Friday, April 20, 2012

Designer of the Month: Antoni Gaudí

Week 3: Casa Batlló and Casa Milà

Antoni Gaudí, Casa Batlló, 1904-1907, Barcelona. Photo © Adrian Beesley/ Courtesy of

While the Palau Güell brought a high level of visibility to Antoni Gaudí, the response wasn't all positive. The building was the source of much speculation and curiosity during its construction, and for a time, it even served as as a source of many jokes. The daily paper La Vanguardia stated that a dungeon and lion's cage from Biblical times has been discovered on the site, while the satirical magazine ¡Cu-Cut! published a cartoon of the facade with the remarks of two astonished citizens: "This looks like a jail," one proclaims; "No it's the house of a gentleman," the other replies.[1] Not that any of this criticism and satire seemed to bother Gaudí. He not only refused to be put off by others' reactions, but became known for his own witticisms and rejoinders.

 Antoni Gaudí, Casa Batlló staircase, 1904-07, Barcelona. Courtesy of Gaudí: Designer.

But Palau Güell was just the first of what would be many prominent residences with which Gaudí would decorate the streets of Barcelona. In 1904, Gaudí was commissioned by Josep Batlló  Casanovas to make dramatic alterations to a building that he owned on the fashionable Passeig de Gràcia, an open-air avenue where Barcelona's high society gathered to stroll and be seen.[2] As with earlier projects by Gaudí, the construction of Casa Batlló (1904-1907) was eagerly followed by Barcelona's residents, and it's safe to say that the finished product did not disappoint. From the slender columns of sandstone and balconies suggestive of human bones, details which earned it the nickname Casa dels Ossos (House of Bones), to its scale-like multicolored slate whose sinuous form evokes the figure of yet another dragon, Casa Batlló is a shimmering, fantastical residence.[3] And of course, in addition to creating this remarkable facade, Gaudí was just as meticulous with the interior of Casa Batlló, designing such features as undulating, sculptural rooms; impressive stained-glass windows; a multi-toned, glass-tiled well; and over 60 arches that make up the loft-like interior of the roof.[4]

Antoni Gaudí, Casa Milà postcard, 1914. Courtesy of Gaudí: Designer.

Upon seeing the unique residence that Gaudí had designed for Batlló, Pedro Milà Camps, not to be outdone by his friend and business partner, promptly commissioned an apartment building of his own on the same avenue, but in an even more visible location.[5] Once again, the city went wild with speculation. Casa Milà (1906-1910), also known as La Pedrera ("The Quarry"), was characterized as everything from a hanger for zeppelins and an Easter cake to the result of an earthquake - none of these descriptions, however, do the building proper justice.[6] With its undulating facade of stone (hence, the nickname), punctuated by fanciful wrought iron balconies, there have been many theories as to Gaudí's inspiration for its design, which vary from ocean waves to that of a mountain crowned by a cloud.[7] As Lluís Permanyer describes this unique structure:
Casa Milà is actually two buildings, each arranged around a curvilinear central patio, and each with a central entrance...if one of the characteristics of the modernista period was indeed a lack of structural innovation, Casa Milà is not only avant-garde but truly revolutionary in this respect. Thanks to a framework of pillars and steel girders, Gaudí was able to eliminate bearing walls, and thus could alter the distribution of space on each floor as much as he liked. The same asymmetry that governs the facade also characterizes the interior.[8]
Antoni Gaudí, Casa Milà wrought iron balconies. Courtesy of Gaudí: Designer.

[1] Lluís Permanyer, "Introduction: The Man and the City," from Gaudí of Barcelona, ed. Lluís Permanyer, (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1996.), 9.

[2] Ibid., 9, 128.

[3] Casa Batlló online, "Enjoy Yourself: CB Top 10, Special Corners,", (accessed April 19, 2012).

[4] Casa Batlló online,, (accessed April 19, 2012).

[5] Lluís Permanyer, "Introduction: The Man and the City," from Gaudí of Barcelona, ed. Lluís Permanyer, (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1996.), 9-10.

[6] Ibid., 10.

[7] Lluís Permanyer, "The Works: Illustrations and Commenteries," from Gaudí of Barcelona, ed. Lluís Permanyer, (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1996.), 150.

[8] Ibid., 158-160.

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