This extraordinarily gifted architect, who left a spectacular legacy to the Barcelona, the capital of Catalunya, was a deeply spiritual man. His last and greatest project, the Sagrada Familia temple, was motivated by a deep desire to honour God through his work. Certainly, his unique brand of genius seemed to be nothing short of heaven sent and if the gods had ever needed the help of an earthly architect they would surely have commissioned Gaudi!
If the whole of the man made world had been designed by Antoni Gaudi there’s no doubt that it would be a much better and far more beautiful place.
The birth and death of Gaudi
The coppersmith’s son, born in the Catalonian town of Reus in 1852, died a pauper when he was knocked down by a tram in Barcelona in 1926. No-one recognised the ragged figure at the time of the accident – his clothes were held together with pins and his home was a makeshift shack on the site of the Sagrada Familia. Yet this is a man who has left his fantastical fingerprints all over the city of Barcelona and earned world acclaim as one of the greatest architects of all time.
The architectural world has tried to label him, calling his seemingly impossible creations “avant-garde”, “art nouveau” or “expressionist”. But the fact is that Gaudi’s work didn’t fit any mould – completely unique. There’d never been anything like it before and it’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever see anything like it again. He took his inspiration from nature and in particular the weird and wonderful rock formations of the holy mountain of Montserrat, 40 kilometres inland from Barcelona. Gaudi used to say that only men drew straight lines – God and nature much-preferred curves. So he took concrete and masonry and made it flow, swirl, cascade and curve in fairytale forms that seem born out of the imagination of a highly creative child playing with plasticine.
Casa Mila and Casa Batllo
Not too many urban apartment blocks can draw visitors from all over the world to stand awestruck on the pavement outside them. But Gaudi’s mind-blowing Casa Mila and Casa Batllo have both attracted millions of admirers since their construction at the beginning of the 20th century. Casa Mila (also known as La Pedrera – the Stone Quarry) must rank as one of the most fanciful office and apartment buildings in the entire world. As with so much of Gaudi’s work, the petrified waves of concrete, cave-like balconies and bizarre chimney stacks make passers-by feel as though they’ve stepped into a Disney theme park or Hans Christian Andersen story.
His creations are utterly incongruous with the more modern and mundane city blocks which surround so many of them.
Gaudi’s Palau Guell (Right), just off the famous La Rambla walkway, is one of the most luxurious buildings in Barcelona.
It was commissioned as the home of the Count of Guell, a leading textile industrialist and one of Gaudi’s biggest patrons, towards the end of the 19th century and in 1986 was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a fabulous concoction of marble columns, parabolic arches, ceilings adorned with intricate woodwork and Gaudi’s trademark chimney pots decorated with glass and tile mosaics.
In Gaudi’s famous Parc Guell (another UNESCO world monument) adults and children alike delight in his outdoor fantasy world of snaking pathways, curious sculptures, contorted columns and viaducts. Gaudi’s home of many years (though the building wasn’t designed by him) is now the park’s museum dedicated to his life and work. The central square, where various cultural events are staged, overlooks the city and sea and is bordered by some extraordinary serpentine seating which is a major visitor attraction in itself.
The third world heritage site honouring Gaudi’s creative genius is his final and most ambitious project – the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) temple (Left). Gaudi devoted the last years of his life to the temple and sold all of his possessions to help finance its creation. It was unfinished when he died and it remains so today. Some of the plans were only in Gaudi’s head and others were contained in drawings destroyed during the Spanish Civil War.
Construction work on the unfinished cathedral is ongoing today but arguments rage over whether it should ever be completed or left as it is as a mighty monument to one of mankind’s greatest ever artistic minds.
The inside of the Sagrada Familia is a virtual shell but a climb to the top of one of its majestic towers via the snail-like spiral stairways is an unforgettable experience. Gaudi was once asked why he bothered with such intricate detail so high up on the towers where no-one would ever see it. He replied: “The angels will see it.”
And if they can, it has to be one of their favourite views of planet earth.