Gaudi in “Context”

While in Spain in September for the TBEX Conference in Girona (hosted by Costa Brava Pirineu de Girona), I stopped off in Barcelona for a few days to rediscover that city which I had last visited during the Barcelona1992 Olympic Games. At that time, I was enamored by Gaudi’s architecture, and so one of the things I arranged to do on this trip was to dig deeper into the works of Gaudi.

La Sagrada Familia (1992)

In doing so, it requires one to put “Gaudi in Context,” [1] as there is a lot more to Barcelona’s architecture than just Gaudi. And, of course, what better way to do that than with a Walking Tour!

To understand Gaudi, one first needs to understand that he was an architect during the “modernisme” movement in Barcelona which occurred during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  And while Gaudi is the most recognized architect of that era, there were over 100 architects who were a part of this movement. The modernisme style sets itself apart by the use of curves, bright colors, motifs of botantical or other scenes from nature, and use of ceramic tiles and other ornaments (such as extensive ironwork). Our walking tour highlighted some of the buildings designed by such architects as Lluis Domenech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch, as well as Antoni Gaudi. A number of the buildings that were designed by these architects were commissioned by wealthy families, to be used as their private residence, and were named for the commissioning family, such as the Casa Fuster, which was designed by Montaner and was a gift from the wealthy Mariano Fuster to his wife. (This building now serves as an exclusive, 105 room luxury hotel).

Casa Fuster (architect: Lluis Domenech i Montaner)

The building’s pink marble columns, combined with its combination of curves, straight lines, iron balconies, floral designs and other sculptures (such as birds’ nests), make this building a good example of the modernisme style, although much more understated than the works of Gaudi.

Casa Fuster, birds' nest ornamentation

We then made a brief stop at Casa Comalat, which was designed by a disciple of Gaudi’s, Salvador Valeri i Pupurull. The front of the building…..

Casa Comalat (architect: Salvador Valeri i Pupurull)

….is very different from the much more decorative back of the building…

Casa Comalat, back view

The back of the building was considered the “family” side of the building; while the less ornamental front façade was its public face, although the front was also conspicuously of the modernisme era with its curves, ironwork and sculptures. It was easy to see that many of the features of this building were copied after Gaudi’s works.

We then went on to see an example of the work of Cadafalch, Casa Terrades, in the style of a medieval castle.

Casa Terrades (architect: Josep Puig i Cadafalch)

This building is also known as the House of Spikes…

aka "House of Spikes"

…and is quite eclectic, with floral motifs….

Casa Terrades, floral motif

…ironwork and ceramic throughout…

Casa Terrades, ironwork/ceramic

…including ceramic panels, such as this one of Saint George, Catalunya’s patron saint, with the plea to the saint to “…give us back our freedom.”

Casa Terrades, ceramic panel of St. George

As an important aside, the concept of Catalunya’s freedom from Spain, and getting back its identity as a separate country (Catalunya consists of the four provinces comprising the northeastern portion of Spain), is a long-fought struggle that was even in the air when I was in Barcelona in 1992. In fact, the modernisme movement was a widespread effort across all of the arts (not just architecture) to set trends, and thus set itself apart to regain its national, separate identity. That struggle continues today and has been reinvigorated by the current economic conditions within Spain.

Close by was a heavily ornamented building, also designed by Cadafalch (commissioned by the Baron of Quadras), and now housing Casa Asia (with a library and art gallery inside).

Casa Quadras (now Casa Asia)

This building also has a sculpture of St. George slaying the dragon…

St. George slaying the dragon (Casa Asia)

…as well as many other sculptures covering the façade of the building.

As our guide pointed out, much of the great work executed on these buildings was the work of the sculptors and iron craftsmen, who were artists in their own right. That is particularly true of the ironwork on the next building we visited, Gaudi’s famous Casa Mila, one of seven of Gaudi’s projects which is on UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage list.

Casa Mila (Architect: Gaudi)

This building was quite controversial when it was built due to its curved stone façade, which at times overlapped the public sidewalk, as well as its height which exceeded the city’s height restrictions. And some people thought it was just downright ugly. It should be noted that the curved façade is built in such a way to be self-supporting, which was quite innovative at the time.

Casa Mila (model of entire building)

As you enter the house, there is a ramp to a level below (a “garage” for the horse carts, believed to be the first underground “parking” garage). Then you enter into the famous atrium of the house, with ironwork balconies similar to the front of the building.

Casa Mila, Atrium

But one of the most famous parts of this building is the roof….

Casa Mila, Roof

…which utilizes many materials and shapes that cover the ventilation towers and chimneys for the building.

From the rooftop, you could see the Sagrada Familia, which is the most famous of Gaudi’s works (and also on UNESCO’s World Heritage list).

Sagrada Familia, from roof of Casa Mila

Our tour ended on a block which has a house designed by each of the three architects whom we had been “putting into Context.” The Casa Lleo Morera by Montaner, famous for its lions and mulberry tree sculptures…

Casa Lleo Morer (Architect: Lluis Domenech i Montaner)

…the Casa Amatller by Cadafalch, built for the family by that name who were choclatiers…

Casa Amatller (architect: Josep Puig i Cadafalch)

…and the Casa Batllo (UNESCO list) by Gaudi…

Casa Batllo (architect: Gaudi

Again, Casa Batllo incorporates many of Gaudi’s trademark features….curved stonework, unusual windows and balconies, mosaic of broken tiles, etc.

Casa Batllo

Some say that the top portion of the façade is supposed to resemble the back of a dragon with the scales portrayed by the orange and blue green overlapping tiles, and that Gaudi’s signature cross (Gaudi was extremely religious and always tried to include religious symbolism into his projects) is to represent the sword of St. George, which he has used to slay the dragon.

Casa Batllo, roof line

[This photo from Wikipedia shows a better representation of the colorful facade of this building, as my photos were taken in the late afternoon.]

Casa Batllo (Source: Wikipedia)

As I hadn’t yet gotten enough of Gaudi’s works, I visited La Sagrada Familia on a subsequent day to see its progress since I had been there in 1992. At that time, only one side (the “Nativity” façade) was completed with four spires…

La Sagrada Familia, Nativity Facade (1992)

The “passion of Christ” façade, representing the crucifixion of Jesus, had been started…

Sagrada Familia, Passion Facade (1992)

and has now been completed…

Sagrada Familia, Passion Facade (2012)

Note the structural columns, which have the appearance of trees, one of the many examples of Gaudi incorporating symbols of nature into his works.

Sagrada Familia, "Tree" Columns

The church has now been enclosed, and the third and last “glory” façade is currently underway….

Sagrada Familia, "Glory" Facade (under constr)

Overall, there will be 18 spires…12 representing the apostles; 4 representing Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; 1 for the virgin Mary; and the last and highest one representing Jesus. Once complete, it will be the tallest church in the world, at 170 meters tall (about 560 feet). It is not expected to be complete until 2026, the centennial year of Gaudi’s death. He died in 1926, with less than 25% of the Sagrada Familia complete. He was hit by a tram and since he appeared to be a homeless person, he was taken to the charity hospital where he did not receive the treatment that he needed to survive, and he died three days later.

I had some more time, so I decided to head up to Parc Guell, another of Gaudi’s UNESCO-listed projects which our guide had mentioned to us.

Parc Guell

This park was to have been a residential “subdivision,” with 60 plots for sale to wealthy individuals who wanted to “get away” from the city. It was, unfortunately, unsuccessful. But is another example of Gaudi’s genius. It was built on a hill overlooking the city of Barcelona (and, of course, his Sagrada Familia).

View of Sagrada Familia from Parc Guell

A stairway at the entrance to the park led up to an area which was to have been a market for the residents…

Park Guell, stairs to market area

Above the market is a viewing/seating area with his signature curvature…

Parc Guell, curved viewing area

Because of the steep slope of the property, he was able to install a system that would capture rain water to be used as the primary water source by the community. The park included picnic areas and walkways for the residents’ use. It was a phenomenal concept but probably a bit ahead of its time, and maybe too far from the city at the time.

It is in Park Guell where you will see the mosaic salamander which has become a symbol of Gaudi’s work…

Gaudi's Mosaic Salamander

Thus ends (for now) my quest to dig deeper into Gaudi’s work to better understand and appreciate his eccentric genius. If you get a chance to go to Barcelona, you can’t help but appreciate what the modernisme movement did for the city, including the distinctive works of Antoni Gaudi.


[1]  I would like to thank the company, Context Travel, who arranged a complimentary 3-hour “Gaudi in Context” walking tour for me in Barcelona while I was in Spain for the TBEX Conference. I would like to particularly thank our exceptional guide, Biel Hereder.

"Gaudi in Context" Walking Tour

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1 Response to "Gaudi in “Context”"

  1. Jane says:

    I saw the bat,…of gaudi and the apt blg(outside) of g. Yesterday and the sacreda familia today…the other two were interesting but the basilica is awesome…only the vatican’s Sistine chapel is comparable as to spiritual impression /compulsion, and in a way, there is no way to compare,,,the stained glass windows and the passion and birth of christ in the two completed facades, are awing and the scope of the cathedral is astounding…no superlative too much ….it is breathtaking and hours would not be enough to drink it in

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