Gaudí’s childhood. The observation of Nature.
The son of Francesc Gaudí i Serra, a boilermaker, and Antonia Cornet i Bertran, Antoni Plàcid Guillem Gaudí i Cornet, was born on a hot 25th of June 1852 in Reus (Tarragona). Gaudí spent his childhood between Reus, where his parents had their business, and the countryside, in a small cottage owned by his mother known as Mas de la Calderera – the Boilermaker’s house – as his mother’s family had also been involved in that craft. Frequent contact with nature may have been one of the factors that stimulated two of the abilities which were to become crucial in the development of his work: the observation and meticulous analysis of the natural world.
Adolescence. The awakening of a genius.
Antoni Gaudí was a pupil at the Piarist School in Reus, where he stood out on account of his gift for analysing and rationalising questions. During his adolescence, Gaudí formed a strong friendship with two of his fellow pupils: Eduard Toda and Josep Ribera. The three young men were enthusiastic about nature and interested in history, and were very fond of going on excursions. On one of these outings, Josep Ribera brought his friends to an abandoned building that he had discovered: the ruins of the Santa María de Poblet monastery. The three youths made a resolution to restore the ancient building. Of that enthusiastic youthful project, all that remains is a floor plan drawn by Gaudí, who must have been about 15 at the time, and a note written by his companions. For Gaudí, that experience was undoubtedly the declaration of his vocation as an architect.
University. The discovery of architecture.
A short time afterwards, Gaudí moved to Barcelona to study the final year of his secondary education and to do the foundation course at the School of Architecture. By that time, Gaudí had already distinguished himself as a result of his creative genius and through a flair for calculus. From early on in his studies, the brilliant architect was hard at work in the studios of eminent professors and masters of the craft such as Francisco Paula de Villar and Josep Fontseré. It was in the studio of the latter that Gaudí achieved the first recognition of his work: on his own initiative he corrected a task that had been given to a fellow student – designing the water tank for the Cascada Fountain in Parc de la Ciutadella.
Gaudí as architect. His first steps.
The year 1878 marked the beginning of Gaudí’s intense professional activity. During that year he won a competition organised by the Barcelona City Council for his design and production of some street lamps (located in two squares, Plaça Reial and Pla de Palau), he was awarded a commission for Casa Vicens, his first important work, and he drew up preliminary plans for an industrial complex with residential quarters for the Obrera Mataronense workers’ cooperative. This was an important time for Gaudí. It was a period of research and hard work in which he learned to use the tools which would enable him to create his works of great genius in the years to come.
A decisive meeting: Eusebi Güell.
However, if Gaudí had one key commission in 1878, it was without a doubt the design of a small display stand for the Spanish Pavilion at the International Exhibition in Paris that same year. One of the visitors to the exhibition hall, Mr. Eusebi Güell i Bacigalupi, was so impressed by the originality of the stand that he asked to be put in contact with its creator. This marked the beginning of both a professional relationship and a close friendship between them that would last for 40 years. From that point onwards, Güell was his best client. Gaudí designed and built magnificent works for him, with painstaking attention to even the smallest details, which contributed to expanding his genius and his originality as an architect.
The development and consolidation of a genius.
The 1880s was a decade of evolution and transformation, both in the field of architecture and in Gaudí’s personal life. His style became more and more individual and bold, and all things considered he became a successful architect. He worked in every conceivable category of civil architecture: residential properties (the Güell Estate and the Güell Palace), decorative houses and halls (El Capricho in Comillas and the pavilion of the Compañía Transatlántica at the Cádiz Exhibition), and religious buildings (the Bishop’s Palace in Astorga, the School of the Teresian Nuns and the Church of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona). He dealt with magnates and with influential church authorities. He both impressed them and learned from them. In 1900, the Barcelona City Council awarded him the first prize for the best modernist building in the city: Casa Calvet.
In 1904 that Gaudí undertook the refurbishment of Casa Batlló, on the commission of the textile industrialist Josep Batlló i Casanovas, in elegant Passeig de Gràcia, on the same stretch of street as Casa Lleó Morera and Casa Amatller, built by Doménech i Montaner and Puig i Cadafalch respectively. The difference between the styles of these three Greats of Catalan Modernism gave rise to the block being called “La Manzana de la Discordia”, or Block of Discord, a name which it has kept to this day. It is interesting to note that in Casa Batlló Gaudí was able to work according to his personal taste, and with total creative freedom. For that very reason, Casa Batlló is a showcase of his skills in the use of all kinds of materials: stone, wood, ceramic tiles, glass and iron, and he played masterfully with colour and shape. His dealings with Josep Batlló led to his acquaintance with Mr. Milá, who subsequently commissioned him to design Casa Milá, where Gaudí used many of the techniques which he had already tested in building Casa Batlló.
In 1910 a major exhibition of Gaudí’s work opened in the Gran Palais in Paris, and this was the only exhibition outside of Spain dedicated to the architect during his lifetime. On the 7th of June 1926 he was knocked down by tram while on his way to the Church of Sant Felip Neri, before going to the building site of the Sagrada Familia. He died on the 10th of June in the Hospital de la Santa Creu. His funeral was held two days later, and was attended by throngs of his many admirers, disciples and friends.
Historic Gaudí. A contemporary perspective.
Gaudí is the definitive architect associated with the city, having designed such major works as the Sagrada Familia, the only cathedral in the world under construction, Casa Batlló, la Pedrera, Palau Güell, and many more.
Today Gaudí has become a world-famous architect, the top name in Catalan architecture. Over the years, his works have gone from being obscure or even criticised to achieving international renown and being symbols and icons of an increasingly global Barcelona. In fact, 2002 was declared the International Year of Gaudí in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of his birth.
Gaudí was an outstanding and unique architect, very much one of a kind; a dreamer and yet rigorous, he was attracted by concepts which may have seemed contradictory but which for him were necessarily bound together. He was at once a craftsman and an artist, the architect of both religious and civil buildings, very strict when it came to technical details, and possessed of a creativity which knew no bounds. But above all, he was an architect who drew his inspiration not only from nature but equally from historical styles and traditional types of construction. He also had a surpassing vision: that of creating new forms which would allow him to experiment and to develop his creative interests.
Many influences - oriental, neoclassical and neo-Mudejar among others – can be seen in his architecture; however Gaudí mixed these styles with new solutions and materials such as iron, concrete, glass and ceramic tiles, materials which could be produced industrially to bring down the cost. He was also a pioneer of such contemporary notions as ecology, using recycled materials in his work.
Gaudí broke away from all previous tradition and created a new language, and although it contained elements similar to those used by other past or contemporary movements, it turned these around, reinterpreted them and took them to new levels. There is no doubt that Gaudí was a modernist, perhaps even its greatest exponent. There are even those who believe that he created a new style in its own right.
Gaudí lived in an era which was characterised by the intense economic and urban development of Barcelona, the adoption of technical changes driven by the industrial revolution, and the dawn of a prosperous Catalan bourgeoisie who were interested in artistic projects and the restoration of Catalan values through the movement known as the Renaixença (the Rebirth). All of these aspects had an influence on Gaudí, on his ideas and on his methods of working.
His family background clearly also had an impact on his work. Gaudí was from a family of boilermakers, and this influenced his understanding of space and his competence for manual trades. His poor health during childhood prevented him from going to school, and Gaudí spent long periods in the countryside, in the town of Riudoms (Tarragona), where he passed his days absorbed in the contemplation of nature and animals. Organic elements always stand out in his architecture.
In professional terms, Gaudí is closely linked to Barcelona, the city in which he completed his studies and which is home to the vast majority of his works. One of his first important projects was Casa Vicens. At that time, at the beginning of his career, he also entered into one of the most productive partnerships in the history of patronage: his relationship with Eusebi Güell, who also became one of his closest friends.
Gaudí designed a spectacular display case for the Comella glove manufacturer at the International Exhibition in Paris. Made of iron, its originality immediately captivated Güell, who then commissioned Gaudí to build the entrance to his estate in Pedralbes, Finca Güell, and it was there that Gaudí built his first catenary arch.
After this followed a whole host of commissions, among them Palau Güell, Casa Botines, Casa Calvet, Park Güell, Bellesguard, Casa Batlló, La Pedrera, and many other buildings.
In 1883 he received the commission to build the Sagrada Familia. Initially he balanced work on that project alongside various others, but in the last years of his life he worked exclusively on the church. As his faith got stronger, so did his dedication to the project, to the point where he even moved his studio and his home to the church itself.