Of the many things that contribute to Barcelona’s unique Catalonian character, perhaps none is more prominent—especially when visiting the city itself—than the incomparable architecture of Antoni Gaudí. Born in 1852 in Reus, a town in the Catalonian countryside, Gaudí grew up steeped in the culture of the region. Fascinated by architecture from a young age, he eventually made his way to Barcelona, where he studied the subject for eight years at the New School of Architecture before beginning his own practice.
The years during which Gaudí was active were marked by strong social and political tides that centered around the desire for Catalonian autonomy from the overbearing influence of the Castilian crown, which sought Spanish unity at the expense of local cultural and linguistic practices. Members of the “Renaixensa” (Renaissance, in Catalan) fought back through a combination of artistic and political revival. Gaudí identified with the “Modernismo” strand of the Renaixensa, and his vibrant and unique work, concentrated almost entirely in Barcelona, figured prominently into the symbolic resistance and in so doing lent the city a certain particularity that even today sets it apart from other Spanish municipalities.
Gaudí’s style is not easily expressed in words, though in general terms it can be said to embrace amorphous and organic shapes, bright colors, varying textures, and extensive use of tile. These features have led some to suggest a moorish influence. The lack of any conventional geometric shape makes many of his buildings appear as if they are part of the natural landscape. Conversely, though, when situated between more ‘conventional’ structures, his designs become all the more visible and distinguished.
Gaudí designed over a period of 48 years, from 1878 to 1926, and though the above statements about style can be used to describe all his works in general terms, a progression can be seen between early and later works, with the latter tending to be far more organic in appearance.
“Casa Vicens,” built from 1878 to 1880, sticks to rather rectangular and geometric shapes, though its façade betrays a significant moorish influence.
Some 20 years later, he designed the “Casa Calvet,” and it is hard to miss the progression toward more rounded and organic features. By the time he designs the “Casa Mila” some five years after that, the transition to a fully organic style seems almost complete.
The stunning “Parc Guell,” completed in 1914, is similarly replete with amorphous shapes and an incredible assortment of brightly colored tiles, and offers a stunning view out over the city.
Finally, and perhaps most famously, Gaudí’s last work was the Sagrada Familia, a church built for the holy family.
The project itself was commissioned in 1883, and became his primary focus from 1910 onward. In fact, so massive was the scope of the project that it was never completed and continues to be built, with the date of completion many decades and millions of Euros in the future. Its soaring unfinished towers pierce the city’s otherwise low skyline, and along with several nearby skyscrapers, it remains one of the tallest structures in Barcelona. Both can clearly be seen from atop the stunning Parc Guell, and serve as reminders both of the significant mark Gaudí left on Barcelona and of the interplay between old and new that continues to figure into the evolution of the city.
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