One can not mention Barcelona without mentioning Antonio Gaudí and thus the architectural route that makes up the bulk of Barcelona tourism and indeed underlies the very aura of Barcelona: cosmopolitan yet quaint and magical at the same time. Gaudí was born in 1852 and his name derives from the Catalan verb gaudir, to enjoy, which certainly suits the man’s works and the very vivid enjoyment any artist should have with such freedom to see manifest his avant-garde visions that had never before been seen. On the other hand, his name could seem ironic to others, as it is known that he suffered from Rheumatism since childhood, was colour blind- when colour plays such a central role to artists and even his own work, and he was a serious, pious and solitary man.
Catalan Modernism in architecture paved the way for other artistic cultures like Surrealism and Cubism to also take off in Barcelona. By 1888’s Universal Exposition in Barcelona, Gaudí was an up and coming name and indeed is now considered to have been at the forefront of International Modernist architecture. Although he is categorized as such, when one sees such architectural marvels as the Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera or Parc Güell, it seems that he should have a whole category of his own that would lie somewhere between storybook fantasy and futuristic replicas of nature.
Three characteristics that make his work unlike any other are his architectural support techniques, the forms the buildings and constructions have due to that, and the outer aesthetic decoration. His pillars for support and not straight, like one would think a pillar ought to be, but resemble the support of trees. As he noticed, no tree standing in nature is actually 100% straight. He also incorporated very modern techniques of the Parabolic arches which nowadays can also be seen in Calatrava’s works and is known to be an eco-friendly architectural technique because of its relatively self-supporting form through its own gravitational pull. Just his building support methods are not what one would normally imagine a building to be: rectangular.
His support system naturally leads to the form of his buildings and other constructions. Although religious in Catholicism, one cannot help but wonder about a pagan-like celebration of the Earth and nature, which he is known to have observed and had a fascination with since childhood. Buildings such as la Pedrera, with an undulating façade, look more like waves or a sculpture of a normal building from under water. At Parc Güell, a gigantic platform where serpentine benches stretch the entire upper park area are supported by diagonally and sporadically placed vine-winding tree-like structures and beautiful curvaceous pillars displaying the most exquisite detail.
Speaking of such detail, ornamentation is probably the most memorable of all Gaudí’s characteristics for the visitor. Making the Catalan trecandís art form popular, his mosaics include broken tile, glass- and reputedly glass from many a cava bottle, the Catalan version of champagne, and ceramics which are then re-configured on his structures to create everything from minuscule to gigantic new designs on the roofs, facades, walls and fountains that more resemble sculptured patchwork or stained glass then they do construction. This textile collage is now symbolic of Barcelona and the newly refurbished Mercat de Santa Caterina’s gigantic rolling tile-covered roof is the newest tribute to Gaudí and the city’s architecture.
Gaudí dedicated the last 15 years of his life solely to the Sagrada Familia church and even ended up living inside those walls. As history has proven to us time and time
again, genius can closely resemble lunacy from the eye of the ungifted and near the end of his life he did perhaps look more the begging mad man on the street than he did the distinguished man that he would become in history. So much so, that when on June 7 1926, he was hit by a tram outside his beloved church, walking home because no taxi would pick him up, no one recognized him and by the time he got to even the dingiest hospital it was too late and he died soon after.
No pictures or essay can truly captivate the miniscule detail, labour and indeed the imagination and life of the architect. In fact, on a final linguistic note, our own English word ‘gaudy’ comes from the architect, in what must have been coined an overly anointed or decorated object. Granted, if such detail were put into our clothing for example, we could indeed be dubbed tacky, but the amount of adornment and beautification showed on such an architectural scale is nothing short of genius or at worst, workaholism, and utterly impressive to see and touch in person.