This article will give you an overview of the history of the Classic Barcelona Chair by Mies Van der Rohe and how and why it has become such a modern design classic, sought-after all over the world.
You will also find pictures of the Pavilion by Mies in which the Famous Barcelona Chair thrones are situated.
How does a simple lounge chair grow to be so famous? Why is it so hard to find this chair in furniture shops and where can I buy the Chair? The answers to these questions are all in this article so take a seat and read on.
|Mies Van Der Rohe Barcelona Chairs in the Pavilion in Barcelona that were used as royal thrones|
The Barcelona Chair story all started with a man called Ludwig Mies Van de Rohe way back in 1929. Mies, a man of German origin, was born in 1886 and became one of the leading modernist architects of his time. Mies served for a short time in the 1930s as the director of the world-renowned school of design in Germany, the Bauhaus. Like many architects he understood the importance of using the correct furniture to complement the purpose of the building if there was to be harmony in design. Thus Mies's work in architecture effectively led him into furniture design.
In 1929 Barcelona was host to the World Arts Fair, and the German government commissioned Mies to design the German Pavilion at Montjuïc as part of the exposition.
|Mies Van der Rohe Pavilion in Barcelona housing the 2 Chairs designed for the king and queen of Spain|
With the Pavilion Mies succeeded in his vision of a modern building with a free spatial flow, built with glass, steel and four kinds of marble. However once he had created the building his mind turned to designing the furniture that would be used in it. Creating furniture may be a simple task compared to a whole building some might say, but not according to Mies:
"The chair is a very difficult object. Everyone who has ever tried to make one knows that. There are endless possibilities and many problems - the chair has to be light, it has to be strong, it has to be comfortable. It is almost easier to build a sky scraper than a chair." - Mies 1930
The Exposition was a world affair, an important event with the Spanish royals and several European government officials attending. Mies fully appreciated the significance of the occasion.
He knew that what he designed had to be "an important chair, a very elegant chair and costly. It had to be monumental. You couldn't just use a kitchen chair".- Mies 1929
Mies was right and indeed his chairs served as thrones for the King and Queen of Spain when they visited the Pavilion. At the time the Barcelona Chairs were the only furniture in the whole building.
|Inside the Pavilion in Barcelona|
The German Pavilion was pulled down some 6 months after the Exposition, but it was re-built for posterity in 1983 on its original site at Montjuïc on Av. Marques de Comillas.
From this auspicious start the Barcelona Chairs soon became status symbols, icons of design similar to Breuers 'Wassily Chair'. These examples were all instant successes thanks to their fluidity and agelessness of design. The Barcelona Chair concept can be compared to the modern day I Mac in the computer World, they are both pieces of designer sculpture, without hiding their true function.
The Barcelona Chair, naturally named because of its first use and rise to fame in Barcelona, has enjoyed steadily increasing sales and production worldwide. Mies re-designed the original chair in 1950 in order to make use of stainless steel which had become available due to a recent advancement in technology.
Constructing the chair frame in stainless steel meant that the whole frame could now be made from one fluid piece of metal. However Mies was meant to be a Bauhaus designer, someone who believed in functional furniture, that could be mass produced for workers (something that Ikea has become internationally successful for these days) and herein lies the contradiction as the Barcelona Chair is actually both expensive and difficult to mass produce.
The fact that the Classic Barcelona Chair is difficult and expensive to produce accounts for the chair's price which can range from about $600.00 to over $3,000.
However you are paying for an iconic and easily recognizable piece of furniture. In fact now you can also find footstools, sofa versions and the like, none of which have been designed by Mies, but follow the design rules of the Barcelona Chair, i.e. the same legs and quilted square style upholstery. These pieces of Barcelona furniture are most easily obtained by ordering online and are usually available in black or cream.
For the Barcelona Chair to be produced exactly according to Mies' original specifications it has to have been produced by the German company Knoll Studio who were given the exclusive manufacturing rights by Mies in 1953. All the chairs have the Knoll Studio logo and the Mies signature stamped onto the frame so it is easy to tell the real thing from an imitation.
Some of the furniture that Knoll sells, is subject to a small royalty fee paid to the MoMA for some of Mies's designs. Therefore buying from Knoll ensures that you are giving a little bit back to the art world.
The Barcelona Chair is not readily available in shops due to the cost of its production, and because most people want made to order chairs so that they can choose the colour and leather they prefer. However here are a few shops that stock the chair in Barcelona. These stores also have similar pieces in the same collection, such as the foot stool or the sofa.
Passeig de Gràcia , 96
Metro: Diagonal, (Green Line, L3) or (Blue Line, L5)
This shop is worth a visit if you are interested in furnishing, good design or even architecture. The shop is huge, set on 2 floors, with a large garden terrace and impressive original fireplaces. It's almost like a museum in its own right. The shop doesn't have the Chair available on display but they have it in storage or you can order to your own specifications (leather, colour). The average price is a hefty €2,500 for a single Barcelona Chair, and this price can vary depending on the material you choose for the upholstery.
Metro: Verdaguer, (Blue Line, L5) or (Yellow Line, L4)
Website: www.pilma.com Barcelona Chair Store
This is a very trendy shop which sells the Barcelona Chair in white, red or black. The measurements of the chair are 75 * 75cm height by width, and you can ask for different leather upholstery. The price of the Barcelona Chair varies according to the type of leather you want (extra or super), but on average the Barcelona Chair retails for around €1,594.
Pilma Diagonal, 403
Metro: Diagonal, (Green Line, L3) or (Blue Line, L5)
This is the same furniture shop as the one above, but a different branch. They do not have the original Barcelona Chair, however they sell the Barcelona chair stool and the couch which are part of the same collection.
If, however you would just like to see the Barcelona Chair then I would recommend a visit to the Pavilion which has the two chairs still set out as they were when used as the Royal thrones.
Pavelló Mies Van Der Rohe
Av. Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia 7
Parc de Montjuïc
08038 Barcelona, España
Metro: Espanya (Green Line, L3) or (Red Line, L1)
Tel: +34 93 423 4016
Visiting Hours: Monday - Sunday: 10:00 - 20:00
Cost: €4.75, Students: €2.60
This article has given you a small piece of Barcelona history as well as an outline to an important part of furniture design history in Barcelona. Both the Classic Barcelona Chair and the Pavilion are now very much part of Barcelona's rich culture and are deserving of a look.