International Year of Gaudí

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 Gaudíwas 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.

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