We can know almost everything about a certain Catalan wonder-architect in one quote:
Those who look to the laws of nature as support for new works collaborate with the creator.
It’s just impossible to get this quote out of your head as you gaze the many Antoni Gaudi buildings that have not only defined a man, but an entire city as well.
Though nearly 100 years have passed since the death of Catalan modernism’s eccentric grand master Antoni Gaudi is as relevant as ever.
Today let’s take a look at the famous buildings and the man behind the madness.
Who is Gaudi?
Antoni Gaudi was born in Reus in 1852 to a family of coppersmiths.
Gaudi watched his father and grandfather work with metals in their family laboratory from a young age as they made many essential daily tools. This would lay the foundation of his craftiness.
The young architect to be developed a great appreciation of nature wandering around the family summer home and going on outings with outdoor club the Centre Excursionista de Catalunya.
At 17 Gaudi moved to Barcelona to study architecture at the Provincial School of Architecture.
He emerged right away as someone with great manual ability, excellent mathematical calculations, and an acute sense of observation.
During those years a maturity began to arise which lead to the innovative character that would define him not only as an architect, but as an avant guard artist.
For having being almost too ahead of his time there were even some teachers who criticized his unorthodox methods – and if not for a few trusting industrialists he may have never got his shot.
Gaudi was commissioned to build some of Barcelona’s most exciting attractions. Over the years the once-doubted fringe architect would build famous buildings accruing 7 UNESCO Heritage Sites in the process.
Antoni Gaudi Buildings in Barcelona
La Sagrada Familia
Gaudi worked on the Sagrada Familia church from 1891 until his death in 1926: that’s 35 years of construction. In fact, Gaudi was very conscious of the fact that the art nouveau church would never be completed while he was alive.
As people hounded him about the completion date of the ‘Gaudi cathedral’ he’d famously quip:
My client isn’t in a hurry, God has all the time in the world.
The Sagrada Familia has been thought of by many famous critics not only to be a work in progress, but something that should deliberately never come to a finish.
The constant building and work on the world’s most spectacular basilica would show the ultimate devotion to god, much more than a completed building standing tall with little or no effort to carry it forward.
Let’s imagine a rich industrialist, in this case Eusebi Guell, buying a prime plot of land over the city and giving a blank cheque to Gaudi to create a Utopian neigbourhood in the middle of a park.
Nothing is invented, for it’s written in nature first.
This spectacular urban park was originally intended to have 70 luxury homes across 13 city blocks of property: only three were built. What remains is glorious communal area surrounding Nature Square, home to the famous trencadis-speckled benches with the best city view in Europe.
The twin-flight dragon staircases, ginger bread house-like porter’s lodge, 86 columns of the tree-root-like Doric Temple, and the mosaic salamander are other nature-inspired jaw-droppers in this parky paradise.
When textile industrialist Josep Batlló bought a ‘fixer upper’ on Barcelona’s most luxurious street in the ritzy Eixample district you can imagine who he contacted to create the most creative and audacious house on the block.
The result is a 32 metre high ode to nature that some call ‘the Dragon House’.
A prime example of Gaudi architecture. Look at the facade of the house and see its jaw-bone balconies coming to life. The dragon’s back rooftop stupifies while the marine-inspired light well (in cover photo) dazzles and brings the whole house to life.
Nothing is art if it does not come from nature.
And from nature it did come. Gaudi designed every detail of the house down to the ergonomic doorknobs, mushroom-shaped furnaces, and radiators inspired by tropical fish.
This Antoni Gaudi apartment block on Passeig de Gracia looks like wobbling jell-o, owing to the architect’s refusal to use straight lines, and is known to locals as La Pedrera (‘Stone Quarry’).
There are no straight lines or corners in nature, therefore buildings must have no straight lines or corners.
Stand outside and see for yourself: the building really is a constant curve. From the air it’s actually an asymmetrical 8 with a self-supporting limestone facade wrapped around two luminous courtyards.
Best of all? La Pedrera’s roof terrace and its haunting chimney stacks that look a bit like storm troopers standing on guard. It’s known as the Garden of Warriors.
The whale-skeleton-like attic made up of 270 parabolic arches is another favourite.
The Crypt at Colonia Guell
The aforementioned industrialist Eusebio Guell funded this purpose-built industrial village to house the factory workers in the vicinity of his new textile mill.
The idea was to give workers life-improving amenities, a theater, a school, shops, and a five minute commute! And who would be commissioned to design the church? Gaudi, of course. And so the other Antoni Gaudi church is born.
The creation continues incessantly through the media of man.
This was Gaudi’s first big project and you see his genius in every corner of the church from the emblematic catenary arches to the broken mosaics to the parabolic outer walls.
Unfortunately the church ran out of funding and so only the crypt was completed.
Eusebi Guell was again protagonist in this early Antoni Gaudi building in the Raval neighbourhood of Barcelona. The art nouveau mansion was built for the purpose of not only living but entertaining guests of Barcelona high society.
You’ll see the prestige right away with the decorative iron gates made to welcome horse carriages – the details of the parabolic arch are a combination of steel forged into a horsewhip and interestingly, seaweed.
Anything created by human beings is already in the great book of nature.
The highlight is the main party room and its holed ceilings that held lanterns that would mimic a star-spangled night sky. Film buffs may recognize the building as it was used in Antonioni’s The Passenger starring Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider.
Antoni Gaudi’s Death
It was June 7th 1926, just after six o’clock in the afternoon.
Gaudi was walking, presumably deep in thought, away from the Sagrada Familia and towards the church of Sant Felip Neri. This was a daily routine of sorts where he would unwind praying and confessing with Father Mas.
He crossed the street, perhaps without paying too much attention, a was hit by one of Barcelona’s old school trams. The driver immediately got out, without recognising the legendary architect due to his lack of documents and shoddy appearance, and mistook him for a homeless man.
He simply dragged Gaudi to the side of the road, abandoned him, re-boarded the tram, and drove away.
Countless passersby stepped over the city’s greatest gift to the world without even recognising him. When help was finally called Gaudi was taken to Santa Creu Hospital where he died on June 10th 1926.
Even after Gaudi had been found out, he still refused to be transported to a high end hospital for the rich. He preferred to die among the common folk. After all, his only task was to prepare himself for his imminent meeting with god, the only architect who could ever outdo him!
On June 12th the funeral was held.
The whole city took the streets to pay their respects to the main who would later be called the interpreter of the Catalan people. Gaudi was embalmed, dressed as a monk, and given a rosary in his left hand.
He was interred in the crypt at the Sagrada Familia.
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