What is the origin of La Sagrada Família, Casa Milà & Casa Batlló – the Gaudí masterpieces in Barcelona? The Catalan Modernism arose towards the end of the 1800s. This period, characterised by an increased focus on culture and arts, preceded the artistic movement in the decorative arts named Art Nouveau or Jugendstil in the rest of Europe.
Thanks to a handful of gifted architects, the art, the architecture and the culture in Barcelona were soon influenced by the Catalan Modernism. Most visible in society were the architects and craftsmen Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch. To a large extent they shared some of the same ideas, although having very different visions as well as status in Barcelona. For instance, as a politician Domènech enjoyed a high social status and had specific ideas how to transform the society, whereas Gaudí’s visions were built on religion and the geometry existing in nature.
Some of the frequent elements used in the Modernism relate to nature. Natural forms were incorporated in the architecture where organic forms and curved lines played a main role. Buildings were constructed as organisms with arches and vaults. By using the new Portland cement and introducing new techniques, surfaces and forms could now be created in ways that had not previously been possible.
The national identity, La Renaixença, was also an important part of the Catalan Modernism. This included an increased focus on the Catalan language and identity.
At the same time several political movements in favour of the Catalans’ rights saw the light of day – and the foundation of the Catalan constitution was established.
In addition to the focus on architecture, furniture design, glass and ceramics arts, also the values of music and literature were renewed. The Modernism changed the Catalan society into a modern and national society. The Modernist style and ideas dominated Barcelona until around 1910. At this time the Catalan Modernism was abandoned in favour of a new cultural movement, the Noucentisme, which can be interpreted as a reaction to the Modernism in ideology.
A madman or a genius? Antoni Gaudí i Cornet is today considered the greatest architect during the Catalan Modernism.
Gaudí was born on June 25th 1852 in Reus southwest of Barcelona. His family can be characterised as poor as well as deeply religious.
Gaudí was notably the architect behind some of the most remarkable constructions in Barcelona during the Catalan Modernism. He dominated together with a handful of other ingenious architects the Modernist design and architecture in Barcelona at the time. By including natural elements and Christian symbols in his architecture, he strived for a ‘renaissance’ of Christianity in Catalonia.
In 1926 Antoni Gaudí died as a result of a tram accident in Barcelona. Due to his poor and humble looks, he was first believed to be a tramp – and not any famous architect. He therefore didn’t receive sufficient treatment in hospital – which might have rescued him.
After his death he was much criticised, and during the Spanish Civil War many of his documents were burnt. Although not in the first years, he obtained – with time – recognition as one of our most outstanding architects. Years later people started showing genuine interest in his great works and began to consider him the architectural genius he really was.
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One of Gaudí’s true masterpieces, Casa Batlló, is located on the Passeig de Gràcia, the boulevard of the bourgeoisie in the Eixample district. Here the owners commissioned some of the most eminent architects in Barcelona at the time, among these Gaudí.
Here you will find elements of dragons, bones and nature – all united in an imaginary universe. The façade is decorated with mosaics in the colours of natural corals. The skulls appearing on the façade are balconies, and the supporting pillars are bones!
The rooftop resembles the spine of a dragon. As a matter of fact the cross on top of the building next to the dragon’s back gives associations to the lance of Saint George who is the patron saint of Catalonia.
In general the religion was reflected in Gaudí’s architecture. He was therefore asked to conduct and design the construction of several churches. Deliberately, he applied natural elements in his architectural designs whenever possible.
Gaudí was convinced that he could find all mathematical forms in the nature, and therefore he was able to model all natural objects. He obtained his inspiration from the sea, the mountains, the animals, the plants, the trees and the flowers. In this way he applied the form of organisms in his works – like other Modernist architects. Anyhow, as opposed to many other architects, he used other natural forms as well.
Casa Milà is a brilliant example in Barcelona that Gaudí managed to integrate nature completely into a building. It ended up looking like a stone quarry – which explains its popular name ‘La Pedrera’ (the Quarry). This is probably Gaudí’s most iconic and innovative work full of decorative and functional solutions. However, the public initially made fun of the ‘ugly’ construction, and it was not until much later that it got the fame it deserved.
The building itself, the interior along with the exterior decorations are altogether a true work of art. It is one of only three residential buildings that Gaudí designed, and it was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1984. The other two are Casa Batlló and Casa Calvet. Casa Milà is still partly used for residential purposes, and partly as an exhibition area managed by the Fundación Catalunya La Pedrera.
Atop Casa Milà the iconic sand beige terrace dotted with peculiar nomad-like chimneys and functional air vents rises towards the sky. The chimneys seemingly rotate about their own axes – moving like smoke.
What is really surprising is that the construction entirely rests on columns. There is not one single load-bearing wall in the building.
The ornamental wrought-iron balconies are exceptional. To a large extent the house consists of columns, open spaces and large windows – as well as two amazing interconnected courtyards with wide ramps down to the garage. Casa Milà excelled in being among the first residential buildings in Barcelona with underground parking!
Gaudí had the ability to see the geometric forms in nature, and he used this in his works. He applied curved lines, hyperbolic paraboloids, hyperboloids, helicoids, conoids, as well as parabolic and catenary arches both inside and outside – all reflecting forms found in nature. Inside he designed decorative elements everywhere, shaping doors, handles and knobs accordingly.
At the same time he played with the light and gave his constructions a fascinating sculptural and ornamental look with the use of ceramic bricks.
In 1883 Gaudí initiated the work in Barcelona that with time caught the most attention: La Sagrada Família. This construction is his most significant work and an absolute masterpiece! Despite large donations, there hasn’t been sufficient funding to complete it after his death in 1926.
Gaudí was in the initial phase naturally appointed as architect of the basilica because of his religious background and motives, as well as his ambitious ideas about the nature of the construction.
Once completed, the basilica will have 18 towers – one for each of the 12 apostles, one for each of the evangelists and one for both Virgin Mary and Jesus.
Repeatedly, Gaudí used nature as inspiration for his works. He used for instance a snail’s shell as inspiration to use helicoids in his constructions, and the cob web as inspiration to use chain models. He made use of advanced upside-down structural models of suspended strings and sand bags to obtain the right design of catenary arches. This helped him visualise archways of his planned constructions.
La Sagrada Família in Barcelona is the work where he has used the largest number of natural forms. His ambition was that the basilica would resemble a heavenly forest, where the columns would be the trees in the garden of Eden. That is why he shaped the columns using the geometric forms found in the forest.
The church vaults are hyperbolic paraboloids, symbolising the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. As a whole, all elements inside the church create a unified expression of an organism.
Eusebi Güell was a wealthy Spanish industrialist who met Gaudí in 1878 in Paris. They shared the same interests, ideas and ideologies about the Modernism, and they became friends. Güell became Gaudí’s patron and gave him a high degree of freedom to develop his remarkable projects. Several of Gaudí’s works were named after Eusebi Güell, for example Palau Güell with the two characteristic catenary arches in Nou de La Rambla, and Park Güell. Güell stood financially and conceptually behind these wondrous constructions.
Park Güell from 1922 is like La Sagrada Família a non-complete (14-year) project. Güell hired Gaudí to design the park, although also the architect Josep Maria Jujol contributed to the design of the amazing snaking mosaic bench. Originally, it was intended to be a marketplace – and the park itself a residential area for the wealthy Barcelonians with a total of 60 residences. In the end this number was reduced to only two – since the houses apparently didn’t gain enough popularity. Gaudí actually ended up buying the pink house for himself.
Also in Park Güell Gaudí used the dragon symbolism. At the entrance a colourful dragon in form of a mosaic salamander guards the stunning park. Actually, the park is full of natural elements. Moreover, the location of Park Güell in nature surroundings gives the park its natural effect. Tree-like columns based on a helicoid form contribute to the natural look.
Today, this is the park in Barcelona where people come for people-watching. Both locals and visitors like to chill out here in the strikingly vivid and imaginative Modernist surroundings, enjoying the works of one of last century’s greatest architects. Everything here is ingeniously designed following Gaudí’s original ideas and ideologies.
Read next: The Dalí Museum in Figueres
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La Sagrada Família, Casa Milà or Casa Batlló – Gaudí in Barcelona
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La Sagrada Família, Casa Milà & Batlló – Gaudí in Barcelona:
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La Sagrada Família, Gaudí Casa Milà & Batlló – Gaudí in Barcelona