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The Barcelona Chair...

   
 

Not on its Last Legs!

   

 

  

 

Mies van der Rohe said his work expressed and echoed these words of St. Augustine: "Beauty is the splendor of Truth."  A spare disciplined beauty was what he was going after with his design for the Barcelona Pavilion (the famous German entry at the 1929 Barcelona Exposition), a De Stijl-esque composition, asymmetrical and rectilinear, of glass, steel, green Tinian marble, onyx, and travertine with reflecting pools lined in black glass and a sculpture court.  A study in opacity and transparency with its heavy scarlet drapes and glass walls and the flowing open plan.  It was one of the most beautiful modern buildings ever built - inside were a few exquisitely perfect objects - a couple of Barcelona chairs, half a dozen Barcelona stools and a couple of glass-topped tables.  The Barcelona Pavilion was taken apart at the end of the exposition and no longer exists . . . but the Barcelona Chair was made to endure! 

And has - the Barcelona Chair is a recognizable classic, emblematic of modernist simplicity and elegance.  The modified X-shaped steel frame has something delicate yet strong in its curvature, as if the chair, a design for sedentary pleasure, was about to fly away like some marvelous flying seat.  Its buttoned cushions and rich aniline-dyed Spinneybeck leather recontextualize the act of sitting, making the most quotidian acts - relaxing to read the paper or enjoy a late-night bourbon - take on a wonderfully oxymoronic spare opulence!  The frame supports a webbing of broad leather straps over which pillows covered in the same luxurious leather rest.  The leather of the cushions (including the welting and buttons) come from a single cowhide and the webbing of straps is dyed to match.  Everything is hand-welted and hand-tufted and the steel frame is hand buffed to a perfect chrome finish.

Mies famously said, "A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous."

 

 
Read: Mies and Modern Living, Helmut Reuter, Birgit Schulte 

Buy: The Barcelona Chair 

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2009 eCognoscente 

All design and illustration by Anita Itty