Thursday, 25 February 2010

Stepping into the World of Gaudi

The most unique and original architect of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was not an American, Frenchman or Italian, but rather a Spaniard called Antonio Gaudi. To be precise, he was a Catalonian (a citizen of Northern Spain), which is a fact that you are often reminded about when walking around Barcelona. In any case, he was a remarkable designer, both in the creativity of his vision and the scale of his endeavors. Having studied many of his buildings as a significant part of my Art History course, I was finally going to see them for myself, while Jules was going to be introduced to him for the very first time.

The great thing about Barcelona is that many of its most famous attractions are within walking distance from the city centre, so on a fine sunny day we began our pilgrimage to Gaudi’s most famous domestic dwellings. ‘Casa Batilo’ is a remodeled apartment building that must have astounded its owners when it was completed at the beginning of the twentieth century. The locals affectionately refer to it as ‘the house of bones’ because of its organic nature, resulting in window structures and balcony forms taking on an almost skeletal quality. It is an amazing combination of colourful mosaic, flowing lines and ornate ceramic shapes, that are interwoven into what can only be described as a wonderful piece of ‘fantasy architecture’. However, the building that really saw Gaudi recognized as one of the new breed of art nouveau modernists can be found close by and its called ‘Casa Mila’. It is a much larger building than Casa Batilo and reflected the ongoing development of Gaudi’s organic style, combined effectively with the use of stone and wrought iron. There is not a straight line to be seen in this building and it is crowned with a rooftop of the most amazing chimney designs that you’re ever likely to see.

The intricate and fantastic nature of Gaudi’s designs often resulted in some quite extended building times. Such was the case with the large garden complex of ‘Guell Park’ that took fourteen years to complete. Despite being a little out from the town centre, Jules and I found that it was well worth tracking down, as not only was it a wonderfully imaginative example of Gaudi designs, but it also provided some of the best views of Barcelona. As we entered, people were lining up to be photographed next to the amazing mosaic dragon fountain that welcomes you before making the climb up the grand stairs. There is a nice atmosphere with guitarists playing and lots of kids on school excursions clearly excited to be there. We take a rambling trail to the upper level, passing through grotto-like structures as we go, to eventually rest on the multi-coloured mosaic seats to admire the view. This is certainly one of the most unique and pleasurable parks we have ever visited and we can well understand the time taken to build it.

Yet its construction time pales into insignificance compared to Gaudi’s greatest achievement, ‘Sagrada Familia’, the basilica church that dominates the Barcelona skyline. When building commenced in 1882, even Gaudi couldn’t have imagined that it would have remained incomplete to this day. Such is the detail and intricacy of Gaudi’s planning that despite steady ongoing construction for over a century, it is still anticipated that it will not be fully finished until 2026. As you can imagine, it is a church like no other and not surprisingly it has already been granted world heritage status despite remaining incomplete. What I particularly liked about it was the many whimsical features that could be seen at closer viewing. From the fruit bowl mosaic spires, to the turtles carrying the weight of its enormous columns, such decorative features tend to lighten the tone of the buildings sombre religious mood, reinforced by the countless chiseled statues that surround it. Each time the scaffolding is removed it reveals yet more aspects of Gaudi’s fertile imagination and the scope of his vision for this Barcelona icon.

Gaudi justifiably remains one of Barcelona’s favourite sons. His designs are unique to this day and like no other, his buildings have put an undeniable stamp on this city. While his designs are not to everyone’s taste, they remain totally individual and for anyone interested in design and architecture, his works are certainly a must see. Stepping into a Gaudi design is like entering into another world and it is difficult to imagine how such expressive designs could ever be built today.

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