The Barcelona Pavilion by Grain, ” of fluke? | Rodrigo Almonacid

2015-01-21 DOCS
The Pavilion of Germany in the expo’29 of Barcelona newly finished the work.

We might think, at least for a moment, that the Pavilion of Germany in Barcelona of Grain finished so well “of fluke”?

Last Wednesday, the 4th of May, 2016 José Ramón Hernández Correa was throwing the following affirmation in his agitator post of Facebook:

“To Mies van der Rohe the Pavilion of Barcelona went out for him well of fluke.”

Jose Ramon seemed to point at a “divine luck” that he accompanied on Grain in the accomplishment of this mythical project, chance to demythologize it … or not: that one declares!! Only 3 minutes needed in order that Molina’s Santiago was going out “to remove” to deny the major one. The debate, reading darling, was served …

And, clear, we could not resist the temptation of entering to the rag…😉

Jaume Prat inflamed the thread in FB instigating to a game of billiards to 3 bands between our respective blogs, and … voilá, here we walk. You can read HERE Jose’s Ramon post and HERE Jaume’s post, insurance that you will not be upset with. And this way we enjoy all playing this Mies´match …

To that we are fans Mies, a judgment like that of Jose Ramon “offends us”. But one, decided like about custom not to giving anything seated, prefers sailing in the doubt. About not breaking my sincere friendship;-) with my admired colleague (a wrightiane of pro, since it is known), I thought of granting certain margin of verisimilitude to him to his affirmation, chance to explore if

“some possibility exists, for small that is, of saving ours”,

As Marisa Paredes would say in La flor de mi secreto. So I will try to verify if my outlandish idea defended in Facebook’s thread makes some sense:

“Might it say that the project went out for him wonderfully but that what was “of fluke” was to manage to construct it since to project it and more in our dear Spain of then?”

It is a question neither of repeating here nor to compile the rivers of ink on the famous one – what I say “famously”: mythical!! – Mies´pavilion. What we know of the pavilion is very diffuse since practically all the analyses have been written by authors who could not see it in situ, in the Barcelona of 1929. Since in addition it was demolished after the exhibition, they do not remain any more witnesses that a few scanty sketches and planes, and a handful of photos of epoch of the work. So, actually, all sound elucubraciones … and this one that I propose you here, reading darling, another, certainly.

We go away to bordering to sowing the doubts and then everyone who feels free to comment and suggest if it sees it of another form. Though Jaume Prat says that Josep Quetglasalready it left any saying on the pavilion in his book El Horror Cristalizado (affirmation that I share equally), nevertheless I think that always new readings can be added. I understand, reading darling, that every generation owes and has the right to discover and explain “HIS” Pavilion of Barcelona, since it happens with the masterpieces of the Art.

Though there has not come up to us the complete documentation of the project (““it got lost” or “it was eliminated” in his movement of Berlin to Chicago), consulting the original available sources we warn a more or less logical sequence in his formal definition: an enclosure opened but perfectly delimited by a podium of travertino and confined between exempt walls placed in the short ends of the lot. From the first sketch this is like that. And as the versions of the pavilion develop there appear two covers that cover the 2 only closed spaces of the future building.

Planta de una de las versiones iniciales del Pabellón de Alemania con cotas referidas al emplazamiento de 1928 (Archivo Mies van der Rohe).
Plant of one of the initial versions of the Pavilion of Germany with levels referred to the emplacement of 1928 (Mies van der Rohe Archive).

He does not arrange of the “definitive” drawings of the project, or probably it would be better to say that the planes of work – or most linked to his construction, for saying it of some way – turn out to be the most interesting for us: this condition seize as built, where there turn out to be certain “complexities and contradictions” as he would say Venturi2… And there it is where we try to sow the doubts on the chances and divine fortunes that accompanied the German teacher. Because it is there where the work seems to prove to be more fragile, “erosion”, where it proves to be the greatness of the myth this “imperfect” humanity who implies his construction; and, thanks to her, his legendary condition is furthermore big …

One of the planes that more attracts us is the plant of paving. It is a question of a plane where finally there appears the reticle that is absent in almost all the original plants of the project. It is a plane where the squared pattern bases of the project stops being abstract and becomes concrete, credible. That perfect lace of the project gets blurred and we estimate that, opposite to the modular idea of a podium constructed with the only type of square tile, the plane of execution reveals thousand and one exceptions to this regular rule of his tracing. There is multitude of types of tiles, of several forms and dimensions, “approximately be equal” but do not be equal. They tend to be squared, but nothing more. Is it a Mies´careless…? Inconceivable: “of fluke” this topic was not going to be solved in the work, some solution had to come well-considered at least from the project … ¿ or simply, since it happens with the Parthenon, the German architect projected an ideal building constructed with wise corrections that were allowing to show it like it imagined, and not “since actually it is”? Suppositions …

Planta con los despieces del pavimento de travertino del Pabellón de Barcelona (Archivo Mies van der Rohe – MoMA)
Plant with the break-downs of the pavement of travertino of the Pavilion of Barcelona (Mies van der Rohe Archive – MoMA)

Derivative of the previous thing we concentrate now on some “doubts” it brings over of his famous cruciform props. The first one ensues from that his location does not coincide with the reticle of the pavement. His form in cross segments the horizontal space isotrópicamente, so that in groups of 4 they delimit a spatial ideal cubicle confined between parallel soil and ceiling. In the pavilion, it is up to 3 square identical enclosures in size under the principal cover; and, in spite of this spatial clarity,

The squared pattern of the solado does not coincide with the squared pattern of the structure!!

It is true that the use of the modular base reticulada started testing in this work and using it with profusion in his houses – courts, but it will not be up to his American stage when this meets coherent and really realized. The work modélica in this respect they are 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments in Chicago where the axes of the square props coincide with the meetings of the square tiles that they rule everything lot3. But why in Barcelona only have 2 pairs of props of the ends his axes on the lines of the squared pattern and other 2 central pairs not? The only thing that we will say is that in his planes both stretch to be “forgotten”, even up to not being represented; already we have said it of the reticle, but equal it happens with the props. And clear, also in the royal perception, since they stuffed themselves with sheet cromada as if they were mirrors …

Planta del Pabellón de Barcelona en una de las versiones iniciales sin cuadrícula en el pavimento ni pilares cruciformes (Archivo Mies van der Rohe).
Plant of the Pavilion of Barcelona in one of the initial versions without squared pattern neither in the pavement nor cruciform props (Mies van der Rohe Archive).

As for the form and construction of the cruciform props in yes also there are very interesting topics… The first version is slightly conclusive brings over of the union between the 4 angular ones that form the shaft (there is a platabanda that massive the central interstice and equal other one in the opposite direction, divided in 2 halves), and the subordination of the lining sheet cromada does not seem to be technically viable for the heads where they have to be screwed; nevertheless, in the second and definitive version the solution is purified, the scheme is perfectly symmetrical in both directions of the plane, and his details of fixation undoubtedly perfected with 4 identical auctions in T. Even his drawing turns out to be more beautiful, since the curvature of the concave fold of the sheet is concentric with that of the angular structural one. Now then, this nake section of prop under the solado or over the ceiling they were not “lined” and it does not stop worrying me thinking about these “secret” details, reading darling…

Sección horizontal comparativa entre la versión inicial y la final del pilar cruciforme del Pabellón de Barcelona.
Horizontal comparative section between the initial version and the final of the cruciform prop of the Pavilion of Barcelona.

Studying the almost divine level of this one meeting of elementary pieces (let’s remember that, for Mies, “God is in the details”), also us his location turns out to be slightly strange in the space and his structural behavior. His position with regard to the cover is symmetrically balanced to the effect of the distribution of loads and, despite everything, many authors have commented on the difficulty of dismounting the cover with these 8 scanty and distant points of support.

It is not known “to certain science”, but it seems to be credible to think that the cover is not supported only by these 8 cruciform props, since it would be the ideal thing for a plant free modélica as this one. It seems that it was necessary from the punctual or partially linear support on the walls of stone to assure his stability. The photos of work seem to confirm it, showing numerous trestles like provisional survey of the girders, when still the walls could not use as support (and it that the weight of the cover alone was due to his metallic profiles).

Foto del Pabellón de Barcelona con parte de la estructura de cubierta terminada, y apoyada en 6 pilares y numerosos caballetes auxiliares apeando los voladizos.
Photo of the Pavilion of Barcelona with part of the structure of finished cover, and supported on 6 props and numerous auxiliary trestles dismounting the projecting ones.

Probably it is not so “strange” at the time to see the exagerate hardiness of the knot of union between prop and girders, with a species of abacus roblonado that embraces the reinforcements of major singing that arrange the girders that cross on the head of every prop.

Detalle del refuerzo metálico en la unión entre los pilares cruciformes y las vigas de la cubierta del Pabellón de Barcelona.
Detail of the metallic reinforcement in the union between the cruciform props and the girders of the cover of the Pavilion of Barcelona.

A too much perfected calculation? We believe that this it be to be true, without having any more tests, but yes in view of how his profiles received more entity in equally frivolous works as this one (be compared with the house Farnsworth, for example). And about being so preciosista in the design of the props without the problem to have amble decisive with identical precision and beauty seems to us to be equally contradictory, do not you have this sensation, reading darling?

Me more doubts arise still on this definitive condition of his construction …

For example, the intention of the horizontal break-down of the wall of onyx in 2 pieces noticing, with his marked texture, this symmetry to speculate flatly horizontally, as already he noticed R.Evans4  in his magnificent test; and, paradoxically, the rest of walls of marble splits in 3 pieces, with the symmetrical textures in each of two horizontal meetings, with what his placement already does not offer this reading to speculate on the height of the eyes to half of distance between the soil and the ceiling …

Or why the podium seems to be “incomplete” in the plants of the project (since it happens this way in the final work), since the basement of travertino doubles the corner opposite to the solemn colonnade octástila but finishes ado, like sudden or hurriedly. And, on the other hand, there exist other versions of the “definitive” plant where this basement yes appears I “complete” defining the perimeter of the building, with what the ambiguity on the final condition of the building remains wavering …

Planta de una de las versiones “definitivas” del Pabellón de Barcelona con el podium perimetral (Archivo Mies van der Rohe)
Plant of one of the “definitive” versions of the Pavilion of Barcelona with the podium perimetral (Mies van der Rohe Archive)

Let’s return initially … We will be “ancient” some, but we are of that still we think that it is in the work where an architect shows the domain of the trade, where the things do not happen “of fluke”, if it is attended well since is deserved. But clear, during the construction of the Pavilion of Germany, how many times it could spend Grain for his work? It is not known with certainty … That one knows, only there is his photo in the place of the work, to restate the foundation. The perfection of his execution looks like a his merit undoubtedly, but it turns out to be difficult to imagine a meticulous supervision in the distance from his study in Berlin …

Mies van der Rohe supervisando la obra del Pabellón de Barcelona en 1929.
Mies van der Rohe supervising the work of the Pavilion of Barcelona in 1929.

Lately already we see how certain investigations are helping to uncover legends created by the “passionate histories” of the Modernity. From the maximum respect for architects and works so wonderful as this one, probably do not be of more starting opening critical speeches and introducing the human factor in his analysis (promoters, builders, collaborators, etc.), even considering the psychological factor (and the psychoanalytic one, come the case) to understand better the work in yes. Probably this way let’s not even manage to never get away ourselves from these doubts. What always we will still have is the certainty of a work so purified like ambiguous, so purist as contradictory, so exquisite and expensive as ephemeral and “useless”. Sufficient as in order that today, spent already near nine decades, we continue disconcerted and crushed for so much and so happy work finished “of fluke” … or not so much. Would I of you, reading darling, pass just now for the blog “ARQUITECTAMOS LOCOS?” by Jose Ramon Hernández Correa and for the blog “ARQUITECTURA ENTRE D’ALTRES SOLUCIONS”  by Jaume Prat Ortells. Equal they solve they the doubt. I, sincerely, do not meet capable …

Rodrigo Almonacid [r-arquitectura] · PhD architect
Valladolid. May 2016


1. QUETGLAS, Josep: El horror cristalizado  imágenes del pabellón de Alemania de Mies Van der Rohe. Barcelona: Actar, 2001.

2. Robert Venturi never had eulogistic words towards the architecture of Grain, surely because (to his judgment) it was the antithesis of his Complexity and contradiction in the Architecture (1966). Years later he would confess that it had committed a tremendous injustice with his work on having had studied and thought over it. We do not know if it is that now the deep reading of his complexity was overcoming the apparent simplicity …

3. CORTÉS, Juan Antonio: “The reflections of an idea. On 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments and 900 Lake Shore Drive Esplanade Apartments by Mies van der Rohe”, Arquitecturas Bis n.44,on july, 1983.

4. EVANS, Robin: “Mies van der Rohe’s Paradoxical. Symmetries”, AA Files n.19, Spring of 1990.


(Teruel, 1974). Licenciado en Arquitectura (1999) con premio extraordinario y Doctor “cum laude” en Arquitectura por la Universidad de Valladolid (2013), compagina su actividad académica como profesor doctor de la E.T.S. de Arquitectura de Valladolid con la profesional al frente de su propio estudio [r-arquitectura]. Es autor de dos libros: Mies van der Rohe: el espacio de la ausencia (2006); y El paisaje codificado en la arquitectura de Arne Jacobsen (2016). Colaborador habitual en blogs de actualidad y crítica arquitectónica.

Proyecto edificios singulares y sostenibles en mi estudio [r-arquitectura] desde el año 2000 con la colaboración un equipo multidisciplinar de especialistas de acreditada experiencia profesional. [Especialidad: Sector Terciario].

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