Mies Van Der Rohe Barcelona Chairs

Written by Nicholas Kamuda
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The Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs represent a curious slice of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's career as an architect and designer. Never formally trained as an architect, Mies's minimal designs in the (so-called) "International style" and his credo of "Less is more" are the product of both his time and his unique career as a student and designer. The Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs were produced early in his career, during the initial, international spike of modernist thought, lending to them an energy and urgency that is quite different from his later work.

The chairs were designed for the German Pavilion at the 1929 World Exposition in Barcelona, Spain. The Pavilion was to have a specific purpose and rare clientele: it was meant to house the King and Queen of Spain during the Expo's opening reception. As such, Mies was challenged to consider the meaning of royalty in the modern age, and moreover, to design a series of furniture that could carry the conceptual weight of a throne, but was versatile enough to keep with his Bauhaus-like principles of mass production, simplicity, and functionality.

Exploring the Mies van der Rohe Barcelona Chairs

The resulting Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs are exercises in balancing luxury with modernity. They are made from many sewn-together square leather cushions the rest on a series of thin steel ribs. Below the seat of the chair, two steel bars on each side intersect with first each other, then the floor in what is referred to as a "scissor" design.

The interaction of the Pavilion and the chairs gives rise to some interesting comparisons. The interior walls of the Pavilion, while planer, are never boxy, yet the arrangement of perpendicular and parallel planes, augmented by martial columns that run the length of the structure, implies a grid. At this point in his career, Mies van der Rohe explored the possibilities of the grid as organization; it seems he hadn't yet settled into comfort regarding placement and use of the grid in architectural forms. The cushions of the Barcelona chairs and ottoman reinforce the sense of exploration; as leather squares, they are a "soft grid," enhancing the understanding of the Pavilion as a grid-based structure but escaping any restrictions that the grid could have enforced on the openness of the building as a whole.

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