God’s Architect and the Sagrada Família

On June 7, 1926 a shabby looking, bearded old man walking down a street in Barcelona, Spain was hit and critically injured by a tram.  Many thought he was a derelict, so it was a while before anyone bothered to take him to a hospital.  The next day he was finally identified as Antoni Gaudí, one of the world’s most original architects.  By then it was too late to save his life.  He died on June 10, 1926 at the age of 73 with his greatest project far, far from completion.  In fact, that project the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família – usually called the Sagrada Família is still incomplete.

Gaudí (pronounced “gow DEE”) was born in or near Reus a town in the region of Spain called Catalonia.   He loved architecture and received a degree in it, but the director of the Barcelona School of Architecture issued this warning at his graduation, “We have given this academic title either to a fool or a genius. Time will show.”  Indeed, time has shown that he was a genius.  No one could ever consider him a fool, but when you look at his creations, you might wonder if he was sane.  They are as bizarre in their originality as the weirdest dreams you have ever had.  Look, for instance, at the photograph below of Casa Batlló which Gaudí created from a very plain building designed by one of his teachers.  Look at the balconies in particular.  Do they remind you of masks?

Photos of Casa Batllo, Barcelona
This photo of Casa Batllo is courtesy of TripAdvisor

You can see many of his works in the long Wikipedia article about his life and works, and you will find that his most ambitious project by far was the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (The Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family) usually called the Sagrada Família.  Gaudí, a very religious man, became involved in the project in 1883, a year after construction of the church began.  When he took over as architect, he changed the design radically into the Gothic church that now exists – at least part of it exists.  The church has now been under construction for 130 years and is scheduled for completion in 2026 the centenary of Gaudí’s death.  When questioned about the amount of time it was taking to build it, Gaudi, known as “God’s Architect,” replied, “My client is not in a hurry.”

I could tell you more about Gaudí and the Sagrada Familia, but the best way to learn about both is through an excellent 60 Minutes report.

I was stunned when I saw the 60 Minutes report because when my wife and I visited Barcelona, about 10 years ago, none of the interior was completed.  The interior still looked like a construction site.

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The book by Gijs van Hensbergen that is mentioned in the report is entitled Gaudí: A Biography.

There are a number of books that illustrate the genius of Gaudí’s design.  One of them is Gaudí: The Complete Buildings by Rainer Zerbst.

If you go to Barcelona, set aside a few days to see Gaudí’s works.  They will be the highlight of your visit.  And be aware that the native language of Barcelona is not Spanish, but Catalan which is, I think, part Spanish, part French, and part Italian.  Catalonia is proudly a semi-autonomous region of Spain, and that autonomy can be heard in its language and seen in its architecture and artworks including those of another famous Catalonian, Salvador Dalí.

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