The Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí is well known for his unique architectural style characterized by a blend of Gothic and Art Nouveau influences. The Spanish city of Barcelona was Gaudí’s main canvas. A walk through its streets equals a trip through the famous architect’s colorful imagination. Read on to learn how Art Nouveau and Gothic style, religion, and nature influenced Gaudí’s designs.
Antoni Gaudí: Early Life and Education
Antoni Gaudí I Cornet (1852-1926) was born in Reus, Catalonia, an autonomous region of Spain situated in the top right corner of the country. Catalonia is located on the Mediterranean coast and borders the French Provence region. While Gaudí’s mother, Antònia Cornet I Bertran, was at home to look after their five children, Gaudí’s father, Francesc Gaudí, worked as a coppersmith. In fact, Francesc shared a workshop with his own father, from whom he had learned the craft. Both were very skilled craftsmen and their creations had a significant influence on Gaudí’s work as an architect. As a child, Gaudí helped in his family’s workshop.
Gaudí’s parents supported his talent for drawing. Apart from his grandfather’s and father’s profession, there were other events that shaped Gaudí’s outlook on both life and architectural design. As Gaudí’s health was delicate during his childhood, he was obliged to spend periods of time resting at a summer house in Riudoms. Spending a lot of time outdoors taught Gaudí a lot about nature, which he finally considered to be his ultimate teacher. The other influence came from his Catholic background.
In 1869, Gaudí moved to Barcelona. He was accepted to the Barcelona School of Architecture in 1874 where he studied architecture and engineering. During his studies, Gaudí was influenced by the work of architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, as well the ideas of writer and art critic John Ruskin. Both of these men advocated for the return of the Gothic style of architecture. Gaudí was particularly drawn to the expressive designs of Gothic architecture, as well as the wide use of ornaments.
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Gaudí’s architecture shows the incorporation of various decorative elements. Despite various interruptions to his work like military service, poor health, and the passing of both his mother and brother in 1876, Gaudí finally graduated in 1878. Gaudí’s head of studies allegedly said: I do not know if we have awarded this degree to a madman or to a genius; only time will tell.
After completing his studies, Gaudí immediately started working under high-profile architects such as Josep Fontséré, Joan Martorell, and Francisco de Paula del Villar. At the atelier of Villar, Gaudí worked on the design of the Collegiate Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Barcelona. However, Villar ended up resigning from the project after a disagreement with the bishop. Instead of quitting, Gaudí in fact took over the project. In 1883, he started working on what would eventually become his masterpiece called La Sagrada Familia.
Apart from the work on La Sagrada Familia, there were other aspects of Gaudí’s life that remained constant. For example, regardless of Gaudí’s success, he always kept living in the same modest way as his parents and he never married. Thanks to his artistic preferences and the incorporation of certain style elements in his designs, Gaudí also became an important participant in the Renaixensa. The latter was an artistic revival of the arts and crafts movement, as well as a political revival of Catalanism. In other words, Renaixensa was a way for the Catalan people to free themselves from any suppression by the central Madrid government. La Sagrada Familia became the religious symbol of this movement. Let’s look at some of Gaudí’s works and discover how two of Gaudí’s most important sources of inspiration, nature, and religion, were expressed in his designs.
1. Casa Vicens
Casa Vicens is the first important commission Antoni Gaudí received. It formed the basis of his later architectural designs. The commissioner was a successful stock and currency broker Manel Vicens i Montaner, hence the name of the villa. Vicens wanted Gaudí to build him a summer garden home in the village of Gràcia.
In the basement, one originally found a coal cellar. Above the entrance, the ground floor housed the spaces for daytime use, like a central dining room, a smoking room, and a foyer. On the first floor, the Vicens family could find two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a sitting room. After Vicens passed away in 1895, the Casa Vicens was enlarged, redecorated, and subsequently divided into four apartments. In 2005, UNESCO declared the property a World Heritage Site.
In 2014, a private bank called MoraBanc bought the property with the aim of returning it to its original state and converting it into a museum. The renovations were overseen by two architecture firms who did their best to carefully revive the delicate details. For example, walls with paper-maché tiles and multicolored plaster mocárabes honeycomb ceilings that had been painted over were carefully restored to their original state.
The Casa Vicens is one of the earliest examples of Art Nouveau architecture. Some of the Casa Vicens stylistic elements that can be classified as Art Nouveau include vibrant colors, asymmetrical features, natural motifs like leaves, flowers, and fruits, ornaments with intricate ironwork, ceramic tiles, and decorative stonework.
However, apart from those Art Nouveau features, the structure also shows a unique blend of Moorish features and Neo-classical forms. For example, the colors and patterns of the tiles that are applied to the exterior of the Casa Vicens look very Moorish. Even though the building had an irregular floor plan, the overall symmetry of the exterior is a typical Neoclassical element. The same applies to the use of columns and pediments. In short, the Casa Vicens is an eclectic mix of different styles.
2. La Sagrada Familia
After Gaudí was appointed the new architect for La Sagrada Familia, the design of the church underwent a radical transformation. Gaudí incorporated his own distinctive style into the structure. While Villar’s design followed the prevailing guidelines of the time, Gaudí blended Gothic and Art Nouveau influences and incorporated innovative engineering solutions. He showed that the Art Nouveau style could be perfect for any type of building. Gaudí worked on the design of La Sagrada Familia during his entire lifetime. He even devoted the last 15 years of his life to this project. Gaudí’s design for La Sagrada Familia was a testament to his faith and his devotion to the Catholic Church. The cornerstone was laid 140 years ago, but the construction work continues to this day.
In La Sagrada Familia, the Art Nouveau style transpires in various references to nature. The whole structure consists of curvilinear forms and beautiful ornaments. The interior of the church is characterized by flowing, tree-like columns and vaults that resemble leaves. Just as in the Casa Vicens, Gaudí applied a lot of bright and vibrant colors to the Sagrada Familia. For example, the windows are made of beautiful stained glass that creates a kaleidoscope of colors. Gaudí designed the windows to complement the natural light and to create a sense of wonder. While the main façade is covered with sculptures and reliefs that depict scenes from the bible and the life of Christ, the interior is filled with mosaics and tiles.
One of the Gothic style elements in the church’s design is its verticality, which Gaudí obtained by using spires and towers that reach high into the sky. Just like Art Nouveau, the Gothic style is also well-known for its ornaments. Other Gothic characteristics in the structure of La Sagrada Familia Finally are its ribbed vaults, rose windows, and flying buttresses.
3. Park Güell
The Park Güell was named after Count Eusebi Güell who appointed Gaudí to design a residential area for wealthy families. The idea was to recreate the British condominiums which consist of a collection of individual home units and common areas. The fact that the word park is in the name of Park Güell was meant to clarify the reference to the English example. Construction of Park Güell began in 1900 and went on until 1914.
Only two out of the sixty planned houses designed by architect Francesc Berenguer were built and Gaudí himself lived in one of them. When World War I started in 1914, the chance of selling the houses here became even smaller. Instead of continuing the construction of the houses, Güell decided to transform Park Güell into a big private garden. Not long after, Güell decided to make the space available to the public. It soon became one of the most visited areas in Barcelona.
Park Güell is a great example of Gaudís style and symbolism. The entrance to the park was meant to symbolize the gate of heaven. Upon entering, one immediately sees two of the buildings that Gaudí designed for the park in his purest style. The gatekeeper of the park used to live in one of them, while the other was meant for administrative purposes. Both houses show the use of natural, curvilinear forms, the implementation of mosaics and bright colors, and the use of towers or spires.
The same shapes and colors were applied to all elements of Park Güell, from the beautiful staircase to the Salamander sculpture and the emulating bench that circles the park. The place was meant to give its inhabitants and visitors the feeling of an extension of the natural world and the forest that lay next to it. It was meant to be a neutral space that combined the best of men and nature.
4. Casa Batlló by Antoni Gaudí
Casa Batlló was also commissioned by a private client called Mr. Josep Batlló y Casanovas. He was a prominent businessman who owned several textile factories in Barcelona. After purchasing the original building in 1903, Batlló asked Gaudí to transform it into a house of modern standards. The original building was designed by Emilio Sala Cortés, one of Gaudí’s architecture professors, at a time when there was no electrical lighting available yet.
When Batlló bought it, he initially wanted the original building to be demolished. However, Gaudí thought that demolition wasn’t necessary, so he came up with a plan to reform the building. Batlló accepted the plan and between 1905 and 1906 Casa Batlló was fully reformed and upgraded.
Not only did Gaudí transform the building to fit modern standards, but he actually created an astounding piece of art. Both in the exterior and interior, Gaudí made use of round, curving shapes that reference nature. In addition, the façade is covered in mosaic tiles in a pattern that creates a sense of movement and texture. There are also shifts in color as the light changes throughout the day. Gaudí’s inspiration for the façade came from the legend of Saint George, the patron of Catalonia. The building’s balconies resemble the skulls of animals and the columns look like bones, while the roof is designed to look like the back of a dragon which is supposed to represent the slayed dragon of the Saint George legend.
One of its most notable features is the central lightwell which is surrounded by a staircase that resembles the spine of a giant animal. The interior walls are also often covered in mosaics making beautiful patterns. Other interior walls are made of plastered stone and wood. For both the windows and many of the interior doors, Gaudí used stained glass in soft pastel colors.
Casa Batlló has many different rooms that are not only beautiful, but also very functional. Some even resemble the open-plan rooms that were used in the modern architecture of the twentieth century. In case you pay a visit to Barcelona, you now know that a whole world of Gaudí’s creations awaits you.