Tuesday, March 15, 2011

We visit some Gaudi buildings

Antoni Gaudi is my new hero. He is the second most amazing architect I know. His buildings are fascinating and weird but as you listen to the ideas that were behind them, Gaudi’s genius is revealed. As they handed over his diploma at his graduation from architect school, the chancellor said, “I don’t know whether I am giving a diploma to a genius or a lunatic”. Looking at his buildings you can see a bit of both.

We started our exploration of Gaudi by visiting Sagrada Familia. I wasn’t particularly excited to see it. It is another cathedral and we’ve seen many, many cathedrals. This one is unfinished. The really great cathedrals sometimes took up to a hundred years to build. It is hard to imagine a structure taking that long and when you see Notre Dame or Westminster Abbey, you marvel at their beauty but the dates don’t really strike you. At Sagrada Familia, they began building in 1883 and are still not finished. 1883. 1883! That’s around the time my great-grandparents were BORN! It is predicted that the cathedral won’t be finished for another 25 years. In appreciation of this, Rhys said he wanted to come back to see it when it was finished, when he was an old man. I pointed out he would be my age and he just smiled.

Think of the number of people who have worked on this cathedral during the past hundred years or so. Apparently, for construction workers here, it is the crowning achievement of their careers to work at this site before they retire and many spend their last few years of work here. Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to say you carved “this” stone or your great grandfather helped raise that spire? To give you an idea of progress, they just finished putting on the roof this year.

The outside of the cathedral is strikingly different on different sides. One entrance looks a bit like the cement is dripping down. See the first couple photos above. You know how sandcastles look when you pour the wet sand on the top? That’s it only busier, like someone went crazy with the sand. This is the Nativity façade and depicts the early life of Christ. It is the only side finished in Gaudi’s lifetime. He was killed by a tram in 1926 so most of the church has been designed by others using his inspiration. Even many of his original designs have been lost in a fire during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).

The other entrance is the Passion façade. It is angular and geometrical. I really liked this side of the church. The statues are so different from the classical Greek and Roman ones…or any we have seen, really. Christ hangs on a cross at the top. His head is a book, representing the word of God. As a librarian, ya gotta love it. There is symbolism in every statue, every corner, every added piece of decoration. They have a “magic” square on this side. You know the ones, where every row adds up to the same number? The number is 33, the age of Christ when he died. These facades are amazingly detailed but they are only the SIDE entrances! The front entrance has yet to be built. They will tear down the building across the street when they finally begin, so it is going to be pretty impressive.

One of the statues I particularly liked was called, “the temptation of man” (see above). The temptation was not an apple. It was not a woman. It was a bomb. To me, that was such a modern interpretation of biblical scripture. The devil offered man a bomb. In Gaudi’s time, just before the Spanish Civil War, terrorists were at work. Things haven’t changed a lot now. There was also one of the “temptation of woman”. The devil offered her a bag of money. I liked that both male and female were represented and that the religious scriptures were modernized to make sense in today’s world.

On entering the cathedral, my first impression was of an Egyptian hippostyle hall with huge columns supporting the roof. As we walked in further, it became clearer that this is a forest of columns, the branches split apart as the columns rise upwards to the ceiling. Each column has a “knot” half way up and there is mathematical symmetry everywhere. The ceiling itself is designed like a leafy canopy with small geometric shapes of light filtering through. There are many stairways rising to the tops. Two are exposed corkscrews with such exquisite symmetry they are a piece of art, appealing to some internal sense of perfection living within me. Gaudi was a man who shunned the straight line and that is evident in every curve of the wall inside. He designed special hyperbolic areas of the ceiling to avoid the music from the choir reverberating cacophonously within the cavernous space. The stained glass windows fit perfectly into the modernist space with collages of strikingly beautiful colours. My explanation here cannot do justice to the overwhelming beauty of this space. I was moved to tears just gazing around, not at first, but slowly, as the perfection of his vision settled in.

In the basement is the museum with his workshop where models are crafted before each section is built. Gaudi used the catenary arch, an arch inspired by the drape of a vine in nature. He used many of nature’s designs to assist him. What I found most fascinating was the way he designed the rooves of many buildings. He would hang chain to achieve the perfect arch. Then he would hang many chains together to create the lines of a steeple. He’d hang weights at load-bearing points to mimic the stress on the supports and adjust the chains accordingly. This “building” would be completely upside down but perfect in every way. There was an example with a mirror beneath in one of his buildings so you could see what it would look like upright. It reminded me of Da Vinci’s backwards writing. By using this hanging chain technique, Gaudi avoided complicated mathematical equations.

I thought it was interesting that Gaudi had a school built on the site for the children of the construction workers. It is part of the museum today but it is a cute little building that houses not only the classroom but also his study which is still exactly the same as it was when he died in 1926.

This was the whole family’s favourite Gaudi building. More on Gaudi tomorrow.


maryanncart@shaw.ca said...

Loved all your information and it is a truly spectacular building. Ian will enjoy your blog when he gets home! Love Mom