Quirky Glory Gaudi
Congratulations to your 160th birthday, Antoni Gaudi!
Barcelona is my favourite city. Whenever I go to Europe, I rather go there than home. I usually choose an accommodation in the Eixample with its stimulating urban atmosphere of the late 19th century. On my strolls along the Passeig de Gracia there are these two quirky buildings that stand out of their neighbourhood: the Casa Batllo and the Casa Milà, aka La Pedrera (“The Quarry”). Whereas the first is rather an idiosyncratic version of an urban home of a wealthy family, the Batllos, the latter manifests the complete denial of the history of architecture.
No architectural order whatsoever, just an irregularly carved stone wall curving around a street corner. And then the roof: a miraculous assembly of swirling vortices and spooky ghosts riding a voluptuously curved back of a leviathan, scaled with white ceramic shards. This piece of architecture, I think by me as often I go there, must have fallen out of a worm hole from an alien dimension; it doesn’t equal anything that had been built ever. Antoni Gaudi created this wonder 1906-10.
The other place I never miss to visit is Park Güell with its wonderful curvy terrace. The cheerfulness of this place is reflected by the fun and play the people enjoy dwelling here. As Barcelona is – compared to Auckland – incredibly densely populated (ten times), people spend much of their free time in the public open spaces. The Mediterranean concept of the “paseo” (stroll), where people meet and chat and enjoy themselves, found an ideal place in Gaudi’s Park Güell. From its terrace I like to gaze over the city towards the sea. Looking southeast a bizarre group of steeples stands out: Sagrada Famila, Gaudi’s magnum opus.
Commenced in 1883 this church was too large in scale to be completed in the life time of Antoni Gaudi, who passed 1926. Beside the Abbey of Montserrat the Sagrada Familia has been a strong focus of Catalonian pride. Thus in 1940, under dictator Franco's rule and suppression, the works resumed in order to complete the entire building by 2026, the centennial of Gaudi's death.
I personally don't like this building. It makes me uncomfortable how architectural fantasy borders to catholic fanaticism. I do admire though how masterly Gaudi developed the hyperboloid vaults to surpass Gothic structures by avoiding flying buttresses. For me, however, the building is too eccentric and the clutch of tourists populating the place makes it even more adverse to my understanding of a sacred place. I prefer the tiny pavilion in the shadow of the church, which used to be the school for the sons of the builders, displaying a delicate structural concept based on ondulating walls and roof, which works as a folded plate.
Beside my personal opinion, I doubt that the successors of Gaudi can really imagine what the master would have done completing his work. We know how often he changed plans, even the Sagrada Familia morphed from neo-Gothic beginnings to his flamboyant take on Catalonian Modernisme. Since many of the original models and drawings were destroyed in the Civil War, the church we see rising on site compiles a tiny portion of authentic work outperformed by both adaptive guesswork and its replication. I’d prefer, if they had left the site as Gaudi had, as a monument to the finiteness of his genius and human efforts.
The most insightful documentary of Gaudi's work is the film directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara in 1984. I recommend this visual poem as a complimentary piece of art to Gaudi's architecture and the Catalonian culture.
- Posted June 25, 2012