Mies' Barcelona Pavilion

Mies' Barcelona Pavilion

peter bennetts/esto

Mies van der Rohe’s German Pavilion for the Barcelona World’s International Trade Show in 1929 was originally placed in an artificially landscaped setting. This park siting continued the tradition of Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s landscaped “neo-Greek” “temples” and private houses from the early 19th century. Mies’ Barcelona Pavilion, emblematic of the new Weimar German state, also evokes the 18th century pavilion-like structures of English Gardens like Stowe. There these “temples” could be read as an abstract poetic and political allegory, experienced by the spectator walking between the various buildings.


The Barcelona Pavilion was both a “nationalist” “temple” emblematic of the new post World War I modern Germany, and a showcase window with “high-end” furnishings on display. The pavilion’s design was based on overlapping rectilinear divisions of freestanding walls of glass and marble, which enclosed the pavilion and formed a pattern of open and closed space. Honey-colored golden onyx, green marble, and tinted, clear and frosted glass was used for the overlapping walls, which were supported by eight slender cruciform stainless steel columns. Mies’ design brings nature inside, the green foliage outside the pavilion’s glass perimeter wall projected onto the greenish marble and green tinted transparent glass. The gazes of the spectators transpose the spectators’ body and desires onto the objects seen through the glass on display.

The author’s own glass pavilion is on view at the Metropolitan Museum’s rooftop through November 2.
Hyla Skopitz / Metropolitan Museum

The “showcase” core displayed Mies’ own furniture—black leather chairs and stools with cushions alongside table slabs of black opal glass. Mies used a variety of colored glasses, green, black, frosted white, and transparent. The wall enclosing the pavilion was made from green marble. An outside terrace area contained a reflecting water pool. There were two figurative sculptures by Georg Kolbe, one near the pool, and the other at the edge of the path taken by visitors along the perimeter of the pavilion. The sculpture of the human figure perhaps relates to the ghost-reflected self-image of the spectator.

The optics of the Barcelona Pavilion, in its subtle, overlapping indoor/outdoor reflections, relates images from the marble material onto reflected images of the spectator’s bodies both projected onto the showcase display window, superimposing the observing spectator’s image of their body and gaze side by side with those of other spectators. This replicates the optics of the mirror stage, as articulated by Sartre and Lacan, involving the recognition of the young child’s identity of their newly formed self by way of identifying one’s reciprocal gaze with the gaze of another’s. The modern showcase display window also makes use of this identity crisis by projection, projecting the superimposed “ghost like” image of the onlooker on to the goods on display, creating a desire, which can be fulfilled only with purchase of the item.