In our fast-paced world, a designer’s breaks are far and few. Jumping from group show to site-specific installation to retail collaboration is the new standard, making it challenging to take a contemplative stance on space.

And yet, Sabine Marcelis did just that. Her material-driven intervention (which opened last Friday) at the heroic Mies van der Rohe Pavilion in Barcelona is a generous act of sincere contemplation on a perfect space, conceived over a considerable amount of time. ‘Normally, I work on projects with a real fast turn-around from concept to presentation,’ says Marcelis. ‘This time around, I really wanted to take my time — because the space is so final and perfect as it is. It’s a holy grail of modern architecture. Adding anything at all felt like a big responsibility.’ Marcelis took one-and-a-half years to execute an in-depth research of the space and come to understand its ideology. ‘I really wanted to do it right,’ says Marcelis, whose Rotterdam-based studio is known for its experimental attitude towards material, taking time to reassess material properties and push the limits of form.

Marcelis recurrently uses glass in her interventions, as was the case for No Fear of Glass — although Marcelis is quick to stress, she treats all material with which she works with equal consideration. Mies van der Rohe's original reflection pools, part of the architect's 1929 German pavilion, gave rise to the installation's functional and showstopping showpiece, Marcelis's stunning fountain. Marcelis believes all form-related design decisions must simultaneously respond to the architecture of the pavilion, and that of the human body: ‘The curve of the travertine on the bench, for instance, took many iterations until I was satisfied with how it supported the neck. Or take the fountain, designed in such a way that it can easily be taken apart for cleaning. The works I design always contain intrinsic design solutions in order for them to ultimately remain user-friendly.’

Marcelis's object-interventions are strictly proportioned with respect to the scale of the pavilion. ‘I wanted the architecture of the pavilion to rule over that of the objects, this was another way for me to regulate my design decisions.’

The title of the exhibition responds to Fear of Glass, the book about the pavilion by Josep Quetglas. As recounted by Quetglas, Mies van der Rohe was asked to limit the glass in his proposal. In rebellion, Marcelis's intervention celebrates the material, producing a glass-based intervention that explores glass at its material extremes.

‘Scale-wise, the pieces are much larger than any other glass projects I've produced. Though I’ve worked with flat glass treated on a larger-architectural scale before, as within OMA's Repossi Paris flagship or KaDeWe in Germany, but these three-dimensional glass pieces are produced with complicated bending processes. Getting the fountain right was an especially difficult task, given it was curved, laminated and chromed.’

As a former regular at trade fair Design Miami, why did Marcelis skip out this year? A post on her Instagram dated a few weeks back reveals the personal impact of the project on Marcelis, stating she had decided to skip this year’s Design Miami 'for good reasons'. ‘I feel this project marks a new chapter for me as a designer. In the past year, the studio has grown quite significantly. We're publishing a book on No Fear of Glass, and accompanying it with texts by people who have played important roles in my design career so far, such as Ippolito Perstellini Laparelli (with whom I collaborated on Repossi and the KaDeWe entrance) and Maria Christina Didero (who curated the Fendi fountains project). I think it’s fair to say I am no longer a young talent. This intervention is a great moment to mark that transition.’