Casa Mila apartment, in the Eixample district
Barcelona is perhaps best-known for the architecture of Antoni Gaudí. Our first view of Gaudi’s work was the Casa Mila apartment, also known as La Pedrera, a few blocks from our hotel in the Eixample district.
People live there, but the roof-top terrace, full of wacky ceramic forms, the attic with its fantastic brick arches and interesting introduction to the architecture of Gaudi, and an early-20th century apartment, are all open to tourists.
And the roof-top offers great views of the surrounding Eixample district, dense with apartments and full of life.
It had been raining in Barcelona for many days now, and finally the sky cleared: a fine time to hit one of the major outdoor attractions, Parc Guell, built on a hill on the northern edge of the core of the city, in the Gràcia district. Hundreds of other tourists apparently felt the same way, as the place was very busy, but big enough to absorb them nicely. The history of the park is interesting – a failed luxury housing development that was turned into a park. There are two large fancy homes in the park, and a road built out from the hill on stone bridges. The very rough stonework in the park was for me the most interesting part, as well as the great views of the city to the south, towards the sea. A beautiful and relaxing day in the sun!
Bascílica de la Sagrada Família
Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece, still under construction after 130 years, is of course the Bascílica de la Sagrada Família, one of the most famous buildings in the world. No matter what you may have seen or read about it, seeing the building in person is astonishing. It’s difficult to take unique pictures of a place as famous as this one, but I had to give it a shot…
We first saw it in evening, just by walking there on our way back from Parc Guell. Our hotel was only a few blocks to the west – everything is so close and convient in this city! Closed to tours in the evening, it was spectacularly lit up by floodlights, giving it an even more other-worldly look.
Because of the height of the cathedral and the density of the city surrounding it, it is difficult to get
a good view of the exterior, other than being immediately below it on the street. I wanted a reasonably far-away viewpoint that would give a better perspective. There are two parks, to the east and west, that provide occasional clear glimpses in between the trees. Given Gaudi’s drawing of design inspiration from nature, I wonder if this was deliberate on the part of the design, to make it difficult to see clearly, like many grand things in nature?
On the west side is the Nativity Facade, which I found almost bizarre. Well, actually truly bizarre! Incredibly complex stone sculptures that are almost dripping off the building, and then spires topped by… grapes and other fruits… and a giant Christmas tree in the middle of it. Beautiful, and magnificent in its complexity, one could study it for ages and still discover new features.
Next day we returned for the interior tour. Even through the swarms of tourists at the entrance, all waving their cell phones in the air taking pictures, I actually gasped as I walked in and was hit by the overwhelming beauty and scale of the interior. The massive columns, the huge vault of the ceiling, and the incredible light streaming in through the stained glass windows literally took my breath away.
The late afternoon light was especially rich. I knew that this “magic light” would not last long and snapped out of the dropped-jaw, stunned state that I was in to walk quickly around and find the best locations to capture this incredible light show before it faded. And then, as the sun moved around and down and the explosion of color that it was causing quieted to a mere beautiful glow, other windows of the church were hit by light and the show moved around, constantly changing.
In the basement of the church is the workshop and museum. The church is scheduled to be completed by roughly 2030, and the so the workshop is still working, with scale plaster models of various parts and details being built.
The inverted arch design model, shown at right, is an absolutely brilliant insight into physics that dates back at least to the 17th century. The shape formed by a hanging cord (or chain), known as a catenary arch, results in pure tensile stresses (because you can’t push on a rope!) so when that shape is inverted, the resulting building has pure compression stresses on the columns, which is what stone is best at withstanding. The additional weights simulate additional loads on the arches.
My brother Kevin and I ponder what can make people work on a project for 150 years. Other than religion, what can unite and motivate people so profoundly to work on a project like this? The Apollo mission was a vast and hugely popular endeavor but it lasted about 15 years. The pyramids of Egypt were built by slaves to satisfy the other-worldly desires of ego-maniacal leaders. Wars and the dream of building empires can certainly motivate people en-masse, but usually not in a good way! This building is certainly incredible and unique in the world.
The official website of Sagrada Família is an excellent, and includes a lot of the history plus stunning 360 panoramas that give you an excellent sense of being there.
Darren Foltinek, 2011