Honoring God’s Creation:
There are no straight lines in nature
Steven C. Vogel
August 19, 2012
I have always had a slight bent towards the avant garde in art. My trip to Barcelona,
Spain gave me thrills to view original and creative architecture and art, and my introduction to
Antoni Gaudi. Barcelona, Spain is a city rich in architectural jewels. Located in the Catalan area
of Spain, local architect, Antoni Placid Guillem Gaudi i Cornet (Antoni Gaudi) was an influential
contributing figure in the shaping of the city’s appearance and skyline. The son of Francesc
Gaudi i Serra (Boilermaker) and Antonia Cornet i Bertran, born June 25, 1852 in Reus, Antoni
Gaudi may have developed his love of nature as he was raised in the country (“Antoni Gaudi:
Introduction”). Gaudi’s genius was displayed early in his life at the Piarist School of Reus “…
where he stood out on account of his gift for anlysing and rationalising questions” (“Antoni
Gaudi: Introduction”). Gaudi continued his schooling in this region until he moved to Barcelona
in 1869 to complete his general studies before attending the New School of Architecture in 1873
(“Antonio Gaudi: architect”).
Gaudi apprenticed under current greats in the industry, including Francisco Paula de
Villar and Josep Fontsere (“Antonio Gaudi: architect”). His work was briefly interrupted from
1874-1877 for a mandatory stint in the Spanish Army (“Antoni Gaudi,”). As with most
architects, Gaudi’s initial, smaller works included designing lamp posts and even restaurant
menus, which launched his professional career in 1878. Gaudi was able to incorporate his love of
nature and the mirroring of God’s handiwork throughout the smallest of details. Gaudi was
quoted as saying, “Those who look for the laws of Nature as a support for their new works
collaborate with the creator” (“Antoni Gaudi,”).
Spain’s former colonial dominion throughout the world was being crumbled throughout
the late 1800’s. Along with its waning rule, the country suffered from internal strife between
Catalonians and Basques. Governmental stability was not realized until late into the 1890’s and
Spain still suffers from division to this day along with its mostly poorer regions throughout the
country. Despite Spain’s internal and external struggles, the city of Barcelona, with its port on
the Mediterranean, had developed excellent trading with England and enjoyed the prosperity that
comes with a more open society.
Gaudi was able to capitalize on Barcelona’s wealth and opened his first office in 1878.
His work was influence by emerging the Gothic revival and Art Nouveau. His first major work
was the Casa Vicens, which was “… an industrial complex with residential quarters for the
Obrera Mataronense workers cooperative” (“Antoni Gaudi: Introduction,”). His work on a
display stand drew the attention of Eusebi Guell i Bacigalupi (Eusebi Guell), which became one
of his main sources of commissions. Eusebi Guell profited during the time of the industrial
revolution and Gaudi’s relationship with Guell lasted over 40 years. Gaudi’s original works also
drew the attention of other artists, which helped him create and develop many of his lasting and
One of the famous works of Gaudi is the apartment house, Casa Mila (1905-1907), also
known as La Pedrera (which means quarry or stone) in midtown Barcelona and covers two
blocks. In times of antiquity, the wealthy and influential people felt that the coastal areas of real
estate were for dockworkers and fishermen and most of the neighborhoods for the wealthy can
be found in Barcelona closer to the upper foothills of the Catalan Pre-Coastal Range and the
upper coastal plains below the range. It was there that the location for Casa Mila was selected
and Gaudi was given much liberty to build his creation.
Casa Mila was commissioned by industrialist, Pere Mila i Camps and his wife, Rosario
Segimen i Artells and was the last civil project before his crowning and religious work on
Sagrada de Familia (“La Pedrera”,). The focus of the building was to create a home with
additional apartments for rent.
The structural support for the building is entirely dependent on the exterior walls which
are made entirely of a local sandstone and mortar. This allows the internal spaces to have no load
bearing walls, which provides Gaudi’s freedom for free-form for inner spaces. Catalan workers
were masters in thin masonry work, utilizing a laminating of thin tiles covered with a concrete
material that gives the appearance of stone and hence the nickname of La Pedrera. Within the
outer walls and apartments are two courtyards. The waves and curves were Gaudi’s express of
George R. Collins 1963, in writing for “The MIT Press”, explains the strength and
durability of voussoir construction as a bonding of tiles, formed initially with plaster of paris,
then bonded with concrete, the form can take any shape the designer desires. The difference
Gaudi used from voussoir construction in that the “… laminated layers of tile running
concentrically to its lines of pressures, instead of perpendicular as in a voussoir arch” (p65).
Collins (1963) further explained, “While it may be employed as a singular cylindrical vault, it is
more efficient in surfaces of double curvature” (p67). Looking at the figure above of the exterior,
one can see where Gaudi employed the strength of double curvature.
Gaudi employed arches and vaults that stemmed from parabolic proportions, but also
incorporated the use of catenary arches to obtain arches that do not have extremes of outward
thrust and movement (Collins, 1963, p74).
(Annonymous, 2011) (Annonymous, 2011)
In the photographs above of the supporting arches that create the enclosing roof of Casa Mila are
examples of voussier type, catenary arches that Gaudi employed. The space is currently used for
artifacts of Gaudi’s drawings and models.
The roof of Casa Mila is another display of Gaudi’s creativity and genius. Combining the
use of parabolic arches that span different distances, mounted on I-beams, the roof becomes a
useful terrace, of varying levels, incorporated with artistically covered smokestacks. The picture
below shows the various smokestack shapes and the use of steps to assist people strolling on the
rooftop (Collins, 1963, p75).
Looking across the rooftop, one can sense the rolling of the sea by the waves Gaudi incorporated
into the structure through the use of his attic arches. The rising structures are Gaudi’s clever way
of disguising smokestacks mimicking images of faces and symbols of royalty.
The courtyards are a clever use of space that allows the exterior walls to provide all of the
structural support of the building (pictured below). A look from the upper level reveals the seven
stories of apartments with its internal view.
(Both photographs, “Annonymous”, 2011)
Gaudi included details from nature down to the details on the wrought iron work on balcony
railings. He was most likely influenced by his fascination with nature and the metal works of his
parents. The unique construction of the building provides individual apartments that each have
their own unique shapes.
Time, experience and confidence in his abilities led Gaudi to greatest work, La Sagrada
Familiar (the Expiatory Church of the Holy Family)(1882-Present). The expected completion
date is in 2026, to signify the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s untimely death in 1926. The church is
designed to hold 14,000 worshipers. Although the project was initially started by Francesc de
Paula Villar, after Villar’s resignation in 1883, the project was offered to and accepted by Gaudi.
Below is a model of the projected end product and the projects completion as of June 2006.
In line with his respect and admiration of God’s creation, it is said that, “The Sagrada
Familia is a summary of geometric forms – hyperbolic paraboloids – from which eggs, bones,
muscle and mountains are made” (Ivereigh, 2010, p27). Construction materials include stone and
concrete, along with ornamentation from stained glass and wrought iron. Although the continued
construction is still of concrete, changing construction standards have modified the original
dimensions and tensile strength of new pours, modern engineers are attempting to maintain the
slender shape of Gaudi’s design. Various types of concrete are used throughout the structure,
dependent upon the strength needed. High tensile strengths of the reinforced concrete required u
-60 to HA-80 concrete that has provided test strengths of 800 - 1000 kp/cm2 (Most concrete only
needs strengths of 250 – 350 kp/cm2) (“Basillica de la,”).
The dimensions of the church are described as, “[T]he expiatory church of La Sagrada
Família is a church with five naves and a crossing with three, forming a Latin cross. The interior
measurements are: nave and apse, 90 m; crossing, 60 m; width of the central nave, 15 m; side
naves 7.5 m, total main nave, 45 m; width of the crossing, 30m” (Basillica de la,” p. Parts of the
Keeping in line with Catholic doctrine, Gaudi infused symbols that included the life of
Christ and history of faith. The eighteen bell towers represent Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the four
evangelists and the 12 apostles (“Basillica de la,” p. Symbology). Gaudi also incorporated the
use of stained glass windows and sculpture to further tell the story of the Gospel.
Many skeptics and critics have commented negatively about the length of time that the La
Sagrada Familia is taking and will take. Gaudi responded, “Don’t worry, my client isn’t in a
hurry” (Antoni Gaudi). Once the project for La Sagrada Familia was undertaken by Gaudi, he
rejected all other outside work and devoted his entire life to the building of the church and grew
closer to God in the process.
Antoni Gaudi has richly contributed to Barcelona and to the world beyond. Many of his
techniques and styles were incorporated into projects outside of his region. His works were not
limited to lampposts, menus, Casa Mila and La Sagrada Familia. His additional works included
Casa Vicens, El Capricho, Finca Guell, Palau Guell, Casa Calvet, Parc Guell, Casa Battlo, to
name a few. Gaudi infused his ideas throughout his work but was restricted in varying degrees
by the benefactor of the project. Not until Casa Mila and La Sagrada Familia was Gaudi
allowed to fully demonstrate his ideas, concepts and full genius.
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