Xavier Villanueva: "Casa Batlló is continually being restored"

Xavier is an architect and member of the Casa Batlló restoration team. He has been the project supervisor at the House since 2013 and he coordinates the building conservation and restoration works and ensures compliance with the patrimonial criteria required in the case of world heritage monuments. In this interview he tells us about the background to the restoration, its evolution and present and future challenges.

 

What interventions are taking place at the moment?We are restoring the coating work of the Noble Floor. In other words, we are restoring the original stucco of the walls and ceilings on the House’s main floor, the former residence of the Batlló family.  We have also started conservation and maintenance works on the façade. That is the visible side of the restoration, which can be seen by visitors. But we are also restoring several functional and decorative elements: lamps, doors and windows, railings, pieces of ceramic and iron…

When was the current Restoration of Casa Batlló first planned?Five years ago we drew up what we call a Master Plan, which is the guideline for what we are, what we want to be, how we must evolve and, above all, the patrimonial and architectural intervention criteria that must be followed. This document has been approved by the different heritage institutions and it serves as a basis to ensure that all those participating in the works share the same criteria. An extremely important task was carried out over a two-year period, consisting in performing a radiography of the building from 1875, before it became the Casa Batlló that we know today.  Based on this initial document, we were able to define our short-, medium- and long-term commitments. At the moment we are working on the short-term commitments, a phase that will take around 3 or 4 years.

Providing visibility to visitors is a huge challenge

What has been done during this time?
I would particularly highlight interventions related to the water and electricity supplies, the reinforcement of structures and improvements made to fire detection and extinguishing systems. Work has also been carried out on the roof terrace, improving the environmental impact of the most recent interventions… We have now reached a special and really exciting stage, as we are working on the restoration of the Noble Floor and of the façade at the same time, two of the most outstanding gems of this building.

 

 

Tell us about the restoration of the façade.It is not really a restoration but rather an intervention focused on conservation and maintenance. We actually restored the façade in 2001. Now we are going to review it to check that the works carried out 17 years ago have developed correctly and to verify that no new pathologies have appeared.

How is this verification done?By listening to the façade. To do this we carefully chisel the façade to detect echoes. When there is an echo, there is a problem. It means that the wavy coating created by Gaudí is detaching from the original façade. In this case, it must be repaired.

What are the following phases?First we have to proceed with the cleaning process. We will remove 100% of the dirt, basically dust and pollution. We will also restore the balconies, both the stone elements and the cast iron railings. We will then protect the 5 different elements found on the façade: ceramic, stone, wood, glass and iron. Each material requires a specific treatment.

What are the challenges related to the intervention on the façade?Restoring the utmost level of originality and preserving the natural deterioration of the external elements. Furthermore, we have designed a walkway so that visitors can walk along one of the scaffoldsand discover the façade, see it close-up and really get a feel for it… It is a unique experience that is located on the upper part, one of the most emblematic and spectacular areas.

And what are the challenges related to the Noble Floor?There are many. Firstly, the quality of the stucco, its elaboration process and chromatic varieties. In one room there are orange and red tones, in another pink tones and another with grey and blue tones… Each area that we restore is different and has undergone different degrees of intervention in the past, which adds complexity to the process.  There are also the challenges that you come across in real time. You have to take into account that the surveys carried out during the investigation process were sporadic. It is one thing to analyse a small part of the wall and quite another to restore a whole room. In this respect, we uncover things as we are working and you always find surprises. That is why we have combined our cultural visit with the restoration. We want to share the discoveries that we are experiencing with visitors in real time.

Is this another added challenge?Yes, providing visibility to visitors is a huge challenge. We are restoring each room at different times and each one entails significant planning… We have also implemented different initiatives to explain and display the restoration.

What are these initiatives?We have installed soffits with round windows so that visitors can observe the work of the restoration team and we have designed several transparent tunnels so that they can really immerse themselves in this intervention. We have tablets with information, different live streamings showing the process and staff who are specifically trained to answer any queries that visitors may have in relation to the restoration.

And when will the restoration end?Never! Casa Batlló is continually being restored. After this phase there will be many more. As I already mentioned, these are just the first steps of a much larger project. Besides which, there are still many more mysteries to solve in the House. Every time you make a hole you find a surprise.

And finally, what are the next steps?I can’t talk about them at the moment. But I can assure you that they will be surprising and that they will improve both the quality of visits and the conservation of the House.

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