Relevance Through Dynamism

John Hill
19. November 2020
Photo © Jose Hevia

Artist Ben Weir's study of Casa Vilaró, the modern house designed by Sixte Illescas in the late 1920s, is on display at the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion in Barcelona. The exhibition is part of "Artists in Architecture," an interdisciplinary program focused on "re-activating modern European houses."

Casa Vilaró is considered the first work by Sixte Illescas (1903-1986) as well as one of the first pieces of rationalist architecture in Barcelona, if not in all of Spain. Completed in 1929, the same year as the Barcelona Pavilion designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich, Casa Vilaró has whitewashed walls, lots of glass, a sizable verandah, and horizontal railings. No wonder it has been said to resemble an ocean liner and has drawn comparisons to the houses designed by Le Corbusier around that time. Still, the rootedness of Illescas's house, built into a steep slope not far from Park Güell, is at odds with the way Corbu lifted his houses on pilotis, as in the Villa Savoye. Casa Vilaró, which has retained its original furnishings, now serves as a vacation rental.

Photo © Jose Hevia

Casa Vilaró is one of six European houses selected for artist residencies that took place in the middle of 2019, with the others located in Belgium, Italy, and Romania. A jury formed by Fundació Mies van der Rohe selected artist and architect Ben Weir from Belfast for the residency at Illescas's modern masterpiece. Per the short publication accompanying the exhibition, the jury "valued the additive process and layered meanings used in [Weir's] works to interrogate historic artifacts and existing realities and give them a new relevance, reintroducing them into the contemporary discourse."

Photo © Jose Hevia

Although the house's current caretakers can boast of its original furnishings, the house was altered and extended after its completion. Weir's proposal focuses on these changes, presenting altered fragments of the house through large-format models at 1:10 scale. The entrance pavilion, stairs, pool, and other fragments are propped atop slender legs, "floating" in the spaces of the Barcelona Pavilion. The rest of Illescas's house effectively implied by the spaces between the models.

As summarized by Weir, his focus on the alterations made to the house over the decades is an argument that "Casa Vilaró should not be cemented in time, should not be made obsolete. It should avoid museumification and ensure its relevance through dynamism."

Photo © Jose Hevia
"Artists in Architecture" is a program of Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR), the Fundació Mies van der Rohe, and the University of Naples-Federico II. It is funded by the Creative Europe program of the European Union in the framework of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 (EYCH).
"Artists in Architecture. Reactivating European modern houses" is on display at Pavelló Mies Van der Rohe (Av. Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, 7, 08038 Barcelona) from November 19 to December 10, 2020.
Photo © Jose Hevia
Photo © Jose Hevia
Photo © Jose Hevia
Photo © Jose Hevia
Photo © Jose Hevia

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