The Art in Architecture - Space (Part II)

(As a disclaimer upfront: I am not a licensed architect in the State of North Carolina, nor do I practice architecture or offer to practice it. I am a licensed builder and design and build modern homes.  I employ the professional help of a licensed structural engineer on all my projects. The following is simply my personal reflection on art, architecture, and space)

I had previously made a case about the quality of space being maybe the most important concern of architecture. Here are two examples that should give you goosebumps and are my favorite go-to’s from the deep history of all things built.

First, The Barcelona Pavilion, designed by Mies van der Rohe.

These are images of the new reconstruction. The original was built for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona, Spain. In 1929 mind you. Nearly 90 years ago. And I like to argue, of course without merit nor knowledge, that nothing to advance or surpass its feat has been ever done since.

From my limited window into the history of architecture this building was conceived, albeit in a hotbed of change in the arts and architecture, seemingly out of nowhere. Dropped from the sheer genius of an extraterrestrial being.

And what, pray tell, gets me all fuzzy about this one. Mies van der Rohe seems to have boiled down space itself into a flued form, defined by nothing more but simple planes and columns. Nothing more. And nothing less. You can almost touch that space. Like a body of water running through a riverbed, gently being nudged around rocks and through crevasses, pooling in spots. The elements defining the space, expertly stylized into pure forms. And aggrandized by a choice of the finest materials and most exquisite detailing. It’s a masterpiece of modern architecture.

I have not had the pleasure to see the reconstructed building in person, but what I did get to see is the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, designed by Maya Lin.

And this one made me weak in the knees every time I got to visit. I do not have any personal relationship to the Vietnam War or know of family members who have died there (and I apologize to anyone who has a deeper relationship to this memorial and to whom a mere architectural appreciation is not enough). And still, when I have walked up to the tip of one of its ends and started do descend into the ground, sliced into by two stark sheets of polished black granite, I have been profoundly overwhelmed by emotions, a sadness literally grounded in the deep folds of the earth. And here again a few simple stylized forms shape a moment, a space, with tremendously tactile qualities. A breathtaking example and iteration of what Mies had postulated a good half century prior to this marvel of space, built in 1981.

As I have moved past the wall I have been swallowed by the ground on one side, while on the other it sloped safely up. The further I went, the more complete and enveloping the space became. Just incredibly simple and incredibly effective.

This one you might have experienced yourself and maybe your own experience helps in understanding the rich qualities and raw power I see and feel in spaces.

I have often proclaimed that I could safely retire If I would witness just one inhabitant of my work coiling up in a fetal position, as a spectator of a Mark Rothko painting is rumored to have done. Coiled up in a moment of infancy, finally and fully at home. In a place, that offers so completely a sense of home that one would have to surrender.

(The Images are from the website Arch Daily and are credited there. It is without saying that it is quite difficult to render the sense of space in images. And as such it is difficult to appreciate architecture other than in person.)