Lighten-Up in the Mies Pavilion

The installation by SANAA (Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa) at Barcelona’s Mies van der Rohe Pavilion is simple, subtle, and surprising. And irreverent.

A single curving wall comprised of sheets of transparent acrylic winds around the pavilion’s interior, creating a nearly invisible circular space. At first glance we might think of it as “Richard Serra Extra-Lite”, but in fact this work is not about its own material presence, but about subtly, playfully and irreverently distorting our perception of this most canonical of Modernist buildings. If the Mies Pavilion is already a play of reflections, this adds another, radically different, layer of reflection.

The plan of the installation is a very loosely formed spiral (the symbol of pataphysics), reminiscent of the kind of shape that is often gesticulated by means of a pointer over a map by coaches, war strategists or architects. The work has a sort of spontaneity to it, perhaps due to the flimsiness and imperfect joints of the acrylic sheets. It appears not to have been overly labored, perhaps not even designed. With those oh-so kawaii rabbit chairs in there as well, I wonder if the installation might not just be trying to tell us to “lighten up!” If so, then I wish to second that emotion.

The Mies Foundation should also be congratulated for expanding the program of the pavilion beyond being merely a museum of itself.

About Rafael Gomez-Moriana

I am an architect, writer and educator. rafagomo.com chronicles my architectural making, writing, teaching and curating activity, while criticalista.com is an archive of my writings as well as a platform for venting personal rants and observations. I studied architecture at the University of Waterloo (Canada) and at the Berlage Institute (the Netherlands). I direct the University of Calgary’s architecture term-abroad program in Barcelona and teach at CIEE, and have previously taught in the Metropolis Masters Program in Architecture and Urban Culture as well as at Carleton University and the University of Manitoba.

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