By 1929 Europe had left the destruction of the first worldwide conflict in the rear view and was living among the faded memories of the Belle Époque and the “wondrous destiny and progress” of the modern world, unaware of what would befall it in just 10 short years.
Into this ambience, an International Exposition was organised in Barcelona, in which countries from Europe and around the world would show off the best they had to offer. Among others, Germany, defeated and impoverished by the First World War, wished to show the world that not only was it arising anew, but that its ambition was to be a leading light on the international scene. The German pavilion project was entrusted to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who, alongside Lilly Reich, designed something that would change modern art forever.
Travertine, green marble, golden onyx, steel, glass and water. Using these materials, he built an open, fluid space with no fixed floors, mutable and elegant. From the outset, it was intended only to last as long as the Exposition, its luck was based around a particular consequence of the lack of funds and inadequate construction techniques. The German pavilion (better known as the Barcelona pavilion) would stand for just over six months, from May 1929 to early 1930.
The years went by and other tragic destruction occurred, so that by the start of the 80s a decision was taken that Mies van der Rohe’s masterpiece – the ephemeral cornerstone of 20th century architecture – deserved, or rather had to be rebuilt. In 1986, after three years of building work, the ‘Pavelló’ was ready, rebuilt on its original site in Montjuic.
Today it is the headquarters of a foundation that seeks to foster contemporary architecture and reflection on urban planning. There are installations, exhibitions, conferences, workshops and prize-giving ceremonies year round, among them the Mies van der Rohe Award – one of the most prestigious European awards for contemporary architecture. The choice to rebuild the ‘Pavilló’ paid off through the immortality of the classics and their ability to successfully propagate the ideas of the present in a city that is a fine example of eternal transformation.Aside from the pavilion, the 1929 Expo left us a seat also designed by Mies van der Rohe and Reich, the renowned Barcelona chair in steel and white leather, made for over 50 years and an enduring emblem of rationalism.
The pavilion and the chair, two messages in a bottle from nearly a century ago, have survived the 20th century and still tell the world to this day a fable of elegance and genius.
Photo Elisa Imperi (www.itm.srl)