Architecture: Colourful as life itself

(December 2010) What on the one hand is an incredible cacophony of styles, on the other hand brims over with beautiful details in stone, ceramics, brick and glass. The interior reveals a forest of pillars and baubles decorating merlons like fruit. Construction has been on-going for more than 120 years and might be completed in 2026 just in time for the 100th anniversary of the architect’s passing. We are talking of Barcelona’s Basilica Sagrada Família blessed by the Pope in November.

Architect Antonio Gaudí (1852 – 1926) was already a very successful Art Nouveau architect prior to dedicating himself to his life’s work on the church, the full name of which is actually „Expiatory Church of the Holy Family“. In this context his Casa Milà is certainly worth mentioning, at Passeig de Gracia 92 in Barcelona dubbed „The Quarry“ because of it’s undulated façade. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Gaudí was fascinated by the idea of incorporating organic shapes in architecture and design. This makes the Basilica’s vault so interesting, taming the wilderness of its interior with the rational of geometric repetition. Gaudí was, after all, also a master of geometric design and static calculation.

He was also a brave visionary taking on the task of discovering weaknesses of traditional Gothic architecture, analyzing them and improving on the concepts resulting e.g. in the trunk-like structure of the pillars. The idea was revolutionary in its implementation, hitherto reserved for carrying heavy weights. His novel ideas also extended to building materials: he used steel reinforced concrete, an invention patented by the French engineer Joseph Monier some 15 years prior.

The pillars are made of reinforced concrete, clad in grey basalt and multi coloured granite. The interior and exterior walls are nothing short of natural stone orgies in colour and detail. Special mention is given to the nativity façade and to the passion façade. Information on the use of stone is compiled in a webpage.

The church was taken into the UNESCO World Heritage Programme in 2005 and is not only Barcelona’s most famous landmark. It is also one of Spain’s best visited tourist attractions. A museum dedicated to Gaudí’s work shows, e.g. the rope model, which served as a mathematical basis for the complex static calculation of the Basilica.

In his later years, Gaudí worked only on his church, seeing his life’s work as a divine calling. He died in the aftermath of a collision with a tramcar.

Sagrada Família

Casa Milà