Barcelona is a beautiful microcosm of Spanish civic culture on the larger scale. Spain is a nation that has seen aggressive modernization in certain aspects of its metropolitan orientation, which are deeply accommodating to the influx of international businesses, the array of luxury living demands and the heavy flow of tourism that reaches many of its more popular destinations. As just such a destination, Barcelona is effectively illustrative of the type of growth that marks parts of Spain with massive high-rise buildings and state of the are technological provisions.
Simultaneously though, Barcelona is a window into Europe’s remarkable and artful history, with castle walls, sprawling plazas and roughshod cobblestone offering a clear view of the city’s medieval grounding. The seamless integration of the preserved and the modern is a characteristic which identifies the city and its most celebrated architect, the mercurial and ambitious Antoni Gaudi.
His works appealed to the grand and gothic ambitions of those architectural value systems which preceded him, but his vision also held fast to a dedicated experimentalism which ornamented his designs elaborate, complex and often shockingly liberal uses of image and color. This is an appearance which today can be seen virtually everywhere in the city of Barcelona, and most notably, in the wondrous and markedly incomplete masterpiece that is Sagrada Familia. A Roman Catholic Church of the most dramatically unique vision, the building which was begun in 1882 under Gaudi’s direct supervision is still under construction even today.
Remarkably, a building that has been in a state of continuing development from its conception to present day, obstructed in the intervening years by the long bloody civil war which gripped Spain from the second World War through to the end of the Cold War, is one of the most magnetic tourist attractions in Spain. This is because there are few structures in the world which are as ambitions in their simultaneous detail and enormity. Sagrada Familia is essentially the ongoing manifestation of an architectural vision so complex and precise as to warrant a process of realization which far outlives its originator.
Indeed, when Gaudi passed away in 1926, with the building understandably still quite far from finished, Domenech Suganyes would take over the post. (Wikipedia, 1) To date, Sagrada Familia has been the obsession of no less than six head architects. (Burry, 1) A view of the structure explains rather quickly why this is so. A piece which incorporates some aspects of baroque architectural intent, particularly in the heavy focus on religious symbolism through catholic eyes, the cathedral must be seen as something of a post-modern work.
Its uniquely elaborate use of color and its bold towers are unlike anything in the Catholic tradition prior, seeming not just to indulge in the type of gilded excess seen in the Vatican of the preceding centuries, but also to aggressively pursue counter-traditional and disarming appearance and effect. The primary argument for this observation may be in the technology which helped to steer Gaudi. When commission for the cathedral, “he was aware that the works were complex and difficult and tried to take advantage of all the modern techniques available.
And so, among other resources, he had railway tracks laid with small wagons to transport the materials, brought in cranes to lift the weights and had the workshops located on the site to make the work easier. ” (Sagrada Familia, 1) This is the precedent, in fact, for the raging controversy presently engaged between a city which intends to run an underground metro route beneath the invaluable structure and a slew of neighbors, architects and historians who fear the impact of such as decision.
In a manner, Sagrada Familia does look and feel precarious, and not because of its continuing construction but because of that which has already been accomplished. Namely, the dozen towers of varying heights which have already been completed taper sharply as they reach the heights of the city. Their collective facade is laden with precise sculptures depicting all manner of Catholic ephemera. According to our research, Gaudi originally used live models to capture the detailed visages, divinities and animals represented in dense array on the outside of the building.
Perhaps most famously, “the northeast, or Nativity Facade, is the Sagrade Familia’s artisitic pinnacle, and was mostly done under Guadi’s personal supervision. You can climb high up inside some of the four towers by a combination of lifts and narrow spiral staircases—a vertiginous experience. ” (Simonis, 294) This draws tourists from all over the world, with the photographed image of the coil shooting down the center of each tower a common vantage in travel guides on the country. Though construction crews, machinery and scaffolding are constant, the front portal of the building is an incredible sight to be hold.
By day, the 20 foot entranceway, gauzed by Gaudi’s odd, spiderwebbing incongruity, gives view to a brilliantly colored stained glasss. By night, the building is lit from tower to foundation, giving off a stunning golden display. A single tower reaches up the center of the structure, providing it with its height. Flanked symmetrically by the other towers, it is said to symbolize Jesus, the evangelicals and the apostles. (Robinson, 24) Any speculation to the contrary might quickly be answered by the incredible variety of ways in which the architecture depicts the Christ, through birth, life, death and rebirth.
Indeed, the story of Catholicism may well be told thoroughly by the collection of images literally blanketing the whole structure. We can see that ultimately, the design has emphasized detail. The structure’s hugeness and ambitiousness not to be dismissed, the longevity of the project is more directly related to the incredible, almost insane attention to detail which distinguishes the structure. To understand the extent to which Sagrada Familia defies the likelihood of classical or modern architecture in its ornately unfinished state, one must see it.
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