Monday, April 7, 2014

Know Your Chairs: The Barcelona

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was a legendary architect and one of the founders of Modernism. But aside from designing the structure, he often designed the furniture and furnishings that were to go in his buildings as well. Such is the case with what has come to be one of, if not the most famous chair designs in history: the Barcelona Chair.

In 1929, Mies (as he was referred to...sounds like Meez) was tapped to design the German Pavilion at the International Expo which was being hosted in Barcelona, Spain. This pavilion was to exemplify the new Weimar Republic, and according to the Commissioner of the Expo, Georg von Schnitzler, to give "voice to the spirit of a new era." So Mies designed a glorious building of steel, glass, travertine, marble, and red onyx. The result was a breathtaking space, spare, low, and radically new and utterly modern. It was not to house any trade exhibits but was to remain empty. The building itself was seen as the exhibit.

Mies designed some equally spectacular, minimalist furniture to occupy this radically minimalist space. The Barcelona chair was composed of tilted planes affixed to gracefully curved steel X legs below. The original chairs, along with their accompanying ottomans, were made of tufted ivory colored pig skin but subsequent versions were made of leather. The classic color now seems to be black, but can be made in white, black, or brown leather to fit with various color palettes. Although there are many unlicensed knockoffs and "versions" whose proportions are not quite right, the venerable modernist furniture manufacturer Knoll owns the rights to the authentic Barcelona Chair. Visit their site,, to order.

Without any forward thought or regard, the pavilion was destroyed in 1930, almost immediately after the Expo closed. But thankfully the structure was rebuilt between 1983 and 1986, using extant original plans and photographs as a guide, and is permanently on display at an alternate site in Barcelona. Visit the official site below for information about location and how to visit.

The Barcelona chair compliments nearly any d├ęcor scheme from ethnic and eclectic to, of course, modern, whether mid-century or miminalist. You might find the Barcelona to be a good fit for your space.

Happy designing!

1 comment:

Lisa Battle said...

I photographed these style chairs for a promotion at work.I should have introduced you then! Great info Jeff.