The symbolism of light in Gaudi’s work
The year 2015 has been declared by UNESCO as the International Year of Light and Light-based technologies.
If painting light and shadow are key to creating an atmosphere and above all to give volume, analyzing the construction work of Gaudí you can see that the light was one of the major concerns of the genius from Reus. Also despite being in the early twentieth century and having no major technological advances in this respect, Gaudí knew how to manage to give his buildings great luminosity through the materials, volumes and colors.
For the Architect, the perfect light was the Mediterranean light, even claiming: “The light that reaches maximum harmony is inclined at 45 °, which has no effect on bodies, perpendicularly or horizontally; This light, which is the half-light, gives the most perfect vision of bodies and a more nuanced assessment. This light is the Mediterranean. ” And although at first Gaudí’s pieces of work were judged by their extravagant ways, what Gaudí was doing was arquitecturizar nature. For him, the natural environment was the ultimate source of inspiration and education as it was obtained was where the most rational and sustainable ways exsisted. An example is the facade of the Casa Mila, curvy, misunderstood and full of nooks and crannies that allow the light to set. A light that casts doubt in the viewer, are we facing an architectural piece of work or a sculpture? It really is a merger as stated by the architect: “Architecture is the arrangement of light; sculpture is the play on light. “
And although Gaudi´s improvisational nature is well know, it is also true that one of the features that was not left to chance was functionality and especially light in his works. Although initially some ways may seem decorative, all meet structural purposes and the basics, without forgetting the decorative precepts of modernism, resulting in works “with its own light.” A light that can allude to nature or the divine, or together as shown in the Crypt in Colonia Güell, where light is divine expression while evoking natural light that appears in the shadows of the trees of a forest. Another example of this divine light is observed in the Sagrada Familia that although unfinished, takes visitors on a spiritual atmosphere thanks to the arrangement of the light sources and the colors of the windows, far from the windows of the Gothic period. Despite also being a religious building, we find an arrangement stained by color ranges related, without human figures or direct allusion to religious symbols. To Gaudí “sunshine is the best painter and the light changes with the time” being the result of a great symphony of color and light that changes throughout the day.
But certainly at Casa Batllo this is where we can find the maximum explosion of light and creativity; and this is thanks to the creative freedom that Josep Batllo gave Antoni Gaudí. From the facade to the interior patios and from the noble to the attic floor in Casa Batllo, all the spaces are designed for even and proportional lighting during most of the day.
Starting with the exterior, its undulating and colorful way takes you away from the idea of a heavy facade, while giving a feeling of lightness. This is reinforced by the glow when the sun shines on the glazed ceramic fragments. It is definitely a unique radiance that changes according to the intensity of the sun and the type of light, natural light by day and electricity by night.
The treatment related to the form and color, for maximum light effectiveness, reached a peak in the double inner courtyard containing the staircase and elevator. In these yards, the walls are coated with pieces of ceramics and glass, some smooth and others standing out, in different shades of blue and the darkest shades are located on the top and the lightest shades are on the lower floors. By this chromatic arrangement of the tiles and through the creation of windows in different sizes, Antoni Gaudí was able to get all the floors of the house with a homogeneous light. This allows the spectator to stand at the bottom of the yard and receive a even intermediate blue tone when looking up, therefore creating a unique atmosphere that transports you to the seabed. He also managed to avoid the feeling that you were looking into a well when looking down from the top floor.
We thus see a great solution in Gaudí´s work for the distribution of daylight through chromaticism and volumes. A light that penetrates well into the basement through skylights and small roof lights. It was in this search for light sources, when reforming the main floor that Gaudí became clear he wanted to take the light from the three available places. First the light from Paseo de Gràcia through a large open platform to the street, secondly the light from the backyard, and finally, the daylight through windows and openings in the patio.
It is on this floor of the building where the architect investigated the idea of open plan that had been fully developed in the Casa Mila more intensely. This conception allowed the replacement of walls bearings from the original building columns and beams, creating curtain walls with minimal carpentry. Also with the aim of allowing the maximum possible light to pass through the windows, he invented the continuous window in the Hall on the Noble floor, allowing it to be open to the outside without any interruption. To avoid possible excessive sunlight and to contribute to the warmth he put leaded glass on the top part of the window with different shades of blue that help to soften the daylight. Notable this resource to incorporate stained glass, repeated in different interior doors allowing that in this way the rooms did not get direct sunlight but also received light from one of three light sources.
Another space also highlighted by the use of light in this building is the attic and the surrounding hallways, where Gaudí went away from the chromaticism used on the facade and interior courtyards and advocated a single color: white. This solution was applied with the aim of maximizing the sunlight coming from the vents and well endowed this space for all possible natural light, subdued and soft light. The effect is reinforced by the angularity of partitions casts and the absence of edges.
Apart from these three outstanding spaces of the House, we can see that every room of the house has skylights of varying size that allows them all to have natural light. So are light and colour key intangibles in this masterpiece of architecture from the early twentieth century.
In short, in each building Gaudi came up with innovative solutions to harness sunlight, from the dome with circular perforations of the Palau Güell to the parabolic arches casts of the corridors of the College of the Sisters, through the provision of materials, study sources of natural light and color shades, Gaudí was able to get each piece of work to shine with light.