My last trip to Barcelona really changed my mind about the artistic contributions of Antoni Gaudi, and so his tremendous influence in Barcelona inspires this week’s article.
Gaudi’s Influence on Barcelona
There are few cities worldwide whose architecture and style were influenced by a single person. But that’s where Barcelona stands out, since the city’s architectural style is synonymous with one of the most significant architects that ever lived, Antoni Gaudi. He was born in 1852, and despite dying in 1926, Gaudi’s work and influence remain a prominent influence over Barcelona. In fact, his vision for the Sagrada Familia is still being worked on, and it will eventually come to fruition.
I have to confess that the first time we were in Barcelona and toured sights associated with Gaudi, I wasn’t a fan. My husband made the comment – “it’s all just so gaudy”, and I said, “well, yessss”. But while the word gaudy really didn’t originate with Antoni Gaudi, it’s definitely become associated with him. Ten years later we visited again and took another tour of Sagrada Familia, and I found it interesting and very symbolic, but just as any other significant tourism sight.
Then, about a year and a half ago, I visited Barcelona again and had a fantastic guide take us through Sagrada Familia and to Casa Batlló, and I totally changed my opinion about Gaudi. Our guide’s explanation of the overall design, the symbolism, Gaudi’s use of engineering and calculations to create the high arches – gave me such an appreciation of the beauty and complexity of his work.
What makes Antoni Gaudi’s style different?
Cities tend to have a very strict style, and there are very few risks being taken. However, what makes Antoni Gaudi’s style unique is the fact that he doesn’t fit any of the mainstream styles. Instead, he offers a combination of Christian, Muslim, Victorian and Baroque elements, all combined into a stunning, versatile, yet also distinctive style.
A touch of modernism
Antoni Gaudi was a major supporter of modernism, and he combined both Islamic and Asian forms with Art Nouveau. That allowed him to create a very eclectic, yet unique mix. He was fascinated with nature, and that’s why you will find a plethora of natural elements in his work. For example, Casa Batlló has a lot of inspiration from marine life; Casa Vicens is inspired by various Marigold flowers.
A true focus on geometry
Another standout part of Antoni Gaudi’s influence in Barcelona steps from geometrical shapes. He was known for using helicoids and conoids to represent tree trunks and leaves.
Sagrada Familia is a prime example where you can see these geometric figures. He didn’t stop there, though, since he used mosaics and parabolic arches. That shows how crucial geometrical shapes were for his work.
Using the Gothic Style
Despite using a multitude of influences, Gaudi also experimented with the Gothic style as well. Some examples include Casa de los Botines, Astorga, and the Episcopal Palace. Even while designing Sagrada Familia, he started with a set of Gothic ideas. From afar, it seems to have a Gothic style, but as you get closer to it, you have many organic motifs and even pillars inspired by the forest.
Why did Antoni Gaudi retain this organic, unique style?
Antoni Gaudi was a major supporter of modernism, yet at the same time, he wanted to show his appreciation for the past. That’s why his style was so different, because he wanted to combine old ideas (and pay homage to them) with new, creative elements. Older architecture was always focused on lines and strictness, but Gaudi came up with a great alternative to that, in order to provide that modern, unique push.
If you look closely, you will notice that Antoni Gaudi has 3 main symbols found within all of his work. Nature is a prime example here, because everything from leaves to trees, snails, and even human rib cages are found in many of his designs. You can even find shapes inspired by the human tibia in the Batlló house, or chestnut tree columns in Park Guell.
Aside from that, his work also features a plethora of religious motives. Gaudi has always been a person who believed in God and a supporter of Catholicism. In fact, he wanted to show off the entire Catholic faith on a single building, and that’s one of the things making Sagrada Familia such a unique work of art.
And lastly, his work also includes a lot of the Catalan identity. He aligned himself with the modernism movement in the Catalan region, and he kept some Gothic elements, while also sprucing them up with color and stunning modern touches.
Antoni Gaudi: The innovator
One of the reasons why we still talk about and value Antoni Gaudi’s work close to 100 years after his passing is his unique capacity to innovate and go beside the norm. Even when he just started, Gaudi was very innovative when it came to the way he explored structures. He experimented with many regional styles, and after that, he focused on catenary, hyperbolic, and parabolic forms.
He always was outside of the regular architectural trends, and he also worked with many Catalan designers for his projects. In fact, his broken tilework was provided by Josep Maria Jujol, with whom he worked on a variety of projects. Most of the tilework also had the color of natural corals, hence his focus on nature and blending that with architectural design.
Antoni Gaudi’s most important work
Sagrada Familia is Gaudi’s most famous, but also one of the most controversial buildings in the world. Work on this incredible church started in 1883, but even when he died, the church was only around 20% complete. The reason why it’s such an amazing architectural piece is the outstanding natural design combined with Gothic elements, which helps deliver a stunning visual. It’s also a great representation of how devoted Gaudi was to the Catholic faith. It’s even said that he knew he wouldn’t finish the construction before he died, but that didn’t stop him to specifically focus on its construction, especially during the later years.
One of the things that makes Sagrada Familia incredible is the focus on catenary and parabolic structures. Right now, the church is more than 70% finished, and this final length is also the most difficult. The structure will have 6 very large central spires, who will be raised in the next few years. However, it’s important to note that most of the original plans that Gaudi had for Sagrada Familia were lost during a fire in 1936. Nowadays, architects are using any ideas that were shared by him, along with their own vision, in order to finalize the structure.
Parc Güell is another masterpiece and a stunning creation by Gaudi. Eusebi Guell hired him to create a beautiful hillside community in Carmel Hill. The idea here was to create an amazing landscape; however, Gaudi only managed to finalize his own home and another residence nearby. However, he diligently designed the park nearby, which is seamlessly integrated into the terrain.
You can find many unique elements, like columns that appear excavated from the hillsides and full of vines. Like most of his work, Parc Güell has inclined slopes, irregularities, and unique shapes that make it very distinctive. In the middle of the park you can find a columned market space that supports a large plaza. Here, there are serpentine benches with lots of ceramic tiles. Throughout the park, there are stunning undulating forms, even the face of a dragon and the Catalan flag.
Gaudi worked on Casa Batlló between 1904 and 1906. It’s one of his unusual projects, because it was a full renovation of an existing structure. Josep Batllo hired Gaudi to tear the building down and redo it, but the architect decided just to renovate it. The façade is marine-inspired, with the look of scales on the roof and designs reminiscent of sea scenes.
What’s unusual about this particular work is that there don’t seem to be any straight lines in the design. Even the light fixtures are set into a spiral contour. Also, the façade is incredible since it has a mix of glass and tiles, sculptural balconies, and a mask-like look for the entire building.
The legacy of Antoni Gaudi
You can embark on a tour to explore Barcelona and see Antoni Gaudi’s incredible work. From Casa Batllo to Park Guell, Casa Mila or Casa Vicens, Palau Guell, Finca GuellTore Bellesguard or the Park de la Ciutadella cascade fountain, all of these are incredible architectural pieces that stand the test of time. Gaudi’s innovation and focus on combining old elements with modern ones is the culmination of architectural design and certainly something you should see for yourself, as it’s unrivaled worldwide!