Antoni Gaudi

Antoni Gaudi

Antoni Gaudi was a prominent Spanish architector, innovator and bright representative of the Art Nouveau epoch.

Early years

Antoni Gaudí i Cornet was born on Jume 25, 1852, in a family of a coppersmith from Reus – a small Catalonian town 150 km away from Barcelona. The boy attended school in 1863 – 1868, reorganized from a catholic college. His first works were illustrations to a handmade weekly journal “Harlequin”, made by students in twelve copies.

In 1868 he moved to Bracelona,w here prepared himself for entering the architectural faculty of the university, but it’s known that in 1873 – 1878 he trained at the Llotja School and the Barcelona Higher School of Architecture. In parallel he worked as a draughtsman and learnt various crafts in the workshop of Eudald Punt – joinery, smithery, metalwork and glasswork.

The distinguishing view of the city, where Gaudi studied, built and lived almost without quitting it, could not but influenced the architect. Antoni was captivated by audacious ideas of Viollet-le-Duc, French ideologist of Neo-Gothic. Catalonian gothic architecture had its own peculiarities: first of all, it tends towards transverse section in contrast to northern masters, who favored triangle as the basic figure of composition. Gaudi tried to combine both principles. Changing provincial atmosphere of Reus for dynamism of Barcelona, absorbing eclecticism, Gaudi remained self-sufficient and consistent in his creative activity. He participated in various competitions for many times, but unsuccessfully.

In 1870 – 1882 the young man worked under the guidance of the architects Emili Sala and Francisco Villar. In 1877 he designed a monumental fountain for the Plaça Catalunya in Barcelona, created a project of a hospital and a university assembly, which was his graduation work. The project was elected by a majority. It’s interesting, that the director remarked he didn’t know if he gave diploma to a genius or a madman.

During his first year of independent work, Gaudi together with his friend Mataro prepared a project of “Cooperativa Obrera Mataronense” and casino for that cooperative society. The design was done in watercolors and presented at the International Exhibition in Paris. Antoni collaborated with the cooperative, headed by his friend Salvador Pagès, for 11 years – 1874 – 1885. He built the only sample of industrial structure in his practice for them – the machinery hall, covered with parabolic arch from small wooden parts. In 1887 the architect continued developing the vector of urban design and executed the project of flower stand and lampposts for Barcelona’s streets, as well as other numerous minor projects. The only project of that period that allows to feel the master’s inclination to monumentality is the design of an electric lighting project for Barcelona’s Muralla de Mar.

In 1883 Gaudi finished the Casa Vicens – his first major work. It was done for Manuel Vicens Montaner – an industrialist, owner of ceramic manufacture. From that project Gaudi started his experiments with potential of ceramic materials.

Continuation of the project work on the building site became the architect’s professional norm. Antoni Gaudi lived on the construction site, so to speak and remained faithful to this principle to the end of his days.

In 1878 the master met the entrepreneur Eusebi Güell, who noticed young assistant of the architect and immediately involved him in completing some commissions. Since that time Güell became Gaudi’s patron for many years.

In 1887 – 1893 Antoni Gaudi erected The Episcopal Palace of Astorga. That large cross-planned Neogothic building was the most austere in the author’s heritage, similar to medieval fortresses. Other works – the Colegi de les Teresianes (1888 – 1890), the Casa Botines in Leon (1891 – 1894), the Franciscana Catholic Missions for the city of Tangier (1892 – 1893), hunting lodge and wine cellars for Güell in Garraf (1895-1900). The latter two witness Gaudi’s eventual retreat from imitating any historical styles.

Santa Coloma de Cervelló, near 20 kilometers away from Barcelona, Eusebi Güell decided to establish a workers’ colony. Naturally, a new settlement couldn’t exist without church, so it was decided to build a big parish church. Antoni chose a not very high mountain overgrown with pine trees for it and immediately started elaborating an original design. It wasn’t realized, except for the crypt, finished between 1903 and 1916. The poetics of the spatial construction was brought to the maximum, almost ecstatic tension, incarnated in various solitary finds.

Working over Park Güell, the architect visited the building area every day, and since 1906 even moved to the Park to control the whole process. Once Gaudi even said that if Don Güell paid him according to the performance rate, he’d have to give him half of the Park. Actually, Antoni wasn’t interested in anything except for work and didn’t care about payment a lot. When he run out of money for the needed purchases he simply asked the administrator of Don Güell.

Casa Milà (1906 – 1910) was the last completed piece of Gaudi – one the finest from the aesthetical point of view dwellings of Art Nouveau epoch.

Contemporaries, who had no other sample to compare, sarcastically called the building for its definite extravagance La Pedrera – “The Quarry”. Its appearance resembles something rocky. Since the beginning of its erecting, they tried to find the architect’s source of inspiration – in steeps near Gaudi’s native Reus, mountains of Sant Feliu de Codines and rocks of Sant Pere on the North of Mallorca. Appeared on the Passeig de Gràcia, Casa Milà naturally evoked Barcelonans’ interest and was surrounded with countless anecdotes an caricatures. It’s important to notice that irrationality of the structure is merely superficial and, like it was typical for Gaudi’s architecture the building absolutely rational. Gaudi brought in an innovation, as the dimensions of the building were taken directly from the model.

Sagrada Familia

Antonio Gaudi’s greatest achievement was that he managed to segregate from the natural surrounding such forms that previous generations of architects had been ignoring. He paid special attention to hyperbolic paraboloids and theircrossover – hyperboloids and helicoids. The master chose exactly that special forms as the frame-base of his form-modeling. He couldn’t use them in pure abstract state, so, absorbing natural geometric principle, masked it with natural décor. This “simple” replicating nature, “unsophisticated” inheritance became a true architectural revolution, made by one person, without manifests and mottos.

Building of the basilica of Sagrada Familia, called also the expiatory church, was began without Gaudi’s participation and will be finished without it. However, it’s doubtlessly his “opera magna” – main piece. The initiative of the temple’s creation belong not to the ecclesiastic circles – it was proposed by Josep Maria Bocabella, a bookseller and founder of Association of Devotees of St. Joseph.

In 1876 it was commission for Francisco Villard , who would later become the director of the Higher School of Architecture. Antoni Gaudi worked for him as a draughtsman at that time. Due to permanent contradictions with the client, Villard resigned from the project and the committee proposed Martorell to head the project. But Martorell though it inconvenient for him and suggested candidature of his assistant – Gaudi. After accepting the role of the leading architect of Sagrada Familia on November 3, 1883, he didn’t leave it till his death.

Together with the development of Gaudi’s creative personality developed the project of the basilica. Between 1892 and 1917 new designs for the Passion Façade were produced, and in 1906 the general draft of the whole complex was published. Between 1898 and 1925 the master sequentially made four variants of the nave’s construction.

Sagrada Familia is a complex that fully incarnated architectural fantasies of Gaudi: helicoid shapes of the towers with glaze mosaic, spiral composition, organization of illumination, similar to the one in Güell palace, galleries with columns, like in the Church of Colònia Güell, almost utmost polychrome plasticity of the facades, analogic to the Casa Milà and Park Güell.

All amazing imagination and knowledge of the author was put in the elaborating of the complex’s system, which had to be not simply a visual structure, but a symbolical one as well. According to the project, the basilica has three facades, each of them with a certain name: Western – Nativity, eastern – Passion, Southern – Glory. Each façade has four towers over 100 meters high. Large part of the Sagrada Familia is still under construction, but it’s known that there should be 12 towers in general, according to the number of apostles. Out of three facades only one was completed during Gaudi’s lifetime – the Nativity one, trimmed with sculptures on the evangelic stories. It had three enters that symbolize Faith, Hope and Charity. There should also be frou big towers that symbolize four Gospels and main belfry of Jesus Crist (170 meters high) and belfry of Madonna (120 meters high).

Last years and legacy

Antoni had no private life, dedicating himself to work. The only cases he took hard, was death of his friend and assistant Francisco Berenguer (1914) and Eusebi Güell (1918). Antoni Gaudi was stroke by the tram on June 7, 1926, and died three days after. He was buried in the chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the crypt of the Sagrada Familia.

He was an energetic and, at the same time soft person, so often wanted to seem more rigorous then he really was. Small, blue-eyed, the master, as they say, momentally captured other’s attention and was known for his strong character inherent to peasants of Tarragona. Enthusiastic and deeply religious, he spent all his time searching for perfection. Gaudi never hesitated, when had to correct this or that project, he didn’t reject already done but tried to uncover its new potential, that carried him away.