The Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí i Cornet is famous all over the world for his immense talent and for his incredible contribution to modernism.
This brilliant artist has invented a unique, personal and unprecedented architectural language, very difficult to qualify. Today, on the anniversary of his death, which took place on 10 June 1926, we will tell you about his life, his studies and his influence on contemporary architecture.
Childhood of Antoni Gaudí
According to some biographers, Antoni Gaudí was born in Reus in 1852, while others assign his birth to Riudoms, a village near Reus where his parents spent the summer. It is in the family workshop, helping his father and grandfather, that the young Gaudí learnt to dominate space and volumes.
From a very young age, Gaudì demonstratet a great ability to design spaces and transform materials, a quality that would make him an undisputed genius of three-dimensional creation.
Of delicate health in his youth, he had to stay for long periods in the house of the Riudoms where he spent hours and hours contemplating and memorizing all the secrets of nature that he considered the supreme work of the Creator. A bit like John Keats for poetry.
Consequently, for Gaudí, the essence and the very meaning of architecture had to be inspired by the models offered by nature in compliance with its laws. It was not a question of copying it but of following its course through a process of cooperation and, in this context, of making his architecture as beautiful, as durable and as efficient as possible. In this regard, Gaudí himself stated: “Originality consists in going back to the origins. “
Studies and architectural style
In 1870 Antoni Gaudi moved to Barcelona to study architecture while working to pay for his studies. The student Gaudí was quite erratic, but already showed signs of genius which soon opened the doors to collaboration with some of his teachers.
When, in 1878, he finished his studies at the School of Architecture, the director, Elies Rogent, declared:
“I still don’t know if we’ve given this degree to a madman or a genius, the future will tell.”
After graduation, Gaudí went to work on his own and founded his studio on rue del Call in Barcelona. There, he enthusiastically began producing what would become a very original architectural work. Much of this is today part of the heritage of humanity.
But it was in 1878 that one of the most productive meetings in history took place, both in terms of friendship and patronage, that with Eusebi Güell. From the beginning, the relationship between Güell and Gaudì went far beyond the simple client-architect relationship and soon turned into mutual admiration.
Already from his first commission, the Casa Vicens which began in 1883, Gaudì began to evolve his organic working method. In this method one element would flow into the next. From the beginning he used a mixture of ceramic tiles and cheap stone and rubble to decorate the surfaces. Later he also used pieces of broken pottery as mosaics.
Beyond his relationship with Güell, Gaudí was put in charge of a great deal of work and conceived so many projects. During the architect’s maturity period, the main works followed one another: the Bellesguard tower, the Park Güell, the restoration of the Cathedral of Mallorca, the church of Colonia Güell, the Casa Batlló, La Pedrera and finally the Sagrada Familia.
Parc Guell di Antonì Gaudi – 2008
Among the emblematic works of Antoni Gaudi, we cannot fail to recognize the Sagrada Familia, one of the most visited monuments in Spain. And that you can finally visit again : Sagrada Família – Official ticket vendors – Sagrada Familia.
Construction of the temple began in 1882, but Antoni Gaudi never managed to complete the monument, even dedicating the last fifteen years of his life to it. Furthermore, the basilica is entirely financed by the alms of the faithful and therefore it took a lot of time to raise the necessary funds for the various phases of construction.
Today the financial situation of the monument has changed a lot, thanks in particular to the classification as a “World Heritage Site” by Unesco, both of the crypt and the facade of the Nativity. Gaudi wanted to make the Sagrada Familia the tallest monument in Barcelona and had to propose architectural innovations to achieve this.
Entirely imagined by our protagonist today, the basilica is a separate work halfway between the religious world and the world of dreams. Personally it is one of the religious places that struck me the most, the visit was like entering a kaleidoscope of colors.
Sagrada Familia di Antonì Gaudi – 2008
The last years
Oddly, while he was at the height of his architectural genius, Gaudí’s personality gradually began to change. He abandoned his youth as a dandy with refined tastes, a lover of theater and concerts, to get away from worldly life, be content with frugal meals and even neglect his own physical appearance. In this he seems to resemble another artist, Edward Gorey, who is also shy and very reserved.
Gradually Gaudi came closer and closer to religion and mysticism.
He died on 10 June 1926, run over by a tram while traveling, as every evening, the road that connects the church of Sant Felip Neri and the Sagrada Familia.
After being hit, he passed out and no one suspected that this undocumented and rather neglected-looking old man was the famous architect Antoni Gaudi. We cannot fail to remember another great artist whose life was marked by a tram : Frida Kahlo.
The eighteen-year-old painter was returning from school aboard a bus that was hit by a tram. The bus ended up crushed against the wall and Frida risked her life; repercussions of that accident marked her painfully throughout her life.
Gaudi was transported to the Hospital de la Santa Cruz where he was later recognized by the parish priest of the Sagrada Familia. The funeral took place two days later in “his” Sagrada Familia. Much of the population of Barcelona took to the streets to pay a final tribute to the famous Gaudí, “the architect of the city”.
What did Antoni Gaudì leave us?
After his death, Gaudí’s works underwent a period of neglect, because they were considered excessively fanciful. In 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, Gaudí’s workshop in the Sagrada Família was looted. Many of his documents, plans and scale models were destroyed.
Gaudí’s reputation began to recover in the 1950s, when his work was supported not only by Salvador Dalí but also by the architect Josep Lluís Sert.
In 1952, the year of the centenary of the architect’s birth, the Asociación de Amigos de Gaudí (Association of Friends of Gaudí) was founded with the aim of disseminating and preserving his legacy. A few years later the first retrospectives on his works began.
From about 1960 Gaudí’s work gained wide international appreciation in the field of architecture and design. This culminated in the 1984 listing of his key works as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The works are seven. They are Park Güell, Palazzo Güell, Casa Milà, Casa Batlló, the crypt of the Colonia Güell, the Casa Vicens and the facade and the crypt of the Sagrada Família.
Gaudí’s style subsequently influenced contemporary architects and artists such as Niki de Saint Phalle, Santiago Calatrava, Norman Foster and Hundertwasser. His influence has proved so strong that every year, since 2013, on June 10, the day of Gaudí’s death, World Art Nouveau Day has been celebrated.
And we join in these celebrations. Today, besides the artist, we pay homage to the breadth of his skills (carpentry, wrought iron, ceramics and glassware). And to an exceptional intuition and talent for observation, inspired by the grandeur of nature. After all, as Dante Alighieri said (and I think this statement is very apt): Nature is the art of God.