Living in Southern Europe I embrace a regular tendency to want to visit those national memorials celebrating the icons of local culture. One of the finest examples of this is the work of the Catalan Modernist architect, Antoni Gaudi. I am not talking solely about the trophy building, the outstanding and outrageous – if a little claustrophobic if you’ve ever tried to climb one of the spires – La Sagrada Família – but whilst magnificent there is much more to his wonderful work.
Gaudi’s place in the history of Architecture and his influence in a pantheon of modern art, including the likes of the fourteen year old Picasso, who moved to Barcelona in 1896 and into Gaudi’s circles, was immense. Gaudi’s work – much of which is now classed as World Heritage Sites stems from an era of the Renaixença (or Renaissance) in Barcelona of prosperity and vision. His work remains much appreciate by the likes of the writer Lorca and the artist, and fellow Catalan, Salvador Dali, as a vibrant legacy to this era.
Born 25 June 1852 the son, grandson and great-grandson of boiler workers from the Baix Camp (Catalonia). Growing up appreciating the fusion of copper and iron enabled Gaudi to claim that when he imagined in three dimensions, which became core to his fluid and evolutionary work. Indeed, he rarely created detailed plans preferring models of his proposed buildings. Similarly, he was enraptured by the perhaps conflicting mysteries of nature, especially that of his beloved Mediterranean coast, vegetarianism and his profound Roman Catholic faith.
After school, where he excelled in art, in 1868 Gaudi moved to Barcelona to study teaching followed by some time of compulsory military service which was punctuated by ill-heath. In 1878 Gaudi graduated from the Llotja School and the Barcelona Higher School of Architecture having funded his training by working as a draftsman to various notable but local architects.
Gaudí rise was meteoric. His first important commission was Manuel Vicens i Montaner, the Casa Vicens, a Moorish revival palace, which, after 130 years as private home, recently reopened to the public.
Over the subsequent thirty years his work and Barcelona were synonymous. The City changed, and under the patronage of Eusebi Güell, Count Güell – a Catalan industrialist – fine examples of Gaudi’s best work can be seen including:
The Parc Güell:
The Crypt at Colonia Güell
Casa Batlló – commissioned in 1904, by Josep Batlló, Gaudi’s task was to design and renovate this extraordinary property, to create a house like no other. Gaudi completed the project in 1906, becoming a masterpiece on Barcelona’s, Passeig de Gracia.
The Casa Milà commissioned in 1906 by Pere Milà – a developer – and his wife, Roser Segimon, the widow of a wealthy Indiano coffee plantation owner.
In 1883, at the age of 31 Gaudi was appointed to the Sagrada Família project, after original designer quit, becoming Architect Director in 1894. From 1915 until his death on 10th June 1926, following being struck by a tram at the age of 73, Gaudí focussed his entire creative energy on the development and construction of this amazing building.
See below a model of the finished Basilica. Please also see this amazing video compiled for the UK newspaper The Daily Mail highlighting what the Sagrada Familia will look like at completion – please click the link – Sagrada Familia – Completed
Said to be the most important piece of Gothic architecture in Europe since the Middle Aged, Gaudi combined Gothic and Art Nouveau forms together in the Sagrada Familia with naturalistic and flowing details of plantlife and cleaver uses of light throughout.
I am also a massive fan of another Modernist Architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, about whom I posted on Aestheticons before, celebrating his body of iconic work – see here our previous post – Charles Rennie Mackintosh
One of the few projects that Gaudi undertook away from Catalonia was the minaret-like country lodge – a fine example of his oriental influences – of El Capricho in Comillas (Cantabria, Northern Spain). It was built between 1883-85 as a summer home for a returning Indiano Maximo Diaz de Quijano (The Marquis of Comillas and Father in Law of Count Güell). Atypically for Gaudi’s work the stained glass, wood rafters and metal work are exemplary. The emblematic flowers, oriental and stylised ceramics look like they may have come straight from the pallet of Mackintosh. It’s thought that Gaudi and Mackintosh never met, though they died two years apart, but their naturalistic work replendent with great drama, vision and charm is firmly rooted in the same Modernist and Art Nouveau movements.
Whilst we learn in Dan Brown’s excellent “Origin”, set almost exclusively in Gaudi’s Barcelona, that the Roman Catholic Church has not funded either Gaudi’s final resting place nor the building surrounding it, the Sagrada Família. The work on this fine building has been halted over the years whilst additional funds were collected. It is anticiapated that construction will be finally complete by 2026 to coincide with one hundredth anniversary of Gaudi’s death.
My hope is to have whetted your appetite to know more about Gaudi and his work. Two very useful resources are the following books, please click the Amazon link below the image in each case.
Antonio Gaudi: Master Architect
Gaudi: A Biography
Enjoy Dan Brown’s page-turner “Origin” by clicking the Amazon link below the image of the book
Origin: (Robert Langdon Book 5)
In April 2019 it was reported, after a two year dispute, that the Sagrada Famila, which has seen over 139 years of construction and is visited annually by 4.5m, had now received its final planning permission from Barcelona’s City Hall!
Ironically, the City Hall only agreed to pass the final permission for the Basilica, provided that the Catholic Church, which owns the site in Central Barcelona and has spectacularly failed to contributed towards the development costs of the wonderful Basilica, paid €34m towards local community projects.
The predictions are that 2026 is still an achievable completion date for the iconic UNESCO World Heritage Status building.
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Image Credits – with grateful thanks http://www.archdaily.com/Rory Stott, The Barcelona Tourist Association, The Gaudi Foundation and The Daily Mail