Temporary Permanence


Earlier this summer, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the reconstruction of Mies van der Rohe’s German Pavilion for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition, a row of freestanding columns was erected in front of the Modernist icon. The colonnade is itself a temporary reconstruction –and very liberal reinterpretation– of the row of Ionic columns by the exposition’s urban designer Puig i Cadafalch that slightly predate the German pavilion and which Mies is believed to have duly ‘appropriated’ in the siting of his seminal work. As Josep Quetglas has written (in his 1988 essay ‘Fear of Glass: The Barcelona Pavilion’): “One must insist on the colonnade as an integral component of the pavilion.”

Mies Barna pavilion
The original German pavilion of 1929 by Mies van der Rohe behind the original Ionic colonnade by Puig i Cadafalch. Image sourced from Revisions 2: Architectureproduction.

The currently installed colonnade, an assembly of vertically-stacked oil drums by Luis Martínez Santa-María (Madrid) which was selected through the Mies van der Rohe Foundation’s ‘Fear of Columns’ competition, is titled, quoting Mies: “I don’t want to change the world. I only want to express it.”

The design of the colonnade is certainly inventive and clever, especially considering the competition’s extremely limited budget and the temporary duration of the installation. Its ad-hoc re-use of an industrial byproduct makes, moreover, for a striking contrast with the pristine formality of the pavilion; so much so that one wonders whether such a degree of informality might not seem somewhat out of place here. As much as I appreciate ad-hocism, in such an official institutional context it can come across all too easily as a pathetic attempt to be in tune with current ‘hipster’ trends. All that’s missing are the pallets.

Of course, it is precisely the temporal nature of the reconstructed colonnade that permits such informality and such a radical reinterpretation. If this were to be a permanent reconstruction, such artistic liberty would be much harder to fight for, if not impossible. Indeed, only a few hundred meters away, on the same exposition grounds, a recent permanent reconstruction of another Ionic colonnade by Puig i Cadafalch–in this case one that makes reference to the Senyera (Catalonia’s flag)– tries to reproduce the original columns as faithfully as possible, with no pretence of artistic reinterpretation whatsoever.

2014-08-29 17.36.34
A permanent reconstruction of another Ionic colonnade by Puig i Cadafalch on the very same exposition grounds.

In a similar vein, we could compare the 1986 permanent reconstruction of the German pavilion by Ignasi de Solà-Morales, Cristian Cirici, and Fernando Ramos, which only departs from the original design for technical reasons, with the temporary reconstruction, coincidentally also from 1986, of the same pavilion by OMA at the XVII Triennale of Milan. Titled “Body-building home”, here OMA reinterprets the pavilion as a hedonistic urban penthouse atop an American skyscraper. Note how the pavilion is also ‘bent’ into an arc as a result of having to adapt to the curvature of the Triennale building. Alas, a temporary architectural reconstruction can always take greater artistic liberty than a permanent one.

OMA Barna pavilion
Sketch for the temporary installation of ‘Body-building home’ by OMA at the Triennale of Milan, 1986. Image source: Roberto Gargiani, Rem Koolhaas / OMA: The Construction of Merveilles (Lausanne: EPFL Press, 2008). 

And yet, these stacks of used oil drums are very likely to be photoshopped out of any advertisement copy that uses the pavilion as a status-endowing setting, especially advertising for luxury gas-guzzlers. This despite advertising being the most ephemeral and dispensable art-form there is. Go figure.


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