Antoni Gaudí (born 1852), a Barcelona-based Catalan architect, whose free-flowing works were greatly influenced by nature had a distinctive style characterised by freedom of form, colour, texture and organic unity.
Gaudí has the unique distinction of seven of his buildings in Barcelona being listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites: ‘Parque Güell;’ ‘Palacio Güell;’ ‘Casa Mila;’ ‘Casa Vicens;’ Gaudí’s work on the Nativity façade and Crypt of ‘La Sagrada Familia;’ ‘Casa Batlló;’ and Crypt in ‘Colonia Güell.’
Commenting on these masterpieces, UNESCO says : ‘Gaudí’s work is an exceptional creative synthesis of several 19th-century artistic schools, such as the Arts and Crafts movement, Symbolism, Expressionism, and Rationalism, and is directly associated with the cultural apogee of Catalonia. Gaudí also presaged and influenced many forms and techniques of 20th-century Modernism.’
Gaudí was a child with frail health and spent long periods resting, and used his time contemplating on the secrets of nature. He revered nature as his supreme mistress and ultimate teacher of the highest knowledge. Subsequently the essence of his architecture respected the laws and patterns of nature. Gaudí once said: ‘originality consists of going back to the origins.’
When he was in his early 30s, Gaudí undertook the construction of a Barcelona cathedral called ‘Basilica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia’ (Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family). Between the ages of 35 and 50, Gaudí also experimented with various permutations of historic styles: the ‘Episcopal Palace’ and the ‘Casa de los Botines’, both Gothic, and the ‘Casa Calvet’ which was done in the Baroque style.
Between his late 50s and early 60s, Gaudí used his equilibrated system to construct two Barcelona apartment buildings: the ‘Casa Batlló’ and the ‘Casa Milà,’ whose floors were structured like clusters of tile lily pads.
Once he crossed 60 years of age, Gaudí, whose devotion to his Catholic faith had become his only interest outside of his architectural practice, ceased work on all other projects except the ‘Sagrada Família,’ which he had begun in 1883, and occupied him until his death in 1926. This magnificent structure has a final completion target date of 2026, to mark the 100th anniversary of his passing.
Gaudí left behind a legacy of work which is distinctive for its range of forms, textures, and polychromy. A Gaudi building gives the impression of being a natural object in complete conformity with nature’s laws, in such a way that its complex geometries coincide with its architectural structure. There was a sense of total unity in his personal and professional life, and he was totally dedicated to architecture, which for him was a totality of many arts.
As a talented craftsman, Gaudí in collaboration with artists also designed elements in the architectural space: works from forged iron, furniture, ceramics, sculptures, mosaics and stained glass windows. His forms were always organic, curved and into the building.
Among the several tributes to Gaudí include his beatification by the Catholic Church in 2000; Christopher Rouse's guitar concerto ‘Gaudí’ in 1999; a musical of the same title from 2002; the ‘Gaudí Awards’ by the Catalan Film Academy; and naming of an Iberia Airbus A340 jet after him.
A recent book, Gaudí: The Complete Works by Rainer Zerbst surveys the Catalan architect’s oeuvre, and the many inspirations that went into creating his defining aesthetic. Zerbst writes in the introduction to the book, “Do you want to know where I found my model?’ [Gaudí] once asked a visitor to his workshop. ‘An upright tree; it bears its branches and these, in turn, their twigs, and these, in turn, the leaves. And every individual part has been growing harmoniously, magnificently, ever since God the artist created it.”
Hemalatha is a Chennai-based architect practising and teaching architecture; and co-founder of SIDART Photography and two centers of Globalart.