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The house that Gaudí built

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A perfectionist, a refused lover, an ascetic, a mathematician… As many myths have been created about Gaudí himself as about his famous creations. Visit Barcelona to make sure.
In a crowd of tourists outside the Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona, a lady in a wide-brimmed hat feels in perplexity. She addresses her spouse, but speaks loudly to be heard by as many people as possible:
"I don’t understand why is there so much fuss about this Sagrada Família? Well, a church. Well, a big one. By the way, the church we saw in Cologne is much nicer. Tolya, do you remember?" The woman nudges her companion with her elbow. "As for me, they greatly overestimated this Gáudi!" She pronounces the name of the architect with the emphasis on the first syllable and hums contemptuously.
"Gaudí. His name is Gaudí!" a clear voice intervenes in the unhappy stream of words. A teenage girl flashes her eyes at the "hat".
"You just look otherwise. You pronounce it otherwise and look otherwise. Therefore you don’t see!"
"Sveta, come on!" The mom pulls her indignant daughter back. The lady shrugs but doesn’t say anything. Crowds of tourists continue taking photos with the temple in the background.
More than 90 years have passed since the day of his death, but Antoni Plàcid Guillem Gaudí i Cornet still leaves no one indifferent. Moreover, the assessments still vary from sharp rejection to admiration. "I don’t even know who I am presenting this diploma to: a genius or a madman," said the Director of the School of Architecture to Gaudí. Antoni heard both of these definitions alternately or even together through all his life.
Part of the Sagrada Família, built by Gaudí himself. The temple is being constructed to this day. Photo: Wikipedia
Photo: Wikipedia
There is another unfinished temple of Gaudí, the Church of Colònia Güell (Cripta de la Colònia Güell). Only the first floor has been erected. Photo: tuorism.ru
This is how the Church of Colònia Güell had to look. Sketch
A study is an exercise painting that helps the painter better understand the object he or she paints. It is simple and clear, like sample letters in a school student’s copybook. Rough and ready, not detailed, with every stroke being to the point, a study is a proven method of touching the world and making a catalogue of it. However, in art history, the status of the study is vague and open to interpretation. Despite its auxiliary role, a study is sometimes viewed as something far more significant than the finished piece. Then, within an impressive frame, it is placed on a museum wall.
So, when does a study remain a mere drill, and when can we call it an artwork in its own right, full of life and having artistic value? Read more
by Antoni Gaudí.
Caricature of Antonio Gaudí. Source: wordpress.com
The Basílica de la Sagrada Família. Photo: wordpress.com

Poor boy

"Poor, poor boy," the doctor sighed after examining his young patient Antonio. However, that doctor might be not so compassionate; perhaps, he told Gaudí's parents quite routinely that their son had rheumatism. He was not allowed to run around the streets with other children. And he could not: his pain would torment him. Instead of boyish frisky pranks, Antoni Gaudí layed on the grass for hours and looked at the sky. And "for hours" is not an exaggeration in this phrase. The future architect didn’t just stare at the clouds. He watched crowns of trees, grass, stones, snails… Nature fascinated him.

In the town of Reus, where Gaudí was born and spent his childhood, there is not a single building he built. Even the house, in which he grew up, has not survived. There is a sign that reads: "On this place was the house, in which Antoni Gaudí i Cornet spent his childhood and youth." But tourists still come here. Perhaps, they want to see exactly the views that inspired the genius.

The bestest

Gaudí received his diploma in architecture in 1878 at the age of 26. He graduated from the Provincial School of Architecture in Barcelona (Catalonia was one of the Spanish provinces, hence the name). To understand how serious such an education was, two facts are enough. First: Gaudí had been preparing to enter this school for five years. Second: in 1872, only three people became graduates of the institution.

At that time, Europe experienced the heyday of the Neo-Gothic style. Antoni welcomed the ideas of the Neo-Gothic theorists, the French architect and writer Viollet-le-Duc (the largest restorer of Gothic cathedrals, including the Notre Dame) and the English art critic John Ruskin. Their declaration "Ornament is the origin of architecture" coincided with the creative credo of Gaudí.

The artist was into everything: window dressing, design of lanterns (in the photo there are the Gaudí's lanterns, which still adorn the Royal Square in Barcelona), furniture, but at the same time he dreamed of building a house. But not just a house, but the bestest! So that people gasped in surprise at its sight. And if you not only dream, but also do not shy away from any work, then luck will find you sooner or later.

Casa Vicens family mansion. The first house built by Antoni Gaudí. Photo: Wikipedia
The Casa Vicens is the first work by Gaudí. He designed and calculated absolutely everything: from the building itself to the bars on the windows. The architect returned the fashion to the Moorish style, generously decorated his brainchild with ceramic tile ornaments. At the same time, he advertised the products of his customer — Vicens was the owner of a ceramic tile factory.

This house and the next one, El Capriccio, already demonstrates the emergence of a new, unique Gaudí style. Although his creations are classified as Art Nouveau, but the architect, who loved eclecticism, went beyond any style except his own.
The industrialist Eusebi Güell became interested in Gaudí's work. He was impressed by the showcase of wrought iron, wood and glass Antoni designed for the glover.

The collaboration between Gaudí and Güell has proven extremely fruitful. The architect designed and built pavilions of the estate in Pedralbes, wine cellars in Garraf, chapels and crypts of the Colònia Güell and the fantastic Park Güell and Palau Güell. All the built items belong to the UNESCO heritage now.
Gallery along the walking path in Park Güell. Photo: tonkosti.ru
“Gingerbread” houses in Park Güell. Photo: tonkosti.ru
This area above the Hall of 100 Columns was intended for the market. Photo: Wikipedia
According to Gaudí's plan, these columns were supposed to create the illusion of trees. Photo: Wikipedia
Snake bench in Park Güell. Photo: Wikipedia
Hall of One Hundred Columns, Park Güell. In fact, there are 86 columns. Photo: Wikipedia
Gaudí's buildings look more like outlandish animals than structures. He came up with his own unsupported floor system to make the space look more airy. People learned to carry out accurate calculations of this design only after 100 years using a computer. Gaudí's unrestrained imagination combined with subtle mathematical calculations — it was not for nothing that geometry was his favourite school subject.

Gaudí considered each of his houses to be a living being and believed that his creatures needed freedom to grow. Sometimes entire premises could be demolished only because the architect saw a new opportunity for harmony. His decisions were not contested. Antoni Gaudí has become the most fashionable and successful architect in Catalonia.
The façade of Casa Battlo (House with Skulls). Photo: Wikipedia
The courtyard of Casa Mila (top view). Photo: Wikipedia
Casa Mila roof decoration. All roof details symbolize the underwater world, sea and caves. Photo: Tom Walk
The façade of Casa Mila. The inhabitants of Barcelona did not immediately accept the appearance of the building. Many laughed at the house and called it a “quarry”. Photo: Wikipedia
The façade of Palau Güell. Photo: Wikipedia

A dandy or a hermit?

There is no reliable information about the personal life of the architect. It is said that in his youth, he dressed like a dandy and was a gourmet. Back in his native Reus, he fell in love with the daughter of a noble city dweller. The girl’s father cut short this relationship because he was looking for a better passion for his daughter. They say that for this reason, Gaudí built nothing in his hometown — he felt offended.

There was one more love in the life of the architect — a teacher Josefa Moreu. Gaudí was 34 years old, but he still did not get rich and famous. The woman rejected his advances. And four years later, the master finished his first house, and fame came to him along with good earnings. By the way, the more income the favourite work brought, the more indifferent to money became Gaudí. Over time, he found out that it was not necessary to buy the most fashionable and expensive clothes. And gourmet delights were boring. He could just eat bread and drink water. At the end of his life, Gaudí became a real ascetic. He was completely captured by his only passion, his work.

Gaudí's salamander stands right at the entrance to Park Güell. It has become a symbol of the great architect’s work, as well as a symbol of Barcelona.

Others suggest that his failure to find him a woman had nothing to do with income and fame. He was rejected because he was unpleasant in communication: obstinate and arrogant.

Many construction workers followed this opinion. It’s hard to work with a perfectionist who comes to the site in the morning and makes the builders hang on the wall for hours, applying tiles at one angle or another. He chose the best pattern this way. Or he could seat workers on unhardened clay to determine the best place to sit.

The Gaudí family was interrupted with the death of Antoni.
Gaudí’s drawings. Those who worked with the architect were amazed that he sometimes did “by eye” things that required serious calculations. Surprisingly, he was always right. Source: lapedrera.com
Source: lapedrera.com
Source: lapedrera.com

The Sagrada Família

Gaudí considered his main creation to be the Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona. In Catalonia, there is a popular legend about a document, an offer sent by the Japanese, where they asked to sell them the Holy Family temple. They were allegedly going to transport this miracle of Gaudí to their home in Japan themselves, brick after brick, where they would finally finish the building, taking into account all the projects and wishes of the architect. An empty space is left in the document, where he could write any estimated price of the transaction. Catalans love this story, and many believe in its truthfulness, because the Japanese architect Etsuro Sotoo took part in construction of the Sagrada Família; he fell in love with the Gaudí's creation, converted to Catholicism, learned Catalan and settled in Barcelona.

If the Sagrada Família is ever completed, it will be the tallest cathedral in the world, 170 meters high: Gaudí planned to create a temple just one meter below the highest mountain in Barcelona. Why necessarily below? Art is art, and the great architect considered it unacceptable to challenge the divine plan.

  • The interior of the Sagrada Família
  • Photo: Wikipedia
He wanted the temple to look from the inside like a forest of tree-like columns, warm light would seep through the stained-glass windows, and when the parishioners looked up, they would see the starry sky. By the way, the stars, or rather the constellations, caused a serious showdown with the local bishop. Gaudí introduced the zodiac signs into the ensemble.
"My son, you can’t place the signs of the zodiac here? This is the temple of the Lord!" these were the approximate words of the holy father.
"Father, they should be there. This is a concept", said the stubborn Gaudí, who was also a zealous Catholic.
"Do you know what excommunication is? Think about it", the holy father instructed him.
The signs of the zodiac remained. And in 2010, the Pope consecrated the cathedral.

“What the Lord has planned will happen to everyone.”

On 7 June 1926, at half past six in the evening, Gaudí was going to go to the Holy Mass. He dismissed his assistant and told him: "Come early tomorrow, Vicens, we have many beautiful things to do!" The architect did not reach the temple. The 73-year-old artist was hit by a tram. Passers-by who gathered tried to call a taxi to take the accident victim to the hospital. Not a single taxi driver agreed to deliver an unconscious old man who looked more like a homeless person than a famous and fashionable architect. With difficulty, Gaudí was taken to the hospital of the Holy Cross. It was, rather, an almshouse: the patients were looked after not by nurses, but by nuns. Gaudí lay in a general ward, on bed No. 9. His identity was only established the next day. Naturally, they offered him to move to the best clinic in the city. But the architect, who had already regained consciousness, refused.
Funeral of Antoni Gaudí. Photos from the exhibition dedicated to the architect
"What the Lord has planned will happen to everyone," he said. "I'd better expect this, staying with the people."

In the days that followed, crowds of admirers of Gaudí's genius walked to the hospital, more and more. There was a special table with paper in the hall so that everyone could leave their health wishes to the artist. The king himself sent a telegram from Madrid with questions about his well-being.

On 10 June 1926, Antoni Gaudí passed away. In 2013, it was decided to celebrate the day of Gaudí's death as the World Art Nouveau Day.

Holy Gaudí

There is a group of special fans of Gaudí's work. They want Antoni to be elevated to the rank of saints. One of the arguments is for the architects to have their own patron. Nevertheless, the Pope is not about to agree for the beatification.