Corrupt Mies | Symmetries at the Barcelona pavilion

This on-going study and fascination with an albeit small but seminal architecture, has been developing in stages:

  1. Initially studying the pavilion’s history and construction technology, I came across archival publication material of the original 1929 building by Mies. The images showed a pavilion gleaming with reflections generated from its polished surfaces of marble, glass, and stainless steel. Alongside, an essay stipulated that the pavilion’s uncanny symmetries are introduced in elevation, but not directly in the plan. Indeed, the plan does not appear designed with direct symmetry in mind. Nevertheless, I sought the symmetries in the Barcelona Pavilion’s plans through, as the essay suggested, the effect of reflective materials. Indeed, the symmetries in plan exist through reflection. I discovered an origami-like logic in the generation of the plan, an unfolding of space, which may have driven the pavilion’s layout. Furthermore, this three-dimensional unfolding follows a hidden multi-layered system, generated by overlaying the grids of floor tiles, columns, partitions, glass, etc.
  2. Attempting to photograph these symmetries on site, I discovered that surfaces and spaces would continue on the other side of vertical partitions, either physically or through reflection. Space expanded and contracted, it unfolded behind the walls regardless of material, solid or glass. Subsequently, I attempted to show the reflections through collages. The collages revealed otherworldly spaces not visible to the visitor, which nevertheless, exist in plan.
  3. A series of photographs of shadows in the pavilion triggered a study of the pavilion’s orientation with regards to the sun. The generation of shaded spaces is one of the other invisible spatial dimensions of the Barcelona pavilion. A rotational shift in plan from the north-south axis revealed how the rigid horizontal and vertical organisation of the physical space is, in reality, threatened by the dramatic and sharp oblique shadows which are generated as the sun moves through the site during the day. Perhaps this is a intentional effort by the architect for a dizzying effect in the pavilion?
  4. The shading studies led to further speculation on the design of the internal courtyard. The courtyard, perhaps was conceived as an interior space filled with ever-changing shadows, a space defined by three-dimensional shadows? The inhabitant of this interior-exterior shadow room, Dawn, dances around the courtyard via her shadows, which appear across to the walls and the reflective pond, during the day and throughout the year.
Design research: Symmetries at the Barcelona Pavilion
Archives: Harvard GSD Library, Penn Design Furness Library
Dates: 1998, 2006, 2016
Location: Barcelona, Spain