Gaudi Masterpieces

Whilst best known for his unfinished Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí left his mark on Barcelona with several beautiful and imaginative homes and buildings that are Modernism and Art Nouveau masterpieces. After being impressed by the Sagrada Familia, I set out to visit more of these amazing creations.

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Visiting Casa Batllo

Gaudí was born in 1852 and moved to Barcelona in 1868. He joined the School of Architecture in 1873 whilst also working as an architectural assistant and learning the crafts of carpentry, glassmaking and locksmithing. He received his first official commission in 1878 and by 1883 he had taken over the design of the Sagrada Familia, whilst working on other projects. Here are his most notable projects.

 

Casa Vicens 1883 – 1885

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Gaudí was a young and unknown architect when Manuel Vicens commissioned him to build him a summer residence. This was Gaudí’s first opportunity to create a project of this size and, as you can see, with his first house he was already beginning to show his creative genius and a willingness to break all of the rules of the period.

In 2005, Casa Vicens was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site and, in 2017, following three years of restoration work, the house was opened to the public. It hasn’t yet attracted the large crowds that flock to Casa Batllo, so I was able to enjoy the design elements in a calm, peaceful environment. At €16, the admission fee is more affordable than Casa Batllo, but a little higher than Palau Guell.

The house has three floors plus a basement and a rooftop terrace. They are all connected by a modern, white staircase and elevator that were installed as part of the renovation and conversion to a museum, replacing the original staircases. It feels out-of-place but at least the rooms themselves remain intact, and they are quite interesting.

The ceilings and walls in the rooms are inspired by nature and feature designs of leaves, grasses and plants. I particularly liked a small blue room that features design elements that appear to be inspired by the Middle East (Orientalism), with a moulded ceiling, stained glass windows and door, and ornate window blinds. Another room features oil paintings inset into wood panels on three walls.

One of the rooms on the upper level has been converted to a mini-museum to provide information on the history of the house. It includes original plans, scale models and informational signs.

The rooftop terrace features decoratively tiled chimneys, a feature that Gaudí would replicate in his later projects.

Casa Vicens website – https://casavicens.org/

 

 

Palau Guell (Guell Palace) 1886 – 1890

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What an amazing house! If you can only visit one of the houses that Gaudí designed, I think this should be the one.

In 1886, with Casa Vicens completed, Gaudí received a commission to build a home for Eusebi Guell, who became one of his best friends. Guell was an enthusiastic collaborator in the design of the home and encouraged Gaudí’s creativity.

The house has so many interesting features. The intricate wrought iron gates provide privacy but also allow light to flood into the ground floor hall, where horses and carriages would have entered and exited, delivering occupants and visitors. Gaudi designed the floor to look like bricks but it is made of wood, so that the horses hooves would make less noise.

The majestic staircase leads up to the first floor reception area with its decorated doors and Catalan flag-inspired stained glass. Here, the use of decorative wrought iron continues with window treatments and there is even a metal ceiling. Marble floors, walls and columns combine to create an impressive space.

The floor above houses the most impressive room – the main hall – which is simply stunning. The hall rises three levels to a beautiful domed ceiling, designed to allow in light. There is an ornate ‘hidden’ chapel that has small seating areas for the family and staff members. When not in use, the decorative doors can be closed, hiding it from view. Another feature of the hall is an organ with pipes that extend to three floors above, allowing the organ to achieve notes that would otherwise be impossible.

 

The higher floors feature intricate bedrooms with marble fireplaces and ornate bathrooms. Each of the floors above have windows that overlook the hall. Throughout the home, there are beautiful windows that bring light into the building, including some lovely stained glass.

As with Casa Vicens, Gaudí’s  design skills extend to the roof, that features beautifully tiled chimneys and a view across the city.

It is a beautiful house that is well worth a visit. I arrived at 11.00am and found no lines outside, so entry was easy. Whilst there were visitors inside, it was far less crowded than some of the other houses, which made it easier to take photos without people getting in the way. The audio guide is very informative, providing interesting narration for each of the levels of the house. The €12 admission fee is the cheapest of the Gaudí houses.

Palau Guell website – http://www.palauguell.cat/en
Casa Calvet 1898 – 1899
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Casa Calvet was built for the textile manufacturer Pere Màrtir Calvet, who set up his business premises on the ground floor and in the basement, and used the upper floors as his private residence.
The building is in the baroque Catalan style and is the most conservative of Gaudi’s buildings. So much so that you could walk past it and not realise it is a Gaudi building. However, it did receive a prize for the best building of the year in 1900, from the Barcelona City Council.
The Restaurant Casa Calvet now occupies a chunk of the ground floor and the entrance to the rest of the building is roped off and marked private. All I could do was take photos of the exterior facade.
Casa Batllo 1904 – 1906
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If Casa Calvet is Gaudí’s most conservative, Casa Batllo is probably his most flamboyant. The front facade looks like something out of a fairytale, with a roof that looks like a dragon’s spine and scales. The wavy design, the glass and ceramic fragments and the coloured lighting under the balconies all combine to create a fantasy-like building.
This is actually a conversion of an original 1877 building, that Gaudí commenced in 1904, replacing the exterior walls with his own design and redesigning the interior.
The building’s impressive exterior and its prime, central location on Passeig de Gracia probably combine to make it the most photographed of Gaudi’s houses. And, despite the €28 admission fee (€23.50 if purchased online), it seems to be the most visited. There always seems to be a line to get in and the crowds inside make it difficult to take a photo without people getting in the way. The admission fee includes an audio guide and smart phone. Whilst listening to the narration, visitors can hold up the smart phone and point it around the room to see features that are not actually there – such as furnishings or even sea turtles swimming through the air! A neat little feature but it still doesn’t justify the €28 admission fee.
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The first floor of the building features an amazing window that overlooks the Passeig de Gracia. It provided the residents with a panoramic view of everything that was taking place outside. The counter-weighted windows could be opened easily to provide ventilation.
Many of the rooms feature wavy shapes and polychromatic glass inserts above doors that show different colours, depending on which side they are viewed from. Gaudí also incorporated adjustable vents in doors to facilitate movement of air through the building.
For me, the most impressive aspect of the building is the central light well. This feature allows light to enter several floors of the building. The walls of the light well are tiled in blue – shaded darker at the top and gradually lighter toward the bottom. And the windows near the top are smaller (where the light is brightest) and larger near the bottom, to take full advantage of the available light. As an added bonus, there was fake snow falling from the upper level, creating nice winter effect.
The top floor has a more utilitarian design and features wash rooms, bathrooms, etc. But Gaudí’s design makes narrow passageways seem wider and filled with light.
A spiral staircase leads up to the roof where, once again, the chimneys are decorated with ceramic mosaic tiles. The roof also allows a closer look at the dragon-like roof facade. There is also a small arch built into the roof that provided a direct view towards the construction of Sagrada Familia (but more recent buildings now block that view).
It is an interesting building to visit but the cost of a visit is very high.
Casa Batllo website – https://www.casabatllo.es/en/
Casa Mila (aka La Pedrera) 1906 – 1912
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Casa Mila dominates its corner of a block, creating a striking impression. Its uniqueness and artistic value earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation in 1984. This large structure was built as two apartment blocks that were linked by two large inner courtyards.
The building is now the headquarters of the Catalunya La Pedrera Foundation and houses a cultural centre for various exhibitions. Five floors of the building can be visited by tourists, where information on Gaudí and his life’s works are presented. Despite visiting the website, I was still unclear on what I could expect to see. That, combined with a €25 admission fee, deterred me from entering. I took a few photos of the outside and moved on to the next building.
Casa Mila website – https://www.lapedrera.com/en/home

 

Park Guell 1900 – 1914

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Gaudí again collaborated with Eusebi Guell to create Park Guell on a barren hill that enjoyed fresh air and views over the city. The idea was to create a high-quality artistic residential neighbourhood but it didn’t work out as planned. Only two new houses were built and neither of them were designed by Gaudí. They were completed in 1904 but failed to sell. In 1906, Gaudí and his family moved into one of the houses and lived there until his death in 1926. That home is now the Gaudí Museum. Also in 1906, Count Guell moved into Larrad House, one of the houses that existed on the land when they bought it.

Despite the failure of the housing aspect, work continued until 1914 to develop the park, including several architectural features. The park was officially opened in 1926 and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

Admission to the park is free but there is an admission fee to view the buildings and to visit the museum. Admission to view the buildings is only €8 but, when I visited, the earliest available entry required a wait of over an hour. I therefore contented myself with a walk around the park and a distant view of the buildings.

Park Guell website – https://www.parkguell.cat/en/

 

Gaudí’s Crypt at Colonia Guell 1908 – 1914

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Described as his most hidden treasure, the ‘Gaudí Crypt’ is located in Colonia Guell, an industrial village that was built by Eusebi Guell around his textile factory.

Guell had begun work on Colonia Guell in 1890 after the textile factory was moved away from the social conflicts in the city of Barcelona. His factory made felt and corduroy and Guell aimed to build a village around the factory to house his workers. The village was designed to provide spacious living accommodation for his workers, that was almost rent free. A school was constructed to educate the boys of the village, and to develop them as future workers. A convent was established where the nuns provided child care duties and educated the girls. There was a doctor’s office, a community centre and open recreational spaces. It was hoped that the all-inclusive village life would engender worker loyalty and minimise worker unrest. Guell employed a number of architects to design the village but he turned to his friend Antoni Gaudí to design and build the village church.

Gaudí was actually commissioned to design the church in 1898 and he subsequently carried out various preliminary studies, including building a model of the church. Interestingly, Guell gave Gaudí free-reign on the design and didn’t even stipulate a budget or completion date. Construction commenced in 1908 on a design that foresaw two naves (upper and lower) topped by towers and a high central dome. The building brought together all of Gaudí’s innovations into a single project and has been considered a laboratory for the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia.

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Sketch of the proposed church

Gaudí had only completed the lower nave by 1914 when the Guell family withdrew funding for the church. Gaudí abandoned the project and concentrated all of his efforts on Sagrada Familia.

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Despite being unfinished, the church (referred to as Gaudí’s Crypt) is still an impressive building. Rather than using buttresses or supporting walls, the construction relies on a combination of leaning pillars and catenary arches. Inside the church, the four main load-bearing columns are made of basalt and lean inwards at a significant angle. The brickwork ceiling is particularly beautiful, as are the stained glass windows that grace the walls of the church. Gaudí brings a touch of nature into the church with the use of giant clam shells as washbasins near the entrance door and as a baptism font near to the altar. He also designed the wrought iron and wood pews for the church (replicas have taken their place today). In another familiar Gaudí touch, the exterior is decorated with ceramic mosaic tiles.

The crypt, and the village of Colonia Guell, is a 25 minute train ride away from Place Espanya in Barcelona. The admission fee is €9, but a combination ticket can be purchased (either online or at the train station ticket machine) that includes the admission and the return train fare for €15. The admission fee includes an electronic audio guide that provides narration regarding the church as well as some of the buildings of the surrounding village. A driving licence or other form of ID must be left at the information office as a security deposit for the audio guide. 90 minutes is sufficient to view the church and the village but there are a couple of restaurants and a bar in the village for those who wish to extend their visit.

Colonia Guell website  – http://www.gaudicoloniaguell.org/en

 

Sagrada Familia 1892 and ongoing

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As previously mentioned, Gaudí was involved in the design of Sagrada Familia from 1883. In 1914, he stopped all other work and concentrated his efforts on this single project. When he died in 1926, following a tram accident, he had spent 43 years working on the Basilica. It was clearly the most important project of his life, so it was fitting that he was buried in the crypt of Sagrada Familia.

For some time, it seemed that the basilica would never be completed. But tourist dollars are flowing in and work is continuing. The work is currently about 70% completed and estimates for completion range between 2022 and 2030.

It is ranked as the number one tourist attraction in Barcelona, and deservedly so. This is a very impressive building and absolutely worth a visit.

Whilst the exterior is very attractive, I found the interior to be amazing. The sunlight was streaming through the large stained glass windows, bathing the ceiling and walls with multi-coloured light. The many tall, narrow columns and the ornate ceilings were stunning. So beautiful!

On the lower basement level, there is a small museum that displays some Gaudi-designed furniture as well as models and explanations on how the building was constructed.

Basic admission costs €18. Admission including an audio tour costs €26. A guided tour costs €29. If you want to go up the towers, the “Top Views” admission costs €35 and includes an audio tour. Not cheap, but the admission fees are helping to pay for the continuing work on the Basilica so each tourist is helping to get the building completed.

It really is a ‘must-see’ whilst in Barcelona.

Sagrada Familia website – http://www.sagradafamilia.org/en/

 

So, as you can see, there are plenty of examples of Gaudi’s work to be seen in and around Barcelona. Whilst they are spread around various parts of the city, it would be possible to see all of the buildings I have listed over a two-day period. Or, you can pick out one or two that appeal to you and just see those. But you should see at least one of them whilst in Barcelona!

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