Antonio Gaudi

 

One of Spain’s most internationally recognized architects, Antonio Gaudi has left his mark throughout Barcelona and Catalonia. His whimsical vision and imaginative designs have brought a bit of magic to this historic region. Gaudi´s culmination of traditional elements with fanciful ornamentation and brilliant technical solutions paved the way for future architects to step outside the box.

 

Leading the Spanish Modernist movement, Antoni Gaudí has been classified with Gothicism (sometimes called warped Gothicism), Art Nouveau, and Surrealism. He was also inclined to Oriental styles, nature, sculpture, and a desire to go beyond anything that had ever been done before. Defying labels, Antoni Gaudí's work might be simple called, Gaudí-ism. His incredibly expressive and individual style, drawing on aspects of cubism and surrealism, has come to define the city's aesthetic. It is intensely human, full of the imagery of nature and religion, and defiantly original - an apt reflection of the Catalan soul.

 

20th century’s most famous architect was born in Reus [or just outside, depending on different stories], in the Tarrgona province of Catalonia in 1852, 80 kms south of Barcelona. Gaudi was the first child in over four generations to leave the family tradition of metal work. His childhood was troubled by rheumatism and he never excelled in school. His attendance in school was always low due to his arthritis. As A child, Antonio preferred to spend his time observing plants and animals, as well as studying forms in nature, which would ultimately be so foremost in his designs.

 

Around 1870 Gaudi moved to Barcelona to study architecture at the Provincial School of Architecture under Gothic Revival architect Juan Martorell at the Escuela Tecnica Superior de Arquitectura. Despite his grades being less than superior, he earned a special recognition in the areas of Trial Drawings and Projects, which allowed him to put his outlandish ideas to use. His professor proclaimed that what had been produced in these two courses was either the work of an insane man or a genius. He graduated in 1878 when the region's cultural and political renaissance—the Rainaxença—was at its height. It was also during his early years studying with the Escolapius Fathers that Gaudi recognized the “value of the divine history of the salvation of man through Christ incarnate, given to the world by the Virgin Mary.” He later incorporated such beliefs into his greatest work, The Sagrada Familia.

 

When Gaudi was awarded the title of architect in 1878, Elies Rogent, the director of the school, declared: "Who knows if we have given this diploma to a nut or to a genius? Time will tell."

 



Although Gaudi's work was not far from unanimously praised at the time (fellow Barcelona-based genii Pablo Picasso and George Orwell were both unkind in their opinions!), Antoni had no difficulty finding projects to work on and as such Barcelona is rife with his handiwork. Gaudi won his first commission, through a competition, to design lampposts for the Barcelona's Placa Reial, the same year he graduated. He also undertook a number of commissions for furniture and altarpieces and a showcase for gloves for the Comella firm for the Paris Exhibition of 1878, and it was these works that got him a big break. The young architect had a reputation for dressing in the latest fashion, and surrounding himself by high society. However, Gaudi never forgot his working-class roots. His first major project as a professional architect was workers´ housing in a factory, the Coopertiva Mataronese, which was intended to improve the workers´ quality of life.

 

Gaudi presented his design at the Paris World Fair in 1878, where he met Eusebi Guell.Fellow Catalan Eusebi Guell was so impressed by the work which he saw at the Paris fair that he tracked down the artist in Barcelona and became Gaudi's close friend and an important patron of his works. He commissioned the architect to design the Palau Guell and Park Guell, amongst various other projects.

 

In the following years, with rapidly growing interest in his work, Gaudi took on many important projects. Among them was the house built for the wealthy ceramic manufacturer, Manuel Vicens, as well as “El Capricho,” a villa for the brother-in-law of the Marquee of Comillas. Soon after, Gaudi began designing a palace for his good friend Guell (Palau Guell), and then later the two collaborated on Park Guell, which was intended to be a garden city.

 

His standing had risen sufficiently to be commissioned to build the Transatlantic Pavilion at the Barcelona World Fair of 1888 where he came under the influence of the modernists (practitioners of Modernism), the burgeoning Catalan avant-garde. Other influences included Viollet-Le-Duc, Ruskin, and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Gaudí's first commission of significance was for the Casa Vicens (1883-8) in Barcelona, built for a ceramics industrialist. This striking design involved considerable decorative use of brightly colored ceramics on both the exterior and interior. The latter was in the Mudejar style, drawing on Arab ornamentation and the decorative styles found in 15th-century Granada. Of considerable importance to the further development of Gaudí's career was his relationship with the Güell family of industrialists. This led to a number of significant and striking commissions including the Pavilions Güell (1884-7), the Palau Güell (1886-8), and the Park Güell (1901-14). The striking sculptural and decorative quality of the roof of the Palau Güell (which also contained Gaudí furniture) was fashioned from the projecting chimneys and ventilation pipes. He covered them in broken pieces of ceramics that were to become a hallmark of much of his later work. The Park Güell, never fully finished (and becoming public property in 1923), was a residential garden in Barcelona based on English models exploring the concept of the ‘Garden City’, such as Bedford Park. The Park Güell contained a number of organically influenced buildings and combined Moorish traditions with flowing forms, especially in the serpentine bench running around the main plaza, colorfully decorated in broken pieces of ceramics. Other commissioned buildings included the Casa Calvet (1898-1904), which also included Gaudí-designed furniture (including the Calvet chair, originally of 1902, which was reproduced as a heritage classic in the 1970s by B.D. Ediciones de Diseño). These were the first of his furniture designs to reveal a strong naturalistic inspiration. His mature buildings included the striking Casa Batlló (1904-6) and the Casa Milà (1904-6) also known as La Pedrera or ‘Quarry’. The undulating, flowing forms of the façade and the dramatic sculptural and decorative forms of the roof of the latter are amongst the most striking of Gaudí's designs. Gaudi's work was also increasingly widely recognized outside Catalonia, being exhibited at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1910, and at the Salón de Arquitectura in Madrid in 1911.

 

Gaudi, however, is most recognized for his work on “La Sagrada Familia,” a twentieth century cathedral in Barcelona. Gaudi took over the project in 1884 after a disagreement between a member of the Temple Council and the original project manager, Francisco de Paula del Villar (Gaudi’s former professor), over materials. Antonio Gaudi was a mere 31 years of age when he officially gained control over the building. ‘La Sagrada Familia’ preoccupied him until the end of his life and is perhaps his most widely known work. Still unfinished in the 21st century its organic sculptural forms bear testimony to Gaudí's structural and decorative imagination, rich with decorated organic detailing, much of it enhanced by Gaudí's hallmark of surface patterns created from pieces of broken ceramic. Always an ardent Catholic, Antoni became more fervently religious and gave up all secular commissions (after completing the Casa Mila in 1910) to concentrate on his monumental life work, La Sagrada Familia - a project that occupied him for the final 16 years of his time on earth and which he never finished (and still isn't finished now - there is hope that the church will be complete by 2026). 

Taken over by a Captain Ahab-style monomania, Gaudi even moved his studio into the crypt of La Sagrada Familia in 1925 so that he could devote every waking moment to executing his plans.

 

In his drawings and models for the uncompleted church of the Holy Family (only one transept with one of its four towers was finished at his death), Gaudí equilibrated the cathedral-Gothic style beyond recognition into a complexly symbolic forest of helicoidally piers, hyperboloid vaults and sidewalls, and a hyperbolic parabolic roof that boggle the mind and outdo the bizarre concrete shells built throughout the world in the 1960s by engineers and architects inspired by Gaudí. Apart from this and a similar, often uncritical, admiration for Gaudí by Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist painters and sculptors, Gaudí's influence was quite local, represented mainly by a few devotees of his equilibrated structure. He was ignored during the 1920s and '30s, when the International Style was the dominant architectural mode. By the 1960s, however, he came to be revered by professionals and laymen alike for the boundless and tenacious imagination that he used to attack each design challenge with which he was presented.

 

Gaudi's later years were hard on the architect. His father died in 1905, followed by his niece in 1912, two close friends in 1914 and 1916, and finally his patron Eusebi Guell in 1918. The one-time dandy allowed his appearance and clothes to deteriorate and he became yet more isolated from society. When the architect was hit by a tram in 1926 he was so ragged and conspicuously poor, that nobody recognized him and no cab driver would take him to a hospital (the uncharitable offenders were later fined by the police). Gaudi was eventually taken to a hospital for the poor, where he wasn't recognized until his friends found him there the following day. They wanted to move him but Gaudi refused, insisting that, "I belong here amongst the poor." He died three days after being hit by the tram. 

Despite shunning publicity Gaudi's popularity and fame had exploded by that time, as many people began to acknowledge the unique genius of his work. Half of Barcelona dressed in black to honor his death, and his body was, fittingly enough, interred in the crypt of La Sagrada Familia. 



 


Assessment

The architectural work of Gaudí is remarkable for its range of forms, textures, and polychrome and for the free, expressive way in which these elements of his art seem to be composed. The complex geometries of a Gaudí building so coincide with its architectural structure that the whole, including its surface, gives the appearance of being a natural object in complete conformity with nature's laws. Such a sense of total unity also informed the life of Gaudí; his personal and professional lives were one, and his collected comments about the art of building are essentially aphorisms about the art of living. He was totally dedicated to architecture, which for him was a totality of many arts.

 

Gaudi’s works in Barcelona:

• Casa Vicens


• Sagrada Familia


• Palau Guell


• Colegio Teresano


• Casa Calvet


• Colonia Guell


• Bellesguard


• Park Guell


• Casa Batllo


• Casa Mila

 

Awards:

1900: Casa Calvet named Building of the Year by the City of Barcelona

1969: Casa Milà, Casa Vincens, Colegio Teresiano, Parque Güell, and Sagrada Familia, named Historic-Artistic Monuments of National Interest

1984: Casa Milà, Palau Güell, and Parque Güell granted World Heritage status by UNESCO

 

Quotes:

"Originality consists of returning to the origin. Thus, originality means returning, through one's resources, to the simplicity of the early solutions."

"Everything comes from the great book of nature."

"Artists do not need monuments erected for them because their works are their monuments."