There can't be many devoutly religious, politically conservative architects from small, European stateless nations who have inspired... more » both a musical and a progressive rock concept album—1986's "Gaudí" by the Alan Parsons Project. But there's never been an architect quite like Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), who designed seven properties now on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
These works sit vaguely within the parameters of Modernisme, a particularly Catalan variant on the Art Nouveau style that was sweeping Europe from 1880 to World War I. This movement championed architecture as an expression of national identity at a time when an increasingly prosperous and self-confident Catalan middle class was receptive to such a message.
Gaudí never subscribed to any manifesto, but was sympathetic to this aesthetic, and contributed an abiding interest in the forms of nature. Exploring his work you'll find this fascination with nature—its colors, forms, curves and undulations—everywhere: in the sweeping bench at Park Güell; the massive, rippling façade of La Pedrera; the flowing interior of Casa Batlló. Perhaps, above all, you’ll find it in the perforated cigar towers, flora- and fauna-encrusted Nativity façade and the spectacular polychrome finials capping the pinnacles of La Sagrada Família, the unforgettable and unfinished basilica on which he worked from 1883 until death.
To understand his place in the Catalan national pantheon, think of Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles Rennie Mackintosh rolled into one. Both those remarkable architects have attracted substantial heritage industries, inspiring posthumous executions of their designs, to some controversy.
The sheer scale and protracted effort to complete La Sagrada Família dwarfs these efforts. There have been demonstrations by outraged devotees and deputations of distinguished architects, who protest that the project cannot fulfill Gaudí's vision because the lack of detailed plans make this unknowable. Yet, aside from this tumult, people of every nationality and every faith—and none—find something compelling in its weird appearance.
Decide for yourself. Whether you love the electicism of the designs, the boldness of the concepts and exuberance of the colors in the church, the park and the two splendid residential buildings—or find them alien—you will never forget them. less «