Friday, April 27, 2012

Designer of the Month: Antoni Gaudí

Week 4: La Sagrada Família

Antoni Gaudí, La Sagrada Família, 1882-1926. Courtesy of La Sagrada Família online.

No discussion of Antoni Gaudí's work could possibly be complete without La Sagrada Família (1882-1926). Not only is it his most famous commission, but it was a project that Gaudí devoted his entire life to - from the earliest years of his career to his death - and which still, to this day, remains unfinished. As is explained in the church's history:
The expiatory church of La Sagrada Família is a work on a grand scale which was begun on 19 March 1882 from a project by the diocesan architect Francisco de Paula del Villar (1828-1901). At the end of 1883 Gaudí was commissioned to carry on the works, a task which he did not abandon until his death in 1926. Since then different architects have continued the work after his original idea.

The building is in the centre of Barcelona, and over the years it has become one of the most universal signs of identity of the city and the country. It is visited by millions of people every year and many more study its architectural and religious content.

It has always been an expiatory church, which means that since the outset, 130 years ago now, it has been built from donations. Gaudí himself said: 'The expiatory church of La Sagrada Família is made by the people and is mirrored in them. It is a work that is in the hands of God and the will of the people.'[1]
So, how did an architect like Gaudí get involved in such an incredible undertaking in the first place? As was the theme throughout his career, it's all about who you know: the architect Joan Martorell, with whom Gaudí had apprenticed and worked on a number of other significant projects, recommended that Gaudí take over as the architect after tensions between Martorell and Fancisco de Paula del Villar caused del Villar to resign.[2]

 Antoni Gaudí, La Sagrada Família, 1882-1926. Courtesy of La Sagrada Família online.

And take over he did, radically altering the project in both style and scope.[3] Like the other projects of his that we've seen this month, La Sagrada Família looks unlike any other structure of its kind. While the Neo-Gothic style is certainly evident, as per the building's original design, Gaudí was thinking much larger in both scope and form, designing what is essentially an architectural allegory for Christianity itself. As Lluís Permanyer explains:
Gaudí imagined a structure of strong verticality, an apotheosis of eighteen spires representing the twelve Apostles, the four Evangelists, the Virgin, and Christ, who would have been symbolized by a tower soaring over five hundred feet. He intended to install a system of bells in the towers which would have been activated by the force of the wind. Three facades were to illustrate with sculptural images of the Nativity, the Passion, and the Resurrection of Christ. The iconography of the exterior was rich and complex in its conception; a profusion of symbols to representational sculpture, were to convey a multitude of messages. Light is as fundamental to this structure as the stone used to build it. Gaudí conceived the interior of the church as a vast forest of columns flooded with light.[4]
 Antoni Gaudí, Interior of La Sagrada Família, 1882-1926. Courtesy of La Sagrada Família online.

There are no other major works by Gaudí after 1914 because he spent the end of his career entirely devoted to La Sagrada Família, even going so far as to spend the last few months of his life living next to his workshop.[5] Although the work progressed slowly, Gaudí was happy with his masterpiece. "There is no reason to regret that I cannot finish the church," Gaudí stated, "I will grow old but others will come after me. What must always be conserved is the spirit of the work, but its life has to depend on the generations it is handed down to and with whom it lives and is incarnated."[6]  Gaudí died on June 10, 1926.  He was buried in the Carmen Chapel in the crypt of La Sagrada Família, where his remains still lie.[7] And although the church is still not complete, its construction, which continues to follow Gaudí's design, is estimated be to be completed "some time in the first third of the 21st century."[8]

[1] La Sagrada Família online, "History: Expiatory Church,", (accessed April 25, 2012).

[2] Lluís Permanyer, "Introduction: The Man and the City," from Gaudí of Barcelona, ed. Lluís Permanyer, (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1996.), 8, 170. 

[3] Ibid., 170.

[4] Ibid., 172.

[5] La Sagrada Família online, "History: Gaudí: 1914-1926,", (accessed April 25, 2012).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

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