The Catalan architect and designer Antoni Gaudíi Cornet (1852-1926) merged Neo-Gothic and Moorish revival styles with the Art Nouveau style to form the most consistently original body of work by any architect of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Born on June 25, 1852, in the Catalan town of Reus near Barcelona, Antoni Gaudí studied at the School of Architecture in Barcelona (1874-1878) and also profited from reading the works of the French Neo-Gothic rationalist Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc. Gaudí's first important commission was a house for Manuel Vicens in Barcelona (1878-1880; remodeled under Gaudí's direction, 1925-1926). Here, as in El Capricho, a summer house at Comillas near Santander (1883-1885), he drew upon Moorish sources in the polychromatic use of stone, brick, tiles, and wrought iron.
In 1884 Gaudí succeeded Francesco Villar as the architect of the Church of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Begun in 1875 and given a modest Neo-Gothic form by Villar in 1882, the church occupied Gaudí for the rest of his life. Built by private contribution rather than diocesan funds, it is still under construction from the architect's designs.
A small fragment of the huge project, the Transept of the Nativity with its four carrot-shaped stone towers capped by fantastic free-form terminals of glazed tile, is the most prominent feature of the unfinished church, as it is indeed of the Barcelona skyline. In the Sagrada Familia, Gaudí joined the Neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau styles to produce one of the most dramatic architectural compositions of the 19th century.
In 1885 Gaudí also began a series of works for Eusebio Güell, a textile manufacturer. These include the Güell Palace in Barcelona (1885-1889); a chapel for the Güell Colony, or settlement of textile workers, at Santa Coloma de Cervelló just west of Barcelona (1898-1915; left unfinished); and an unsuccessful housing development in the city, now known as the Park Güell (1900-1914).
The Güell Palace, with basement stables of vaulted masonry, a multistory hall covered by a pierced, conical vault, exquisite ironwork, and brightly colored tile chimney pots, combines Moorish and Art Nouveau designs and is one of Gaudí's most impressive achievements. The inclined piers of the chapel for the Güell Colony, of which only the crypt was built, were based upon Gaudí's studies of structural forces by means of leaded models hung from his studio ceiling. These piers, like those in the large model of the Sagrada Familia that Gaudí built to show the completed church, assume the lines of inverted catenary curves and thus eliminate the need for buttressing. In the Güell chapel, as in the finished portions of the Park Güell, Gaudí's mastery of materials, textures, and colors is fully demonstrated. On the benches of the square in the Park Güell, for example, he used ceramic fragments to create abstract compositions of dynamic shapes and colors.
Battló and Milá Houses
Two residential projects in Barcelona are among Gaudí's major works. He remodeled a building as a home for the Battló family (1905-1907). The Battló House is locally known as the "house of bones" because the balconies of its front facade resemble bones and skulls. The facade is covered with iridescent tiles, and the roof is wavelike in form. The Milá House (1905-1910) with its undulating facades and wrought-iron balconies in the form of sea weed suggests the Mediterranean that washes the shores of Catalonia.
For the Battló House, as for the earlier Güell Palace, Gaudí designed furniture in the curvilinear patterns of Art Nouveau, but the parabolic arches in the attic of the Milá House, as well as the undulating walls and roof of the school building on the grounds of the Sagrada Familia (1909), are more than merely formal effects. Here Gaudí relied upon traditional Catalan vaulting techniques to create maximum stability through the use of warped-plane, tile-masonry construction.
Gaudí was a lifelong bachelor, a religious zealot, a Catalan nationalist, and, to some, an uncanonized saint. After 1914 he refused all commissions, to devote himself full time to the Sagrada Familia, even living in his basement workshop there. He was struck down by a streetcar while on his way to church one evening. Dressed in old clothes and unrecognized, he was taken to a charity ward. By the time he was identified it was too late. He died on June 10, 1926, and was buried in the crypt of his beloved Sagrada Familia.
Further Reading on Antoni Gaudí i Cornet
George R. Collins's scholarly Antonio Gaudí (1960) has a brief but excellent text, a chronology, a bibliography, and many illustrations. There are several other appreciative interpretations of Gaudí's work, the best of which are James Johnson Sweeney and Josep Lluis Sert, Antoni Gaudí (1961; rev. ed. 1970), and E. Casanelles, Antonio Gaudí A Reappraisal (1965; trans. 1968), both well illustrated. Juan Eduardo Cirlot, The Genesis of Gaudian Architecture (1966; trans. 1967), has a brief general text and many photographs.
Additional Biography Sources
Descharnes, Robert, Gaudí, the visionary, New York: Viking Press, 1982.
Martinell, Caesar, Gaudí: his life, his theories, his work, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1975.
Sterner, Gabriele, Antoni Gaudí—architecture in Barcelona, Woodbury, N.Y.: Barron's, 1985.