Gaudí, Antonio

views updated


early career
later works: organicism
sagrada familia

GAUDÍ, ANTONIO (1852–1926), Catala architect.

Antonio Gaudí y Cornet was born in southern Catalonia, into a family of coppersmiths and metal workers from whom he claimed to have inherited an intuition for spatial modeling. He studied at the Barcelona School of Architecture, receiving his license to practice in 1878. It was a fine time to be entering the field: the newly laid out streets of the Cerdà plan—the gridded extension ara of the city beyond the medieval walls—were filling with houses, and the Catalan cultural Renaixensa (renaissance) was extending its enthusiastic embrace of regional traditions to all areas of artistic production, encouraging an arts and crafts movement that would provide support for the architectural inventions of Gaudí and his contemporaries. The quest for a regional, and eventually a "national," identity embedded in the traditions of the past yet suited to a people with modern aspirations, would have its political outlet in the movement for governmental autonomy known as Catalanisme, particularly the conservative branch of Catalanisme that became increasingly organized and increasingly dominant during Gaudí's lifetime. Gaudí's pride in his Catalan heritage led him to sympathize with the Catalan cause, and his work became increasingly situated within the "search for a national architecture" that engaged a number of the most prominent Barcelona architects of his time.

early career

Gaudí's career in architecture school was less than distinguished. He was independent by nature and learned more from the illustrated books in the library than he did in the classroom. During these years he acquired a deep admiration for the theories of the French architect Eugène-Emmanuel Violletle-Duc (1814–1879), particularly with regard to structural rationalism (by which advances in structural technology were seen to determine stylistic transformation) and the expression of national character through architecture. Gifted in drafting and structural calculation, Gaudí easily found work in architectural offices to offset the expenses of his student years. Most important was the work that he did for the neo-gothic architect Joan Martorell, who through his connections with important Catalan religious figures would eventually recommend Gaudí as architect of the Sagrada Familia Temple in 1883. It was possibly Martorell's influence, too, that led Gaudí toward a more pious life, away from the dandyism that is said to have characterized his early years in Barcelona. The Sagrada Familia project would occupy his entire career, becoming the exclusive focus of his practice after 1914.

Gaudí produced fewer than twenty buildings, some incomplete, over the course of his career. Nevertheless, because of his novel approach to architectural design, fusing structure and form to produce inclined columns and ruled surfaces of multiple curvature, often cloaked in colorful tile and mosaic revetments, Gaudí is admired as a major, if eccentric, figure in the modernist canon.

In the first two decades of his practice, Gaudí's work rehearses a series of historical styles while avoiding facile imitation. That his first house near Barcelona, the Casa Viçens (1883–1885) was commissioned by a tile manufacturer probably suggested the precedent of Mudéjar architecture—that is, the architecture influenced by Muslims living under post-reconquest Christian rule (twelfth to sixteenth centuries)—in which decorative tiles of Islamic production were fused with Gothic structural systems to produce textured and colorful surfaces of inventive plasticity. In the buildings that he designed for the estate of the shipping and textile magnate Eusebi Güell i Bacigalupi (1884–1887), a similar delight in Arabic texture and polychromy are evident in the impressed terra-cotta wall patterns, the brick openwork, and, for the first time, the broken-tile work (trencadίs) that would continue to appear thereafter in his work. The dragon that guards the entrance gate is a prodigious work of wrought iron, a craft that he developed to free-form exuberance in the buildings of his mature phase. The interior of the stable introduced a system of stepped diaphragm arches that recall Catalan Gothic structures, particularly those of the Cistercian monastery at Poblet, for which GaudÍ in his childhood had developed an elaborate restoration plan.

The Güell estate constructions were especially important in that they marked the beginning of the close relationship between Gaudí and the patron who would subsequently commission some of his most important works: the Güell Palace in the medieval sector of the old city (1886–1889), the chapel for the Colònia Güell, a factory town just south of Barcelona, and the Park Güell (1900–1914), a failed real estate venture, which, with its serpentine bench of vivid trencadίs collages and its gingerbread gatehouses, has become one of the most successful and fanciful of Barcelona's city parks.

In the Güell Palace, which evokes a familial Venetian heritage, the parabolic arches that form the entranceways into the building predict the central paraboloid dome that rises spectacularly above the central hall, piercing through the roof to allow light into the heart of the building. Parabolic arcades and galleries here create a layered spatial progression that Gaudí would develop with ever-greater subtlety throughout his practice. More obviously Gothic in structure and typology is the Casa Figueres, or "Bellesguard" (1900–1904), built on the site of the palace of King Martin the Humanist, with crenellation, a watchtower, and a very elaborate series of flat brick Catalan vaults and diaphragm arches, most strikingly visible in the attic room.

The undulating twin crests and balconies of the Casa Calvet (1899–1900) indicate a flirtation with the baroque, as do the solomonic columns of the exuberant and colorful entranceway. But it is in the organic fluidity of the specifically designed furniture of the family apartment that Gaudí here announced a new design sensibility based on the curvatures of nature and of the human body.

later works: organicism

After 1900 Gaudí's work, while evincing a certain affinity with the contemporary art nouveau, projects a unique character that can best be classified as "Gaudínian." Continuing the polychromatic effects and complex geometries of the earlier works, his mature architecture introduces far greater plasticity, exploiting ruled surfaces of interlocking curvatures to produce mathematically derived forms of fluid volume and profile. Rather than the capricious forms of pure fantasy, this organicism responds to a rigorous geometry and is facilitated by the creative exploitation of traditional Catalan brickwork vaulting techniques as well as a desire to contain physical stresses within the bodies of the structures themselves. The inclined columns that appear, for example, in the galleries or arcades throughout the Park Güell, directly receive the loads and thrusts incumbent on these elements, while the continuous curves of the window openings in the Casa Batlló (1904–1906) or the Casa Milà (1906–1910), illustrate the architect's concept that, within a given architectural organism, there are no supporting or supported parts, but rather a dynamic continuum where every part plays both roles.

It is from this later period in his practice that most of the written record of Gaudí's thoughts on architecture comes, primarily in the form of

aphoristic teachings recorded by young disciples who would visit the master in his workshop at the Sagrada Família: "To be original is to return to the origin [i.e., nature]," "the straight line is man's line, the curved line is God's," "color is life; pallor is death."

In the Casa Batlló (1904–1906), Gaudí cloaked an undistinguished earlier house in a glittering, watery blue mosaic facade with bone-like columns supporting the flowing stonework of the continuous first-floor balcony. Farther up the fashionable Pasco de Gràcia, Gaudí erected the Casa Milà (1906–1910), a gigantic apartment house that occupies two full building lots and wraps the corner in sinusoidal waves of carved stone that is often confused, in its fluidity, with concrete. The free-plan, framed-iron building with virtually no right angles, organically winds around two elliptical patios and the central courtyard of the urban block, bringing light directly into almost every room of the four apartments that share each floor. The roof terrace is a landscape of sculptural forms that cap chimneys, air vents, and stairwells, these helmeted forms were originally intended by Gaudí to accompany an oversized statue of the Virgin Mary at the crest of the highly visible facade.

sagrada familia

Gaudí took greatest pleasure in his work on religious buildings, especially the Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Familia, which occupied him throughout his career. Earlier church projects provided the opportunity to try out, on a reduced scale, ideas he was considering for this building he considered his masterwork. For the Güell Colony chapel (1898–1916), his search for ever more efficient structural resolution led him to invent a remarkable hanging model of cords weighted with small sacks of bird-shot representing the loads that the building would withstand once built. The resultant catenary profiles, when photographically inverted, served as guides for the parabolic arcs and towers of the church. The crypt, the only part of the chapel that was built, is the most dramatic and daring of his structural experiments.

The Sagrada Familia was originally conceived in the 1880s as the "mother church" of a fundamentalist Catholic association devoted to Saint Joseph with an antimodernist and antisocialist mission. In the first decade of the twentieth century it was, with Gaudí's blessing, taken up as a symbol of an increasingly religious and conservative Catalanism. Taking on the project after the crypt and apse had been set in place by another architect, Gaudí expanded the scale of the project to an entire city block, and decided to build only the Nativity facade, to serve as an indication, for those who would follow him, of the scope of his architectural and symbolic vision. The building process was often extremely slow, depending as it did on expiatory donations, but by 1926, when Gaudí was run over by a trolley on his way to mass, the four parabolic towers were almost complete. He left behind a series of plaster models and drawings that indicated that he was still refining his ideas for the interior and had only roughly considered the other three facades. In 1936, at the outbreak of the Spanish civil war, Gaudí's workshop and studio were burned and most of this material was destroyed.

Much of the controversy surrounding Gaudí since his death has tended to center on the Sagrada Familia project and whether it should be continued or left as a monument to the architect's vision. The politics of the temple have been as much a part of this debate as the aesthetics: too reactionary for the avant-garde, too Catalan during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco (r. 1936–1975). Since the late twentieth century a devoted team of architects, sculptors, and engineers has been working, to mixed reviews, to complete the temple "as Gaudí would have wanted it," piecing together shards of the plaster models, and using computerized projections to discover the geometric "laws" that generated the architect's structural solutions. As of 2005, a second transept portal (that of Christ's Passion) was complete and much of the interior forest of branching columns and starburst vaults was standing. Meanwhile, in the year 2003, the Vatican opened the formal process for the beatification of Antonio Gaudí, responding to the case presented by clerics close to the Sagrada Familia project and focusing further attention on his person and his beliefs.

Aesthetically, Gaudí's work found an enthusiastic following among European expressionist and surrealist artists in the early twentieth century. His ornate facades tended to repel the functionalist architects of the modern movement, though Le Corbusier (Charles-É douard Jeanneret; 1887–1965) was struck by the apt simplicity of his structural strategies. More recently, postmodern interest in architectural expression and ornamentation, as well as deconstructivist explorations of freer formal solutions have given revived relevance to Gaudí's work and vision.

See alsoBarcelona; Spain; Viollet-le-Duc, Eugène.


Bassegoda Nonell, Juan. El gran Gaudí. Sabadell, Spain, 1989.

Bergós, Joan. Gaudí: The Man and His Work. Translated by Gerardo Denis. Boston, 1999.

Bonet, Jordi. The Essential Gaudí: The Geometric Modulation of the Church of the Sagrada Familia. Translated by Mark Burry. Barcelona, 2000.

Burry, Mark. The Expiatory Church of the Sagrada Familia. London, 1993.

Collins, George. Antonio Gaudí. New York, 1960

Collins, George, and Juan Bassegoda Nonell. The Designs and Drawings of Antonio Gaudí. Princeton, N.J., 1983.

Giralt-Miracle, Daniel, ed. Gaudí 2002: Miscellany. Barcelona, 2002.

Kent, Conrad, and Dennis Prindle. Park Güell. New York, 1993.

Lahuerta, Juan Josù. Antoni Gaudí, 1852–1926: Architecture, Ideology, and Politics. Translated by Graham Thompson. Milan, 2003.

Martinell, Cùsar. Gaudí: His Life, His Theories, His Work. Translated by Judith Rohrer; edited by George R. Collins. Cambridge, Mass., 1975.

Van Hensbergen, Gijs. Gaudí. New York, 2001.

Judith Rohrer