https://www.re-thinkingthefuture.com on January 19, 2021.