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Antoni Gaudí and Barcelona

Antoni Gaudí  (25 June 1852 – 10 June 1926) was a Spanish architect from Catalonia. He is the best known practitioner of Catalan Modernism. Gaudí’s works have a highly individualized, and one-of-a-kind style. Most are located in Barcelona, including his main work, the church of the Sagrada Família.

Gaudí – The Man

Antoni Gaudí i Cornet, son of a family of coppersmiths, was born in 1852 in Reus, in the province of Tarragona. As a child, he observed how his father and his grandfather, whose workshop was in the nearby town of Riudoms, managed to create the most subtle and delicate rounded shapes of everyday objects with a hammer, a few copper sheets and skillful hands. When he was seventeen, his family sent him to Barcelona to study architecture. Skillful with his hands, creative and observant, with a good sense for mathematical calculations, he soon excelled among the students of the School of Architecture, but at the same time he aroused suspicion and distrust among his teachers because of his not very orthodox ways of treating structural shapes. Reserved in character, elegant, and convinced of his capabilities, he applied his ideas and skills, soon attracting the interest of the Catalan bourgeoisie which entrusted him immediately to carry out creative and original works. Among them, the closest to Gaudí was Eusebi Güell, for whom the architect worked until he threw himself, after a spiritual crisis, into his posthumous work, the temple of the Sagrada Familia, now a basilica, having been consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in November 2010. He died in Barcelona in 1926, run over by a trolley.

Gaudí – The Works

Gaudí had an innate sense of volume which probably came from his practice as a coppersmith in his childhood or from his attentive observation of nature, which he considered a source of inspiration. His curved walls and roofs, his parabolic arches, his twisted columns, his spiral chimneys… are geometrical shapes which
we find abundantly in architecture and that come from natural structures, like the bones of the animal kingdom or the trunk and branches of the trees of the plant kingdom. The work of Gaudí is not the result of rampant fantasy, but rather the result of extraordinary imaginative ability, as the calculations of the contemporary computer have confirmed. Architecture and furnishings, created with the local materials and decorated with the forms and colors of their surroundings, comprise a solution which the passage of years has proved to be unique.

Gaudí and Barcelona

14 basic works of Gaudí can be seen in Barcelona, giving us an idea of the evolution his architecture followed.

Streetlamps of the Plaça Reial, 1878. Early work, with a stone base, cast iron columns, chroming, and at the top, the symbolic helmet of Mercury with wings and caduceus.

Casa Vicens, 1883-88, with a historicist Mudejar style crafted in stone and brick and with a rich ceramic application. Here, the parabolic arch appears for the first time.

Pavilions for the stables of the Finca Güell, 1884-87. They constitute the first synthesis between technological innovation and decorative craftsmanship. The mobile and dynamic cast iron dragon of the railing that closes the entrance to the utopian Garden of the Hesperides stands out.

Palau Güell, 1886-88, home of his patron. Gaudí transformed this palace into a habitable, warm, elegant and majestic space. First example of what his architectural practice would be: strength of materials, play of columns, dome, interior circularity and heating, wood work and furniture, cast iron, all with a great decorative exuberance topped by the use of the trencadís (broken ceramic elements) and glass.

School of the Teresianes, 1888-89, example of how with a closely spaced succession of parabolic arches the use of beams in the construction of floors and ceilings can be avoided.

Casa Calvet, 1898-99. Apartment building between party walls in which a new concept in using materials, decoration and furniture is developed.

Church of the Colònia Güell, located 12 km from Barcelona. The project started in 1898, and was continued in different stages until 1917, when it was interrupted permanently. Here Gaudí experimented with funiculus, tensors from the inverted models, to obtain the final image of the form. He built the
church using parabolic hyperbaloid Catalan style brick vaults with ribs and columns of multifunctional discharge. The atmosphere of withdrawal comes from the spatial volume created by the materials and the chromatics of the windows.

Casa Bellesguard, 1900-09. Here, under the guise of a gothic structure, he experiments with systems to create ceilings and terraces without tie-beams, through the use of very low arches of voladizo brick.

The Park Güell, 1900-14, was an attempt to create an urban development in the country. Gaudí applied all of his knowledge to this park and incorporated in it all of his preoccupations in urban planning. There is not a single straight line; everything is curved or twisted. The columned room, space originally intended for a market, supports an impressive open terrace. Here it’s important to remember the significant contribution of Jujol in the creation of the benchrail of the park.

Miralles Door, 1901-02. Curved wall crowned with turtle shell tiles.

Casa Batlló, 1904-06. The remodeling of the pre-existing building implied a new decorative concept that favors color to light.

Casa Milà, 1906-12. “La Pedrera” is a series of stone curtain walls calcareous on the exterior and painted on the interior. They enclose an architectural structure of pillars and girders which permit the large windows and balconies of recycled iron. The loft, with parabolic arches of different heights, culminates in an off-level roof terrace with stair enclosures and chimneys, stuccoed or covered with trencadís and glass.

Basilica of the Sagrada Família, 1883-1926. A synthesis of Gaudí’s architectural theory and practice. The initial Neogothic in the crypt and apse evolves toward the parabolic shapes of the towers and the hyperbolic shapes of the vaults, foreseeing that sound has great importance. Gaudí began the four towers
of the Birth facade, authentic gospel in stone and ceramics. The models and drawings that have been preserved allow the work to be continued by computer. Upon completion, it will have eighteen towers, the highest reaching 170 meters. In 2010, the nave of the basilica was covered, which had been one of the most eagerly awaited initiatives, and it can now be used as a place of worship. Known from its beginnings as the “Cathedral of the Poor”, because it is an expiatory temple, the
ongoing work is financed by anonymous donations. Temporary schools for the children of the neighborhood, next to the temple of the Sagrada Família, 1909. A combination of curved supporting and supported surfaces of flat and vertical brick, following the principle of conoids (regulated geometry).

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