Updated: Jun 11
I was in Barcelona last week and it felt like every single building was designed by Antoni Gaudí. Of course I am exaggerating, but Gaudí does have a significant architectural presence in the city. To simply put it, his designs are uniquely spectacular. His buildings make it apparent that Gaudí was not afraid to be innovative or to push existing boundaries. His designs are so colorful, playful, and unapologetic that it is impossible not to love them.
Gaudí was born on June 25, 1852. Sadly his childhood was not exactly full of rainbows and sunshine. He was the youngest of five children, but only three survived. He suffered from rheumatism, a disease that causes the immune system to attack healthy body tissue, including the muscles, joints, and bones. As a result, Gaudí was often ill, which gave him time for introspection and to develop an interest in nature, made evident by his future designs. At 18, he moved to Barcelona to study-you guessed it- architecture. He graduated in 1878, and the headmaster of his school famously stated “We have given this academic title either to a fool or a genius. Time will show.” Over the years Gaudí would grow to become the master of Catalan Modernism. At 73 years old, he died suddenly after being hit by a tram. Gaudí was an architectural pioneer, and his buildings will forever be appreciated. Not surprisingly, 7 of his works are declared UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Photo by me.
La Sagrada Familia
Probably Gaudí's most famous work is La Sagrada Familia located in Barcelona. The ginormous temple receives about 4.5 million visitors annually and has been under construction since 1883, a whopping 140 years. Initially, the project was designed by Francisco de Paula del Villar. He envisioned a less extravagant building containing neo-Gothic elements but was eventually replaced with Gaudí for financial reasons. He took over at the ripe age of 31 and completely reinvented the project, turning it into the masterpiece we see today and combining a variety of styles. Gaudí was inspired by nature and wanted to celebrate it. He designed the church with 18 spires, resembling the Twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary, and the Four Evangelists. Eventually, the tallest spire, which is not yet built, will represent Jesus Christ.
The building has three facades, known as the Nativity façade, the Passion façade, and the Glory façade. The Nativity façade embodies Christ's incarnation and the entirety of it is covered in sculpture. It is almost like there is no sense of the masonry, like the building has been dissolved into design. On the other hand, the Passion façade is much simpler, as it covers a darker topic: the crucifixion of Christ. To portray the suffering of the crucifixion, the stone is simple and plain. It has tree like columns that stretch out, mimicking the position of Christ on the crucifix with his arms outstretched. The Glory façade will represent the road to God. It is incomplete but supposedly will be the most magnificent façade of them all.
Photo by me.
The inside of the temple is just as impressive as the exterior. As soon as I stepped inside, my jaw dropped to the floor. The interior is stunning for a number of reasons. First, it has such a breathtaking sense of verticality, as it is insanely tall. Second, the mosaics are beautifully colored and spew playful light into the building. Third, it has an undeniable sense of nature. As I sat on the bench with my neck tilted upwards, I could not help but notice that I felt like I was in a forest. It has this effect because there are so many columns rising up and intermingling, resembling tree branches.
Since working on it, Gaudí devoted his entire life to the project. Unfortunately, when he died it was less than 25% complete. But, Gaudí knew that he would not be alive for its completion, so he made numerous designs and models for future architects to use. The project is supposed to be finished by 2026. However, when I was in Barcelona I talked to a resident and he did not believe it would be finished in time for a couple of reasons. First, there is still lots of construction to be done and only four years to do it. Second, there are houses next to the project that are blocking construction. It is a pretty controversial topic and when I visited there was a sign on a house stating “Our houses are legal.” So, who knows if it will be finished, only time will tell.
Casa Batlló is a building that stands out and is definitely deserving of the 1 million visitors it attracts a year. If you are ever in Barcelona, this is the building that will catch your eye and make you stop in your footsteps. Of course Gaudí is the mastermind behind the house we see today. A man named Joseph Batlló owned the property at the time and gave Gaudí full creative freedom to redesign and revamp it. Gaudí remodeled the house from 1904 to 1906. The façade is unlike any other building in the city, as it utilizes light and color. The balcony railing are shaped like masks. The roof consists of large scales, representing the back of an animal and serving as a testimony to Gaudí's love of nature. The roof has a tower with a cross resting on top. This feature is meant to symbolize the legend of Saint George. The tale goes that Saint George killed a dragon to save the princess. The story is very prevalent in Barcelona and there are often symbols of the legend on buildings in the city. Overall, the entire building combines beauty and functionality. If you are ever in Barcelona, I highly recommend doing the walking tour through the house.
Photo by me.