Barcelona Pavilion, Fundació Mies van der Rohe, 2022. Cover photo: Åkerblom Studio

The intervention reintroduces a constellation of waterlilies that have once inhabited the larger pool of the Barcelona Pavilion. 

The project adds a finishing touch to the 1980s reconstruction of the iconic design by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich. A cluster of water plants, visible in photos from 1929 and recalled by visitors at the time, have been long overlooked by the history of design. The intervention by CENTRALA, rather than offering a faithful reconstruction, contemplates the richness of aquatic botany and its relation to architecture. 

The water plants – present also in other Mies van der Rohe and Reich’s projects from around 1930 – once formed a frequent component of architectural compositions. Used by architects and landscape designers, including Roberto Burle Marx, Isamu Noguchi, Gio Ponti, Carlo Scarpa and Pietro Porcinai, they were blossoming especially at the world’s fairs. Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace at the 1851 London’s Great Exhibition with its structure inspired by a leaf of Victoria amazonica, and Joseph Bury Latour-Marliac’s presentation of hybrid species that enraptured Claude Monet at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle created a long-lasting relationship between aquatic botany and international exhibitions that included the 1929 Expo in Barcelona. Yet, today the waterlilies have disappeared from most of their former architectural settings. The intervention at the Barcelona pavilion intends to bring them back to the architectural imagination.

The current composition of the pool consists of white waterlilies of both hybrid (Nymphaea ‘Walter Pagels’Nymphaea Marliacea Chromatella Empordà, and night-blooming Nymphaea ‘Trudy Slocum’) and botanical origin (Nymphaea alba and Catalonian Nymphaea alba from the delta of Ebro River), as well as other plants (Potamogeton natansPotamogeton coloratusCeratophyllum demersum), insects and microorganisms (Dafnia, Notonecta glauca, Cyclopoida) that help keep the water clean. The new image of the pool contributes to current debates on biodiversity, renaturalization and design of urban microclimates. It also encourages new readings of the iconic pavilion, with its pool being no longer only a flat and reflective surface contributing to the abstract structure of the building, but also a small ecosystem that resonates with the rhythms of nature.

Authors: CENTRALA (Małgorzata Kuciewicz, Simone De Iacobis)

Curator: Aleksandra Kędziorek

Curator on behalf of the Mies van der Rohe Foundation: Ivan Blasi

Project coordinator: Adriana Mas

Aquatic botany: Carles Palau (Viver Tres Turons)

Pavilion management: Víctor Sanchez

Architectural consultations: Fernando Ramos

Video documentation: Åkerblom Studio

The project was supported by the Polish Institute in Madrid. 

The research phase of the project took place in the Tugendhat villa in Brno, Botanical Garden in Padua and Fundació Mies van der Rohe in Barcelona (07.-09.2021). The study visits were possible thanks to the i-Portunus mobility grant.

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