Barcelona is famous for its curves, and that is no wonder, as this is the city where Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí lived and worked. Not only was Spain’s second city the chosen place for a brilliant architect, the wealthy families of Catalonia, wanting to show that they had their own style, embraced Gaudí’s genius. The result makes for colorful attractions and fascinating buildings.
“See how this house once was, with its rounded furniture and its bone-like façade.” An interactive audio tour leads tourists around Casa Batlló, one of Gaudí’s famous creations. Rows of amazed visitors climb the staircase, which is illuminated by a huge central skylight and decorated with blue tiles which gradually lighten and become completely white on the darker bottom floor. Even the smaller children are fascinated. Their little interactive screens show the rooms the way they were originally, complete with furniture, lit fireplaces and sunlight shining through the windows, creating balls of brightly colored light.
Gaudí refurbished this house in 1904 for wealthy textile merchant Josep Batlló, and if you weren’t a fan yet before you entered this strange place, you will be when you leave it. The man, we learn during the audio tour, did much more than just refurbish dwellings, he helped to shape a whole new style. Gaudí’s work was part of a design style sweeping Europe at the start of the 20th century. The French had their Art Nouveau, and in Barcelona, the Catalan created Modernism. In Gaudi’s case, this meant that he used natural forms of plants and animals, rather than the classical motifs of ancient Rome, in his work. “Nothing is art if it does not come from nature,” he once said.
And nature is very apparent here. Walking the halls at Casa Batlló like strolling under the water, or through the soft organs of some immense creature. The attic is made to look like the inside of a dinosaur spine, and there is actually part of a dragon on the roof, its spiny ceramic scales glistening in the sun. The tiles and mosaics that are used to decorate almost everything are the colors of natural corals.
But there is function too. The little store and washrooms at the sides of the attic hallway are open and light, when their counterpart in other houses would have been dark. And windows at the top of the building are smaller than those at the bottom, again to regulate light.
All this from a man who started off as an average student of architecture and who sometimes failed courses. One story goes that when handing him his degree, the director of Barcelona Architecture School said: "We have given this academic title either to a fool or a genius. Time will show.”
Gaudí’s first project was to design lampposts for Barcelona’s Placa Reial, some furniture, altarpieces and a showcase for gloves. The latter led to his breakthrough, as Catalan industrialist Eusebi Güell saw this work at the Paris World Fair of 1878. Guell went on to commission some of Gaudí's most important projects: the Güell Palace and the Güell Park.
Casa Batlló had been a normal, classical house without any remarkable characteristics. Josep Batlló ‘s only instruction to Gaudi was that he was to create something spectacular, a house that would cast all the others on the street into the shade. Gaudí obliged. After the architect was finished creating his modernist fantasy world, there was the issue of the furniture. As everything had become round, including the walls, Gaudi ended up designing the interior also. The Batlló family lived on the first floor, and rented out the other three, until the middle of the 1950s.
Antoni Gaudí went on to create another masterpiece, the Barcelona cathedral or Sagrada Família. The plans had been drawn up earlier, and construction had already begun, but Gaudi changed the design, deciding, among other things, that the church needed 18 different towers. For the inside, he designed slightly tilted columns of varying sizes, so visitors had the idea that they are looking at trees in a forest. From 1915 until his death, Gaudí devoted himself entirely to the cathedral, but nonetheless, less than 25 percent of it was completed when he died. Famously, the architect answered that his client – God – was in no hurry for the church to be finished. The Catalan people have scheduled its completion anyway, for 2026. This will be 100 years after the death of the genius, the man who gave Barcelona its distinctive shapes.
Casa Batlló, Passeig de Gràcia 43, Barcelona, Spain, www.casabatllo.es. www.casabatllo.es.
Torre Bellesguard Antoni Gaudi, Bellesguard 16-20, Barcelona, www.bellesguardgaudi.com
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