Nothing prepared me for the overwhelming feelings that burst through me when, on a recent trip to Barcelona, I first discovered the works of Antoni Gaudi. A sheer genius, never before have I felt so encapsulated by one designer as his use of the natural world combined with Gothic and medieval influences made me hungrily want to take in every tiny detail. Hard to place into words, you really cannot appreciate this talented architect, artist and designer’s individualism until it is confronting you, however I can tell you that in my own opinion Gaudi was not only a pioneer of his time but also one of the most unique architectural talents I have ever encountered.
Born into a simple life in Reus, provincial Catalonia to a coppersmith and his wife on 25th June 1852, Gaudi was one of five children. However, as a child he developed a rheumatic problem, which was to stay with him throughout his life. This disease effected him during his childhood as it prevented Gaudi from mixing with other children his own age because the pain when walking was so intensifying that he was forced to travel by donkey whenever he left the house
Although Gaudi did attend school he had periods where he had to miss lessons due to the rheumatic illness and so would use this time to observe plants and animals. It is these organic shapes of nature that became prolific in his later architectural works which are found entwined with the gothic and medieval influences which he became so passionate about.
In 1868 Gaudi moved to Barcelona in order to study architecture at university. It was whilst attending this course that he also took classes on Aesthetics, history, philosophy and economics. He had a strong belief that the various architectural styles did not necessarily depend on the aesthetic ideas but instead were heavily influenced by political and social affairs.
Much of Gaudi’s influences and inspiration was gained from medieval books, along with the strong Gothic styles that were beginning to appear. He was also heavily impressed with the new Art Nouveau style which replaced the rigidity of straight lines with a more organic flowing form of design.
Unfortunately Gaudi’s studies were interrupted for a while as he had to fulfil military service. Working as a draughtsman he finally completed his term and returned to graduate from the New School of Architecture in 1877.
He then went on to open his office in 1878, with one of his first commissions being for the lampposts in Plaza Real, Barcelona. He designed two models, one of which had three arms and the other with six. They are still standing today and many people walk past them not realising that they are actually one of the first Gaudi works that he created.
Other work started to appear and Gaudi created furniture, alter pieces and even gloves for the Comella firm to show at the Paris Exhibition of 1878. However, it was the friendship that he formed with Eusebio Guell which really took his career into another dimension as Guell was to commission much work for Gaudi in the following years as well as introducing him to other like minded artists.
Joan Martorell was a talented architect who became a strong influence on Gaudi’s life. Especially as it was Martorell whom suggested in 1883 that Gaudi should officially take over the project of the ‘Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia.’ This was to become his lifelong project and in turn his most momentous work. An extremely religious man, Gaudi saw it as God’s will and so dedicated 43 years to the construction of the temple.
Aside from Sagrada Familia Gaudi was also commissioned to work on many other projects, especially as now he had become a well known and respected architect. Many of his works were for the Guell family, and this included the famous park. His friend, Eusebio Guell planned to build a ‘suburban city’ and although 60 plots were allocated for housing, only three were actually built. Two of which are today owned by the Trias family and one was created as a show house, although Gaudi actually bought it for himself in 1906.
The park is surrounded by a rubblework wall which Gaudi crowned with ceramic ‘trencadis’ (mosaic made from broken ceramic pieces.). At each end there are two pavilions which are often referred to as gingerbread houses, and each possess the common trait of not having any straight lines or angles anywhere within the house or to the exterior.
Another fascinating building which is a vision of modernism and one of Gaudi’s exceptional masterpieces is Casa Batllo. The owner Josep Batllo intended to tear down the building but changed his mind and decided to remodel it. Gaudi was instructed to carry out the work and as with all his projects created something so unique that this is probably one of the most amazing private homes I have ever seen. The façade of the building has an undulating surface covered in polychrome circles of glazed ceramics and broken fragments of glass. When built Gaudi personally told the workman how to position each piece by directing them from the pavement outside and this stunning façade has been compared to the ‘Water Lilies’ series of oil paintings by Monet. However, when you get onto the roof it resembles mystical animals and legends, as the sinuous shape of the roof together with multi-coloured ceramic scales on the main façade give you the effect of standing behind a dragon’s back.
Pere Mila had seen the Batllo house after its completion and was so enthusiastic about it that he approached Gaudi and asked if he could build a large building which could be turned into flats. To say that Gaudi mixed his architectural styles is an understatement, this particular project the ‘La Pedrera (Casa Mila) otherwise known as the Quarry House, is so far away from the design of the Batllo house. Based on wrought metallic girders and Catalan style vaults, the façade is identical to its translation – A Quarry. This building was to be the last civil work undertaken by Gaudi before he concentrated on the Sagrada Familia.
On 7th June 1926, Gaudi was knocked over by a tram. Nobody recognised him as he lay on the ground because he had always avoided cameras and was not dressed with too much care. A taxi driver even refused to take him to the hospital as he believed Gaudi to be a tramp. . Ju st five days later Gaudi died from his injuries, aged 74. The Barcelona residents turned out dressed in black to pay their final respects as Gaudi was buried in the crypt of the edifice of the Sagrada Familia.
Today the work is still being carried out to complete the famous temple and although Gaudi is no longer with us, Sagrada Familia is a shrine to a man whose vision and beliefs made him one of the most amazing and talented architects that ever lived.
Casa Batllo Pf. De Gracia, 43 08007 Barcelona www.casabatllo.es