Architect Spotlight: Antoni Gaudí

Antoni Gaudí is one of Spain’s most famous figures. An architect and a visionary, his designs transformed Barcelona.

Article By: Francesca Burke
Last Update: September 2019

Life & Work

Born in Catalonia, Spain, in 1852, Antoni Gaudí is one of the world’s most unusual architects. Gaudí was something of an eccentric, heavily inspired by architecture, nature and especially religion – he was a devout Catholic. Although Gaudí’s work was not always appreciated during his lifetime, he is now celebrated as a key member of the Catalan Modernisme movement. Most of Gaudi’s work is in Barcelona, where visitors can stroll past his unique buildings, many of which are still in use as shops or apartments.

Gaudí’s work is instantly recognisable and hasn’t really been copied by other architects. He was interested in the science of geometry and engineering but also drew inspiration from the natural world and what he saw as God’s creations. Interestingly, instead of drawing flat architectural designs, Gaudí created adaptable casts and scale models – it was quite rare for him to sketch a design!

Salamander at Park Guell, Barcelona, designed by Antoni Gaudí

Park Güell

Gaudí collaborated with entrepreneur Eusebi Güell to build an estate on Carmel Hill, overlooking Barcelona, in 1900. The project was originally intended as a spacious, exclusive housing complex. Construction was complicated and expensive, however, so work was halted in 1914. Upon Güell’s death, his family offered the estate to Barcelona City Council, which ultimately opened Park Güell as an actual public park.

Park Güell is colourful and spectacular, with ceremonial staircases, enormous gates and gatehouses. The parapet above the Sala Hipóstila (intended to be a marketplace) is edged by wavy benches, shaped like round theatre boxes – perfect for taking in the view below! Like many of Gaudí’s designs, Park Güell is decorated with mosaics, formed by repurposed tiles.

La Sagrada Familia

Gaudí’s most famous work is La Sagrada Familia (Temple of the Holy Family), a magnificent church in Barcelona. Gaudí took over from the original architect, who planned a standard neo-Gothic cathedral, in 1883 and devoted his life to working on the church.

La Sagrada Familia is such a huge project that work has gone on for over 100 years – it will not be finished until 2026. Interestingly, an official building permit for La Sagrada Familia was only granted in 2019; the 137-year oversight cost the church’s foundation £32 million in penalty fees.

Architecture of La Sagrada Familia

There are nods to nature throughout the church’s design, including plants and birds on façades, chameleons carved into stonework and a turtle and tortoise bearing pillars – all showing Gaudí’s eye for detail.

When completed, La Sagrada Familia will be the world’s tallest church at 170m in height, and will boast 3 grand façades and 18 spires (12 representing Jesus’s apostles, four representing the evangelists, one for the Virgin Mary and the final representing Jesus himself). 

The church’s architectural style has been likened to Art Nouveau, Catalan Modernism and Late Spanish Gothic; in reality there are too many styles across the interior and exterior of La Sagrada Familia to really limit the church to one style!

The central spire, dedicated to Jesus, will be topped with a giant cross and at its total height will measure 170m – tall enough to gain the title of world’s tallest church, but one metre shorter than Montjuïc, Barcelona’s main hill. This is because Gaudí believed his work should not surpass God’s natural creations. The interior pillars and ceiling were inspired by the trees of a forest, while each façade is dedicated to a different aspect of Christ: the Nativity, the Passion and the Glory.

It’s hard to get one picture of La Sagrada Familia – partly because it’s so big, but partly because pictures taken at different times show the church in different stages of development!

Gaudí’s Legacy

Gaudí moved into La Sagrada Familia in the final years of his life in order to work on the church, becoming quite reclusive. He died in 1926 following a tram accident and in the years since has become a source of fascination for fans of design and architecture. Gaudí’s intense faith and and use of religious imagery has earned him the nickname ‘God’s architect’.  Want to learn more about Gaudí and his work? Why not visit Barcelona to see it for yourself?

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We hope you enjoyed reading about Gaudí and his work. Please leave a comment if you have any questions!

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