How many Barcelona Pavilions fit into Camp Nou?

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You always want a perfect game

Lisbon, November 26th, 2008. The first few minutes of the Champions League game between Sporting CP and FC Barcelona. From the dugout, Pep Guardiola did not like what he saw. Thierry Henry – one of the quickest forwards in football history – had decided not to follow the instructions given by his coach. “I could hear him being upset”, confessed Henry, “I wasn’t on the side of the dugout, but on the right, doing one-two’s with Leo [Messi]. I scored a goal [0-1, 14 minutes into the game]. At half-time, all was nice and everything, and he took me off. I was like ‘what did I do wrong?‘”. At that very moment, Henry had realized something very important: “When Pep has a plan, respect the plan”. Months later, at the Stadio Olimpico, in Rome, the team that had been considered by most specialists as the best football team in History, would win the most important European competition: the Champions League. Nearly a year before, while having lunch at a small restaurant in Barcelona, the young coach had made a promise to the president of the club, Joan Laporta, who had bet on him, With me in Barcelona you will win everything and it happened!”.

In each club he has coached – FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City – Pep Guardiola is known for the discipline imposed upon his collaborators. Players’ curfews and eating habits are controlled. There is a minimum weight that athletes must reach in order to be able to train with the team. There were even times when he did not allow certain activities to be carried out. He banned us from watching the F1 or tennis in Barcelona because he didn’t want us sitting in the sun for hours, said a former player. At City, he established group dinners after matches that had been played in their stadium. Players would frequently be seen leaving those dinners with small cups of walnuts in their hands. Everything was analyzed in detail, in a way that a collective design could be achieved successfully.

What a difference a blazer makes

In 1906, Ludwig studied Carving. One day, Joseph, a colleague of his, advised him to talk to Sophia. She was the wife of Aloïs Riehl, a prominent Neo-Kantian physicist, who studied Friedrich Nietzsche and taught at the University of Berlin. The couple was looking for someone to design their future weekend home in Potsdam, only an hour away from the German capital. Even though they were not looking for a well-known architect, the Riehls were a bit skeptical about putting the project in the hands of a young architect at the age of 20. Even so, Ludwig was invited to a party that the couple was throwing at their apartment in Berlin. There, they would decide if he was truly the right person for the job.

Years later, at the peak of his career, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe would become famous for his hedonism. He had once said that he needed only three things: Dry Martinis, Dunhill cigarettes and suits from the Knize tailoring house. However, at the time of the couple’s invitation, Ludwig did not have the adequate clothes for the event. He immediately asked his friends to lend him money so that he could buy a blazer. That evening, with the charm that had always been attributed to him, Mies was able to convince Sophia and Aloïs to make him responsible for the project of their new house. He made the drawings without any help from his boss, Bruno Paul. Because of the house, an important relationship was born. The Riehls – besides having offered Mies a 6-week trip from Germany to Italy – began to invite him to many parties at their new home. In these occasions, he would meet important people in German business and culture at the time, some of which would become his future clients. Little by little, Mies was starting to stand out in what would become the most important architectural movement in the 20th Century.

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It was a real football revolution! It was a modern kind of football!”

When Pep Guardiola won his first Champions League Cup, he became the youngest coach to have done so, at only 38 years of age. That year, he was also the first coach in Spain to win the three main competitions, all at once. In the following year, the number of trophies doubled, and he finished the national championship with 99 points. However, the influence of the Catalan did not only sum up to success in his own club. “Following the best Barcelona, the best Spanish team arose as world champion and two-time European champion, and following a dominating Bayern [Munich, his second team as a coach], the German team was once again the best in the world”, explains RTP journalist, Carlos Daniel. “Football from this new century has a name that is bigger than everyone’s – at the intellectual level of the game. There is the game before and after Pep Guardiola”. The impact of Guardiola’s vision about modern football was huge, shared Pedro Bouças from Lateral Esquerdo website. “He was so big that people actually started talking about changing the rules, such as imposing offensive time limits [of his team]. This was simply because a team had put together such a fantastic group, that no one could steal the ball from”.

Mies, the modernist

At the end of the 19th century, Chicago and New York witnessed the appearance of a new type of building: the skyscraper. However, it was Mies who created what many call “the modern skyscraper”. The most symbolic examples of this are the apartment buildings at Lake Shore Drive (Chicago, 1951) and the Seagram office building (New York, 1958). Many tried to mimic these works. They obviously lacked the coherence and honesty that Mies shared in the creative processes of these buildings. This new way of approaching the high-rise building completely changed the skyline of many American cities in the 20th Century. As was said by the critic Paul Goldberg, a very peculiar language was developed by Mies throughout the years. “There are very few people, in all architectural history, who have actually created a new architectural language. And Mies was one of them”. This new language was largely influenced – as we would see in the future – by the technological advances that Mies van der Rohe had had access to due to his proximity to the German industry and its most important figures.


Johan Cruijff painted the Sistine Chapel; the other coaches only restored it”

Rigor and discipline are also things that Pep Guardiola requires of himself. At the age of 42, before started training Bayern Munich, in 2013, he studied German. This process took several months, and he studied for four hours every day. During this sabbatical year, which he spent in New York, lunches with his brother were frequently interrupted by tests or conversations with his German teacher. The purpose of this was to be able to communicate perfectly with his future team. Even as a child, he had been an excellent student; he loved to study. As a player at FC Barcelona‘s youth academy, Guardiola showed that he was a sort of an extension of the coaches and of their philosophies in the pitch. “Pep wanted to learn, that’s why whenever [Johan] Cruijff said something, Pep would give him his full attention” said Brian Laudrup.

Johan Cruijff was – besides one of the greatest strikers of all time – a great influence for various players and for a new generation of coaches. “I knew nothing about football until I met Cruijff”, Guardiola once confessed. Understanding what the Catalan did for FC Barcelona’s team, between 2008 and 2012, is understanding the theoretical principles rooted since the era of the Dutch coach. This modern type of football “was greatly born from his [Cruijff’s] success and aesthetics of his type of football, an idea that was born in Catalonia. We can say that Pep descended from Johan’s idea of the game, with an adaptability belonging to a more modern game”, shared Pedro Bouças.

It will someday be hailed as the most beautiful building of the 20th century

Before leaving Germany, on his way to the USA in the 1930’s, Mies created that which is his quintessential architectural work: The Barcelona Pavilion. In this project, as well as in others, the acquaintances forged during Sophia and Aloïs Riehl’s parties – especially with German industrialists – proved to be decisive. George von Schnitzler, member of the board of directors of an important chemical production company, IF Farber, had been chosen as the general commissioner for the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition. On the day of his nomination, von Schnitzler appointed Mies as the architect for the pavilion that would represent the German nation. What led him to make such a big decision in such a diligent way? His wife, Lilly, was an important personality in German culture from beginning of the 20th Century. It was she who convinced him to choose Mies for the position. The German architect’s contact with Hermann Lange, a well-known art collector and businessman in the textile sector, was also an influential factor. He also advised Schnitzler to hire Mies. With only six months to design the project, this site, built in 1929, has qualities that not even the German architect could express in words, but which are strongly reflected in his legacy. Freedom, transparency, clarity and thoroughness are expressed in the building. If Seagram celebrates “the skyscraper” and Farnsworth celebrates “the house”, the Barcelona Pavilion is a physical manifestation of a new type of modern architecture proposed by Mies van der Rohe.


Structure and Freedom (Part I) – Dynamic Triangles

Going back to the game between Sporting and Barcelona, Thierry Henry was substituted because he did not follow the plan designed by Pep Guardiola. And the plan was very simple. “My job is to bring you up until the last third of the field; yours is to score”. Therefore, there is a predefined structure for the first two-thirds. From then on, the players had complete liberty to follow their instincts. “Sometimes, in training, he [Guardiola] would put some cones up until the last third [of the field]. The guys who were supposed to play on the right were not allowed go to cross to the left, and on the left you are not allowed to cross to the right. He had a plan. And if you don’t do what he is asking to do here [first two thirds] you will be in trouble”, Henry recalls.

FC BARCELONA - Estrutura e Liberdade

More than rebuilding a team, Guardiola gave it an idea”, says Carlos Daniel, adding: “however, the biggest secret lies, while following Cruijff’s lessons, in the adaptation of the game model into a player model, and vice-versa”. Pedro Bouças shares this opinion: “It was the perfect match-up, a coach who valued a style of game which would perfectly fit the type of players that he had at his disposal”. In other words, Pep was able to coordinate players with different qualities in a way that they would position themselves in triangular positions on the pitch – whether in a more dynamic or static way – which would bring out the best collective results. However, “more than a simple succession of triangles, he essentially sought to create space to play. Therefore, more than being closer to one another, the players had to actually keep the ideal distance so that that would create problems to the opponent in defending while allowing better passing solutions. Frequently, this would even mean to be further apart rather than closer together”, explains Carlos Daniel.

Out of these triangles, the one that was probably the most well-known – precisely because it created notorious possibilities of scoring – was the one made up of Xavi-Iniesta-Messi. Once again, the vision of the journalist Carlos Daniel: “no one can build like Xavi, no one can create like Iniesta and no one can finalize like Messi. Or almost no one” says Daniel, adding, “and Xavi builds but also creates, Iniesta creates but also finalizes, and Messi does everything he wants and he does it well. The best of each player is a result of individual intuition and of a collective knowledge of the game”.

FC BARCELONA - Triângulos

Structure and Freedom (Part II) – Dynamic Rectangles

At the Barcelona Pavilion, eight slim cruciform steel pillars support a thin concrete roof. This limits the top of the main volume. These elements define a non-apparent, but subtle, rectangle. This is the epicenter of the decomposition of Mies’ rectangle. He replicates this throughout the building. Although its composition is structurally symmetrical, those who visit this pavilion – and specifically this area – do not encounter a static and predictable rectangle. There are only two ways of reaching the podium. However, there is great freedom to circulate, which is balanced by some route suggestions. For this, the architect carried out a thorough study – always using models – about the positioning of the vertical planes, which are completely independent of the structures composed by the pillars.


In this circulation dynamics in the pavilion’s interior, one wall is particularly important. “One evening as I was working late on the building, I made a sketch of a free-standing wall”. Mies was in shock, “I knew it was a new principle”. This wall, made of onyx stone – which came from the Atlas Mountains, was chosen by Mies himself – it cost 1/5 of the total amount of the construction. It defines – through the maximum possible dimensions of the cut stone – the proportions and alignments for the rest of the project. Like with two other elements – George Kolbe’s “Morgen” statue and the only isolated internal pillar – this 3.10m high wall is iconographic and represents something more than what can be seen by the human eye. With physical and metaphysical qualities which are clearly different, these three striking symbols complement one another in the space. They are a solid example of what architect Peter Zumthor said to be the “first and greatest secret in architecture, (…) it collects different things from the world, different materials and combines them to create this space”.


It is also over this podium – always present in his most famous works, since the Riehl’s house – that two other architectural elements are manifested, accentuating the horizontality of this pavilion. On one hand, the two water pools – one small and the other big – placed in opposite ends of the building and, on the other hand, two horizontal roofs – one small and one big – also placed on opposite ends. In this game, which confronts dichotomous qualities – flow/solidity, reflexivity/opacity, surface/volume – Mies creates a dynamic balance aiming to transmit serenity and harmony to those who visit the space. The lightness of the two plane roofs seems to have been evaporated from the thickness of the pools’ reservoir.



Maia, 27/Feb/2016, 05:21  –  Barcelona, 27/Feb/2016, 08:36 (+1)


In 2016, I visited for the second time the notorious building designed by Mies. The first time I had gone, it was over a decade ago while a architecture student. Back then, I had been accompanied by half a dozen classmates in a trip to Barcelona which lasted 5 days. This time I was alone and I only had 5 hours – literally – to visit the city. For around 90 minutes, I walked around the building, which is almost like a Mecca for architects who admire Mies’ work. Throughout this time, I tried to take in as many details as I could. There were things that I would have never been able understand when I was 20. One of the reasons is that, the sensitivity within a space where one is by himself is, in theory, greater then when he shares its presence with other people. Another reason is the existence of 10 years of experience, which influenced the way that I saw the same reality. Something similar occurs when one watches a football game at a stadium – or, for this effect, some other show – with other people or alone, at 10 or 90 years of age. Mies used to say that “architecture is a language, and I think you have to have a grammar. If you are good at that, you will speak a wonderful prose, but if you are really good, you can be a poet”. There is no doubt that the language is not exclusive of architecture or football. It is inherent to various forms of artistic expression. These two greater figures in their respective areas and with very particular personalities were references for their peers: they changed architecture and football through their ambitions and visions.

In the end, despite the type of podium used to present our art, all of us do what Zumthor mentioned: we take things and people together and create something which surprises people and that will hopefully touch them.

One thought on “How many Barcelona Pavilions fit into Camp Nou?

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