Articles and Reviews


by Gijs van Hensbergen




HarpurCollinsPublishers  2001

This biography with a detailed index gives an excellent background to understanding Gaudí. Most of the architectural books on him give little or no context nor biographic detail, and even in his own time many did not understand him.


Gaudí’s importance is not so much for the modernista style with its emphasis on arts and crafts, and his influence on later architectural design, but what he sought to achieve - a Catholic approach to architecture within a Catalan cultural context. At his funeral (the nearest to a Catalan state one!) he was remembered not as an architect but as a saint.

From his youth Gaudí  was interested in and wanted to restore and improve the great Catalan gothic cathedrals, and like Pugin dismissed the classical period.

He was a strict vegetarian, celibate, made lots of things including decorative work out of recycled materials, and experimented with compressed cardboard mouldings and decorative elements.

Gaudí was a popular figure, on the side of the people, and worked not only for the Catholic Church, but also for rich property developers and industrialists. Gaudí satisfied some in all groups, but others hated him. Nevertheless when many convents and churches were destroyed in the "Tragic Week" in 1909 the Sagrada Familia was unscathed because of what it represented.

Park Guell (with its English spelling) is now a public park, whereas when built it was intended to be a gated housing enclave for the rich, on a hill overlooking the city.

The Casa Mila, the third of his best known projects was a palace for a rich property developer.

The Catholic Church was on the people’s side, but in a paternalistic way, so when the Spanish Civil War began ten years after Gaudí’s death the Sagrada Familia did not escape unscathed; its crypt was desecrated and Gaudi’s archives and models destroyed.

Gaudí, a contemporary of the Barcelona artist Picasso, had died in 1926, the year the Bauhaus was completed. He was rejected by Modern Movement architects, Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Gropius, and also by Pevsner.

Though Pugin died in 1852, the year Gaudí was born Gaudí can be compared to him, and also with Antonio Barluzzi. Barluzzi designed many of the pilgrimage churches in the Holy Land with their integration of art and architecture, with each church specific to its site, historic context, and the event it commemorated; these date from 1920-1950.

Having read about Gaudí’s life and context I now want to go back to read the architectural books, and of course to visit Barcelona.

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