It’s the evening of 3rd October 2017 and I’ve just landed at Barcelona’s El-Prat airport. Armed with the ultimate traveler’s guide, THE LONELY PLANET, I’m fully prepared to tackle this beautiful city in the four days I’ll be here. I plan to visit four places per day, tough but undoubtedly worth it, and of the 16 locations the ones I’m most ecstatic about are the works of Gaudi. Due to the tight itinerary I’ve set up I’ll unfortunately only be able to view 4 of his works during this trip. So before I get into them I have to acknowledge the master of architecture and design, the one the only…Antoni Gaudí i Cornet.
If you had a look at my last post, WELCOMING THE TOM DIXON WINGCHAIR INTO YOUR HOME, you’ll understand the significance that nature has on a designer. I’ve always sought inspiration from it when designing a space/product and that’s why I have the utmost respect and admiration for naturalist Gaudi who turned what he saw in nature into breathtaking pieces be they architectural, interiors or furniture. Earlier on in his career he sought inspiration from various places such as the oriental and Islamic arts but his time spent outdoors during summer stays in his family home, afforded him the opportunity to study nature what would become his ultimate inspiration from a style that evolved from Catalan Mordernisme to his own.
As much as I admire his architecture it’s his work as an interior designer and decorator that brings me the utmost joy, I guess because it’s my field. Not only did he design the buildings he also decorated them personally, from the furnishings to the smallest details. He personalising the decoration according to the owner’s taste and its place in the surroundings—whether urban or natural, secular or religious. It goes without saying that his furniture was not only breathtakingly beautiful but they were also quite functional having studied ergonomics in order to adapt his furnishings to human anatomy. I can personally attest to this in the case of the door knobs at Casa Mila and Batlló that he moulded himself to perfectly fit one’s grip when opening the door. I was so impressed I bought a souvenir mug with a handle similar to Gaudi’s famous door handles. Now as perfect as his handles are to push/pull a door they don’t work so well when it comes to lifting a mug, which wasn’t its intended design, so truth be told it is quite a challenge balancing a mug even for someone like me who has child-like fingers.
Now that we’re all aquatinted with the “master of architecture” lets get back to the main point of this post (yes, yes I know…I am the “master of digression”); my experience with four of his works; La Pedrera, Casa Batllo, Placa Reial and La Sagrada Família.
CASA MILA (“LA PEDRERA”)
It’s 07:00am of day one, 4th October 2017, and I’m having breakfast at a little cafe near Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Família. My plan this lovely morning is to visit this wondrous church and all the glory it has to bear.
I’ve always considered myself a smart traveler but when I got to the gates of the church the world proved me wrong.
“Lo siento Señorita, you can only get the tickets in advance online.”
Why I didn’t do my research, I have no idea, but there’s nothing I can do now but head on over to my next destination and postpone La Sagrada Família for another day. Armed with my map (I’m that old-school paper map kind of girl) I walk down Carrer de Provença and nearly miss my destination, La Pedrera. Coming from La Sagrada Familia I was expecting a similar large monument that stands out from a mile away but La Pedrera blends into its surroundings in the narrow street of Carrer de Provença. This is quite unexpected seeing that it was build 105 years ago. It’s not that its architecture looks anything like any building around it its just that as different as it looks it’s still not intrusive.
It does the impossible of standing out and blending in all at the same time.
The first indication that I’m at the right place are the long queues, which considering the current political uncertainty in Catalonia
, are quiet impressive. Well, until you’re standing in one. I will say that as queues go this one isn’t as bad because one is still able to enjoy Gaudi’s brilliance even fromthe street. From the breathtaking Panot Gaudi hydraulic tiles with the shapes of Snails/jellyfish/starfish, replicated from the tiles Gaudi had designed for La Pedrera’s interior. Which from my research I discovered that they aren’t so ideal for the exterior during the rainy days as they become quite slippery. To the buildings fascade’s texture, that got Casa Mila its nickname La Pedrera or “open quarry” due to its unconventional rough-hew appearance.
Commissioned by Pere Milà i Camps and his wife, La Pedrera was to be the 54 year old Gaudi’s last private residence. The idea was that the couple would live in the main floor and rent out the rest of the apartments. So here I am a century later, an excited tourist making my payment, collecting my audio guide and walking into a breathtaking courtyard wondering how it could have been to live here. As I listen to the audiotape I in shock to hear that,
“There are still four apartments in La Pedrera rented by private individuals, as well as another three leased to companies of different types whereas the rest are occupied by The Catalunya La Pedrera Foundation.”
What do you mean people live here? How much money do I have to part with for this slice of heaven? I know what you must be thinking, because that’s the first thought that hit me; as beautiful as the place might be is it worth the chaos that comes with hundreds of people touring it daily? Apparently due to Gaudi’s design genius it isn’t noisy at all. As one of its tenants Carmen Burgos, who has lived here for 55 years ,told BCN
“Gaudí was the architect of light and silence” and that as busy as it gets complete calm always reigns in her home and all the tourists don’t bother her one bit as they don’t come into my house or use my lift. In fact, my husband always said that we were privileged to live in La Pedrera.”
Oh, what I wouldn’t do to have that privilege, even if I was to just camp out in this curved courtyard which is one of the two that were built.
As I stand here I understand for the first time in my life that it is possible to feel love at first sight. I’m technically in the courtyard of a building but I might as well be in a huge breathtaking canyon. The airiness, the radiant light, the textures, the natural colours, the organic shapes, the subtle murals, but most importantly the sense of freedom. This feeling that’s come over me is more than appreciation of brilliant architecture its appreciation of a work of art in stone, brick and wrought iron.
I’m learning that with all things Gaudi his close attention to the aesthetics doesn’t mean he forgoes getting the most out of every functional element. Its actually far from it ,as is the case with the courtyards that optimise light and ventilation thanks to their shared organic ventilation. The statement form follows function was never so true as in Gaudi’s designs.
La Pedrera has 9 stories, the basement (which was the first underground garage in Barcelona), the ground floor for commercial establishments, the mezzanine for offices, the first floor for the owners, the four upper floors apartments for rent, the attic for laundry and then the terrace on the roof. The tour gives guests access to the ground floor and courtyard of one building, the attic, the roof terrace and one of the apartments on the fourth floor.
Having absorbed all I can from the courtyard I head on over to the lift that should take me to the apartment. Five minutes later I’m still standing here….Ten minutes later I’m still at the same spot. Patience, ladies and gentlemen, has never been my strongest virtue especially when I know that I’m being kept away from the excellence that is Gaudi work.
“Les pido disculpas a todos, pero but there is a stairway you can take to the attic if you don’t mind walking 6 flights of stairs”
I guess it’ll have to be the stairs, it’s just six flights anyway.
As I marvel at the tight smooth curving stairwell with its two tone organic walls, ornate wrought iron stairwells, large windows and stylish doors I completely forget that my feet aren’t too happy about this choice of route. I may not be in the best shape of my life but experiencing all these genius elements is definitely worth it.
Six flights later and I’m in the the attic. No image you’ve ever seen of this space can prepare you for what you see when you walk in. It blows my mind that this was meant to the laundry area. Just picture every laundry area you’ve ever seen, even in the grandest buildings, aren’t they all bland? Who would blame the architect really, it is after all THE LAUNDRY AREA!
But this is Gaudi after all, even a minuscule space as the laundry area evidently received as much effort as the rest of the building.
At first sight the large space that pans across both buildings has the unconventional shape of hills and valleys due to its exposed brick catenary-arch formation, made up of 270 catenary arches of various heights that support the Roof-Terrace. As I am walk around viewing the Espai Gaudí exhibition that introduces the visitor to the life and work of Gaudí through scale models and plans, objects and designs, photographs and videos, I feel like I’m Jonah in the belly of the fish because the arches resemble the ribs of a huge animal. Take a look at what I mean:
Of all the sections of the exhibition the two that have stood out the most to me is the demonstration of his design process of hanging models with weights and strings and the furniture he designed for Casa Batllo, obviously. Yes you read that right, he created models of his work by hanging weights from strings. So here I am walking around admiring the arches of the loft and I see from a far what I think is an interesting chandelier. Boy was a wrong!
You can see why I mistook it for some form of hanging light seeing that it isn’t your everyday architectural model. What it actually is, is the hanging-chain funicular model that Gaudi developed for the planning of his catenary arch designs. The image on the left shows the weights hanging from the various strings with a mirror below it whereas the right shows the model inverted to reveal the design of the building, in this case La La Sagrada Família. Genius, right?
In regards to his furniture, you wouldn’t expect anything less than brilliance from Gaudi, now would you? The wooden furniture lined up on a podium are angels with harps short of a heavenly moment.
They are all replicas of the varnished solid oak furniture that Gaudi had designed for the Casa Batllo residence. True to Gaudi the pieces have fluid shapes without even one sharp corner present. They are also quite ergonomic being curved and contoured wherever necessary to unsure maximum comfort. I felt like a kid in a candy shop and it took everything in me not to sit on one of the, to try it out, so I guess I have to add one more item to my bucket list and luckily I found out about THE GAUDI BARCELONA SHOP
that sells replicas of his pieces. So come hell or high waters I shall not only try one but will 100% own one, one of these fine days.
Okay enough about my dreams and let me get back to reality and head on over to my next stop, the roof terrace.
You see that scene from Alice in wonderland when Alice falls into the rabbit hole and ends up in a whole other world thats quirky and out of the box. Well you don’t have to be a fictional character to understand how that feels because all you have to do is get to La Pedrera’s roof terrace to get that “out of this world” feeling.
This world of shapes and textures composed of chimneys, ventilation towers, and stairwells that create intriguing anthropomorphic shapes. Again it isn’t all about aesthetics for our master architect who didn’t just place these structures for the sake of it. They are actually 6 skylights/staircase exits which also house water tanks, 28 chimneys in several groupings (referred to as “the garden of warriors” by the poet Pere Gimferrer because the chimneys appear to be protecting the skylights) 2 1/2 hidden vents whose function is to renew the air in the building, and 4 domes that discharged to the facade.
As Im walking around in my Alice and wonderland state admiring their marble and Valencia tile finish the voice on the audio tape brings me back to reality,
“Look around you at the roof tops of the other buildings and you’ll see that they all have vents and chimneys popping out of them. Gaudi didn’t find them inspiring at all and not one to ignore any part of his designs he designing these surreal functional structures.”
Again the lesson I keep learning from Gaudi is the balance between function and form. As is the case of the terrace it’s important for my fellow designers and I to remember that we are also artists and that a functional item, even as bland as a chimney or a door handle, can and should be a work of art. Yes, form does indeed follows function, but that doesn’t mean that form should be a masterpiece.
Okay enough with the design lecture (for now) as I move to the next part of the tour, the fourth floor apartment. So off I go down the stairwell past the attic and into the hallway that leads me into the apartment which occupies two dwellings. The first is a dark area with an audiovisual presentation of the key period in the history of Barcelona (1909-1929). Seeing that it’s pretty crowded and I’ve found it half way I think it’s best I head on over to the second dwelling which is a recreation of how a bourgeois family would have lived in the first third of the twentieth century. As I walk down its hallway peaking into each room I feel like I have been transported back into time due to the original fittings (door handles, doorknobs, mouldings, doors and tiling), the period furniture, works of art, ornaments, fabrics and household accessories that place the apartment in the context of its time and show how it was lived.
I wouldn’t like to leave this masterpiece but seeing that the constant throbbing of my feet is a clear reminder that I’ve been on them for four hours, it’s time to head out to lunch before my next destination. After a brief shopping spree in the gift shop I walk out to the main street, Passeig de Gràcia, that has a full view of La Pedrera’s facade I cant help but stand there for a while taking it all in.
As I do so I cant stop thinking about two things: that seem to boggle my mind completely:
1) How La Pedrera’s organic design is still as modern and breathtaking today as it was a century ago.
2) How true Gaudi was to his one true inspiration, nature, not only through the organic shapes and the illusion of snowy mountains by the clever use of materials (the facade is built of limestone, apart from the upper level, which is covered in white tiles, which evokes this look) but also by the fact that the construction is similar to that of an animal in a shell. As its facade is actually freestanding and is supported by its own structure which is independent of the rest of the building, which consists of two houses connected only by the facade, the ground floor and the roof. How mind blowing is that, ladies and gentlemen?
Now my heart and brain may be distracted by the beauty that is La Pedrera but unfortunately my stomach and feet are not so I need to find myself a restaurant so can spare both of them their anguish before I head on over to the next of Gaudi’s masterpiece thats just down this road, Casa Battlo.
Catch my next post MY ANTONI GAUDI EXPERIENCE (PART 2) to find out how that goes. Be sure to subscribe below so that you don’t miss out on it.
Till then don’t forget to Be inspired….Be you!
The Interior Decorator
Jordan Awori – The Interior Decorator
Jordan Awori The Interior Decorator