Shane Ferro
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OBJECT LESSONS: Architecture & Design News

The Barcelona Pavilion Mies van der Rohe Didn’t Want You to See

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Lately there has been a lot of hullabaloo about the image of architecture (here, here, and then here), about how our tweeting, liking, and pinning contemporary culture privileges the graphic presentation of buildings over any other aspect of the discipline. To reverse this seemingly inexorable trend might require a major shift in how we interact with the world around us. But the overwhelming nature of this task has not precluded some from trying — in small incremental steps — to tease out the complexity of architecture below its photographed and digitally-rendered surface. A new installation at Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion seeks to do just that.

“Phantom. Mies as Rendered Society” is a project by architect Andrés Jaque and his firm Office for Political Innovation that attempts to reveal the typically hidden facets of this famously minimalist architectural icon. For the installation, Jaque has unearthed objects from the decidedly un-photographed basement of the pavilion — sun-damaged curtains, threadbare Barcelona chair cushions, cleaning materials, and some of Mies’s patented cross-shaped pillars, devoid of their questionably load-bearing functions and eaten by rust — and scattered them throughout the main space of the building. As Domus writer Ethel Baraona Pohl explains, “[s]uddenly, the image of Mies van der Rohe retreats into the background, and what we see before us is society, just as it is, free of mysticism.”

The project parallels Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoîne’s film “Koolhaas Houselife,” which follows house cleaner Guadalupe Acedo around Rem Koolhaas’s Maison à Bordeaux, highlighting through documentary film the idiosyncratic (and rather inconvenient) tidying routine that was inadvertently programmed into Koolhaas’s delicious design. By revealing signs of the labor that goes into keeping the travertine and chrome shining and the pillows properly fluffed, such exposés remind us that architecture is not merely the lofty idea of an architect rendered into reality, but it is the product of multiple exchanges, far removed from the architect, however quotidian these exchanges may be.

“Phantom. Mies as Rendered Society” is on display at The Mies van der Rohe Pavilion in Barcelona through February 28, 2013.

All photos via Domus.

- Kelly Chan

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