Perhaps the most iconic work from Mies’ oeuvre, the Barcelona Chair at once gives life to and is born from its materials. Mies’ gift was to endow grace in otherwise monotonous substances. The Barcelona Chair attests to his mastery of form, function, and beauty.
The Barcelona chair was designed in collaboration with Lilly Reich, the architect and designer who was Mies van der Rohe’s long-time business partner and companion until his emigration to the United States in 1938. It was conceived as a ceremonial seat for King Alfonso XIII of Spain and his queen to occupy at the exhibition’s opening ceremonies.
Its form is based on an ancient Roman folding stool called a sella curulis. This stool hadcurved legs, was upholstered, and was used by the highest civil officials in ancient Rome.
Although the Barcelona chair is thoroughly modern in appearance, its manufacturing methods were surprisingly traditional and extremely labour intensive.
The chair was a commercial success and has been in production for nearly eighty years, but the design clearly presented problems for Mies van der Rohe who is known to have commented in 1930:
‘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’.