Finding Gaudi’s Barcelona

Barcelona is a fabulous city thriving with artists and designers.  The Picasso Museum and Joan Miro Foundation are highlights, but it is Barcelona’s unique Gaudi heritage that thrills millions of tourists every year.  We take a look at these post modernist gems.

Within the span of a thirty minute walk Barcelona provides a wealth of design inspiration. At one end is the Sagrada Familia, a bascilia that captures the magical beauty of a woodland. At the other end is Casa Batllo, a fairy-tale home topped with dragon’s scales. Between the two, the roads are littered with striking buildings of which the highlight is Casa Mila.

These three buildings are masterpieces by Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi. Drawing on the organic forms found in nature he developed a distinct curvelinear style. The results are remarkable, fantastical buildings that emulate the natural world.

Sagrada Familia

The construction of the Sagrada Familia has truly been a labour of love.  Work began in 1882 and Gaudi became involved the following year.  He transformed the design with his organic, elemental approach and devoted the last years of his life to the project.

The complexity of Gaudi’s design has been a factor in the slow rate of construction. Although never intended to be a cathedral, the building was designed on the scale of a cathedral. The design includes eighteen spires in ascending height to represent the Twelve Apostles, the four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary and the tallest spire, Jesus Christ.  In addition, there are to be three grand facades: the Nativity, the Passion and the Glory.

The results so far are breathtaking. Visitors are first transfixed by Gaudi’s complex, gothic Nativity facade which forms the current entrance. However, the moment of awe occurs when you step inside. Rather than a staid, formal space typical of churches, this is a vast vault of arches, space and light: a concrete woodland. Stained glass that traditionally captures light, here floods the space with pools of colour.  The results are spectacular.

The magical interior of the Sagrada Familia is staggering. The ceiling vaults high above you with light filtering through the column branches just like a woodland.
The magical interior of the Sagrada Familia is staggering. The ceiling vaults high above you with light filtering through the column branches just like a woodland.

The Passion facade has also been completed.  It stands in stark contrast to Gaudi’s highly decorative Nativity facade. This aspect consists of crisp, bold  lines to reflect the brutality of the story.

The remainder of the building remains under construction. Based on the progress achieved to date, there’s little doubt the Sagrada Familia will be breathtaking building.


La Pedrera (Casa Mila)

The eye-catching billowing balconies of La Pedrera are hard to miss.  Built in the early 20th century, the building is architecturally interesting because the floors do not have any load bearing walls.  An exhibition explains how the building works and the techniques Gaudi used to develop the construction techniques used. It also shows the link between the design and the animals and plant forms that inspired the designer.

2015 04 22 La Pedrera chimneys
The warrior-like chimneys of La Pedrera. They grow out of the tops of the flues keeping a careful watch over the Barcelona skyline.

The tour begins on the roof with Gaudi’s warrior like chimneys.  They seem to grow out of the undulating floor. Two arches frame views across the city; one the Sagrada Familia and the other the Sagrat Cor, a church sitting on Mount Tibidabo. The visit continues through the exhibition space into a furnished apartment. Pocket doors, internal windows and mirrors create an airy, light filled space.

La Pedrera is a thought provoking building. The clever architectural construction and the flowing lines create a space that challenges and provokes assumptions about how buildings should look and work.

Casa Batllo

The dragon-scale topped Casa Batllo is a romantic fairytale dream with a thorny edge. Gaudi’s trademark organic touch results in a space that flows from room to room with straight lines replaced by curves and swirls. This re-modelling of the internal space isn’t done at the expense of the functioning needs of the building. Gaudi thought carefully about the details of how light and air move around, and how household staff would carry out their work. The result is a gorgeous space that is clever, exciting and exceptional.

casa batilo main window
The balcony of Casa Batllo demonstrates the organic forms that run through the building. Where possible straight lines have been replaced by curves which creates a feeling of movement. The light falling through the stained glass creates a colour mosaic.

Detailed organic elements run throughout the building. A mushroom shaped nook creates a cosy seating area and a vast swirl is embedded into a ceiling.  The result is an astonishing space that feels other worldly yet also homely.

The Gaudi walk is a fabulous was to spend a day in Barcelona.  There are plenty of cafes and restaurants along the way for a tapas and glass of Cava to keep you going. Top tip: be sure to book your tickets on line to avoid the long queues. And be patient when you arrive. These buildings are always busy.

Click on an image to launch the gallery.

Sagrada Familia nativity facade - the three kings
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Useful Links: Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, Casa Batllo


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