A striking architectural vision in this guide to free art —possibly after visiting the gardens of Laribal further up Montjuïc— technically not quite free yet still integral to the city: the Barcelona Pavilion by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. While the entrance fee is minimal, we think it should be free! Though you can gain some appreciation of the pavilion’s clean design even if you remain outside, going inside is well worth it.
It is difficult to comprehend today what an overwhelming shock the pavilion’s precise, uncompromising geometric lines must have had on its 1920s public, the harshness with which it sheared away previous architectural styles. Built of glass, travertine and four different marble varieties, it is a stunning example of the German Modern Movement and was pivotal not only in Mies van der Rohe’s career but in architectural history. It inspires every generation that views it. The statue in the pond, a female nude, is Dawn by Georg Kolbe, one of Mies van der Rohe’s contemporaries. Most importantly, the world-famous Barcelona Chair—still marketed today—was designed by Mies van der Rohe specifically for this pavilion. You can view examples inside.
The Barcelona Pavilion may look post-war, but it originated in 1929, as a design for the German Pavilion at the Barcelona International exhibition. It was used for the reception of the king of Spain, Alphonse XIII. Though taken down in 1930, architect Oriol Bohigas initiated a project for its reconstruction in 1980, overseeing painstaking research, design and reconstruction to restore the building on its original site.
Mies van der Rohe was partnered both professionally and sentimentally at this time with interior designer Lilly Reich, shortly before he took over direction of the prestigious Bauhaus in 1930. Other buildings the couple presented during this period were the Glassraum (glass room) at the Stuttgart exhibition (1927), the Tugendhat house (Brno, 1928-1930) and a structure for the 1931 Berlin exhibition, which was to bring him into conflict with the Third Reich, leading to his eventual emigration to the US.
The Barcelona Pavilion by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1929. Av. Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, 7, Montjuïc.