Revisit Mies and The German Pavilion

I managed to visit the German Pavilion three times during my five days holidays in Barcelona, I am sure you will agree my commitment to the cause cannot be questioned. I know this sounds obsessive, but a 17-year wait is a long time to photograph The German Pavilion so I am not taking any chances.

I have to confess while I like modern architecture, I am not a Mies van der Rohe, the architect behind the pavilion, obsessive and obedient fanboy. However, the German Pavilion has a special place in my heart for my architecture journey. Whenever I think of the German Pavilion, it always reminds me of three important life events: an architectural epiphany moment, Hurricane Katerina and my friend Karen in New Orleans.

My first visit to the German Pavilion was in the summer of 2005, I was in the middle of my architecture education and it was during my summer vacation with my family. It was a typically hot afternoon in Barcelona, virtually everyone in the city has gone into their afternoon siesta to avoid the 35C heat. I have read on the BBC website there is a very big tropical storm heading towards New Orleans where my friend Karen lives with her husband. Her email arrived before I head out, saying they are going to stay put, hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. There was no WhatsApp or FaceTime back then so I only learn a week later they made a last-minute evacuation the following day but I was quite worried about her when Katrina hit and wiped out three-quarters of the city.

But here I was, fresh in my architectural journey and visiting the famous modernist icon on a very hot summer afternoon. The pavilion is small in scale, but the design is very simple and unassuming. However, I vividly remember the first time I stepped inside, looking around and trying to understand why this simple structure is so important in modern architecture history. The interior has no decoration and was divided by a steel column, a wall, a carpet and several Barcelona chairs designed by the architect.
Upon spending a few minutes inside, I began to understand what the lectures/tutorials meant by creating rooms within a space. Mies has managed to convey that idea with the use of simple objects such as a carpet, chairs and a wall, that moment when you finally understand what the theory is trying to convey and can be appreciated in the actual building in question was my architecture epiphany moment.

While I was always interested in photography, the digital camera technology was still in its infancy and I was equipped with a Fujifilm FinePix F601, a state-of-the-art point and shoot camera back in the days. I was visiting at the wrong time of the day, with the summer sun high up above, creating very harsh light to take any decent photos.

In the subsequent years, as I was learning the ropes of taking architectural photos, I always want to retrace my footsteps, go back to the buildings I have visited and photograph them for my record and enjoyment with my new learnt skills.

On my first attempt to photograph the pavilion, it rained heavily before sunrise and completely ruined any chance of taking decent photos. I went back the following day late in the afternoon when there were only a few visitors and I get to appreciate the pavilion and document it via photographs for my record. However, I have always planned to have a morning blue hour shot, where the area will be deserted and I will get to have the whole pavilion myself to spend the time photographing this iconic structure.

And finally, here I was, on the third day of my Barcelona trip, having spent countless times in the past 17 years thinking about the composition and imagining what it will feel like, I was standing there, alone with the iconic structure, tripod and camera at the ready, to take pleasure from my hobby, the process was like catching up with an old friend and exchange our stories.

While I do not think my photographs are some sort of masterpiece as there are better photographers out there, photography is my escape where the process of taking photos gives me enormous joy– the planning, visualising, scouting the location and the journey of going on location is far more enjoyable than editing the photos on the computer. Writing this personal blog, and documenting the event is giving me a new perspective on my photography, I look forward to my next project and will try to write up the journey in the process.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.