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In order to appreciate Antoni Gaudi’s creative vision we must look at the context in which he worked. It seems that previous studies of Gaudi have not researched extensively into placing him within this cultural context; and have rather preferred to outline him as a lonely reclusive figure or concentrated on his elaborate architectural forms. This dissertation will explore whether political, social and economic developments in the late 19th and 20th Centuries in Catalonia and Spain proved touchstones for the architect, his work and his immediate circle; and whether these factors influenced his creative decisions and have been overlooked throughout his life.
The work is composed of three inter-related sections. The first section will discuss Gaudi’s Catalan roots, and early social influences. Park G?ell will be used to illustrate this. The second section explores Catalan nationalism, social classes and the rise of Catalan industrial capitalism. It will also examine the political conflict and tensions between Castile and Catalonia, including the three Carlist wars, which were fought out on Catalan territory, the disastrous effects after Spain’s loss of her empire in 1898, and the impact of Tragic Week in 1909. It will consider how these may have affected Gaudi and his working rationale. This section will be analysed through the example of the Casa Mila. The third section will examine Gaudi’s shift in faith and the impact that this had on his architecture. This will be shown through the example of the Sagrada Familia (Holy family) Cathedral.
This discussion starts by considering the view expressed by Clara Gari of the Catalan architect’s approach:
Perhaps what makes a quick understanding difficult in Gaudi’s work is its daring and fascinating uncertainty, that range which slips between architectural ‘code’ and ‘structure’. Such ambiguity is accentuated much more when the matrixes from which Gaudi extracts a determined stylistic ‘code’ are not always clearly evidenced. But rather they appear, as often happens, ambiguously confused as a consequence of a sort of intervention, prior to the adoption of the chosen ‘code’, which by way of a distorted lens, varies the facets and the colour in it, tricking us with a free all embracing conduct, and with an underlying energy directly emanated from the ethnic heritage which is difficult to simplify’
Gari seems to be commenting that, despite Gaudi’s classical education and training as an architect, he could risk being very radical in his use of the accepted architectural codes and structures of his time. In Gaudi’s work, codes and structures seem to be passed through the filter of his imagination and his Catalan identity, and are transformed into something which may appear distorted but can have a powerful effect upon us as observers.
Gaudi’s Catalan roots and early social influences
Antoni Placid Guillem Gaudi I Cornet was born in Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain on June 25, 1852, into a family which had come from a long line of Catalan merchants, miners, farmers, weavers, boilermakers and coppersmiths. Gaudi was introduced to the family craft tradition at an early age when watching his father in his workshop. He was proud of this heritage and once said: ‘I have the quality of spatial apprehension because I am the son, grandson, and the great grandson of coppersmiths… All these generations of people gave me preparation.’ Gaudi’s predecessors came from a cross-Pyrenean culture that bordered the Mediterranean Sea and were accustomed to absorbing influences from different cultures, while somehow retaining their own Catalan identity. The Catalan language, for example, is closer to the tongue of Languedoc in France than it is to Castilian which is spoken in most of Spain. Joan Bergos explains in his book, Gaudi the man and his works, that: ‘Gaudi’s lineage therefore has deep, if distant roots in central Europe, mixed with the virtues traditionally found among the people of Tarragona, a typically Mediterranean people, passionate, industrious, courageous in the face of adversity and somewhat inclined to irony.’ The Mediterranean region of Tarragona, with its natural surroundings and quality of light, are elements of the rural world that Gaudi seems to provide as references to his architectural forms. His love of nature began as a small child, when rheumatoid arthritis, made physical exploration and play painful and difficult and he was restricted to riding around on the back of a donkey, according to family stories, he was able to study his natural surroundings and to create his own imaginary world. Perhaps because of his difficult start in life Gaudi may have developed an inner world of fantasy, shape, structure and colour, produced by his knowledge of the artisan’s craft and the natural forms found in his environment.
Gaudi came from a deeply religious family and received a thorough Catholic religious education generated from the continuation of medieval Guilds. This would have included obligatory prayer to the Virgin, Christian doctrine, religious morals and religious history. By 1874, at the age of 22, Gaudi had moved to Barcelona with his brother Francesc; and here he began his preparation to train as an architect at the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura (Upper Technical School of Architecture). Here he studied Spanish architecture which would have focused upon its many cultural traditions, including: Phoenician, Roman, Greek, Visigothic, Celtic, Arab, Berber and Jewish. These would have been completely absorbed into the thinking of contemporary design so that there was no prejudice against the adoption of Islamic motifs and symbols. One could imagine how important this multi-faceted cultural heritage of Spain would have been for the development of Gaudi’s own approach to architecture. Gaudi also seemed to share the concerns and ideals that surrounded the dynamic and intellectual atmosphere during his youth, and would have been influenced by the famous intellectuals of the time: Pugin, Ruskin and Viollet-le-Duc. The latter was responsible for the Gothic revival in France and as a pupil of Le Grand Durand he had influenced France’s adoption of Renaissance models and ‘rationalist’ approach to city planning, which had put the country at the forefront of European artistic and architectural debate. One could also presume that Gaudi had read the work of the English writer Ruskin, in which he states, in his book: The seven lamps of Architecture:
‘ I say that if men really lived like men, their houses would be like temples which we would not dare to violate so easily and in which it would be a privilege to live. There must be some strange dissolution of family affection, a strange ingratitude towards everything that our houses have given us and that our parents have taught us, a strange awareness of our infidelity with respect and love for our father, or perhaps an awareness that our life is not for making our house sacred in the eyes of our children, which induces each one of us to want to build for ourselves, and to build only for the little revolution of our personal life. I see these miserable concretions of mud and limestone that shoot up like mushrooms in the boggy fields around our capital…I look at them not only with the repulsion of the offended view, not only with the pain that is caused by a disfigured landscape, not with the painful presentiment that the roots of our national grandeza must have infected with gangrene right down to their tips from the moment that they were planted in such an unstable manner in out native soil.’
It seems that Ruskin’s moral and aesthetic dilemma was one that Gaudi would also experience as a young professional architect, and he would move between his support of socialist ideals and various privileged connections with the aristocracy and upper middle classes (his possible clients) throughout his life. Gaudi was discovered by the bourgeoisie without whom his architecture would not stand today. However it seems he was not indifferent to the social life of his age and its contradictions. Other contemporaries working towards these ideals, were: Elies Rogent (1821-1897), whose design of Barcelona’s University building was influenced by the German Rundbogenstil, which was a Neo-classical rounded arch; Joan Martorell (1833-1906) who designed the Neo-gothic brick and glazed-tiled church of Saint Francesc de Sales (1885); Josep Vilaseca who collaborated with Lluis Domènech i Montaner (1850-1923) on the Batlo tomb (1885). As his former professor at the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura, Lluis Domènech i Montaner was at the forefront of the Catalan Modernist movement, also known as the ‘Renaixenca’ (or Rebirth), which encouraged art, theatre and literature in the Catalan language. He was also responsible for designing the Palau de la Musica Catalana which symbolises the coming together of the Catalan nationalist sentiment and international culture. It also shows a particular connection to Gaudi’s Colonia Guell, Casa Vicens and Park Guell, though its elaborate ornamentation, sculptures and colourful ceramic mosaics, all of which seem to refer to a deep connection with Catalan nature and nationalism that were apparent at the time. This connection can be seen in the leaf and flower patterns on the facade of the Palau de la Musica Catalana which are inspired by Moorish architecture and followed the curvilinear design seen in Art Nouveau.
At the same time, the civil engineer Ildefons Cerda (1815-1876) had been given the commission to expand Barcelona’s boundaries by demolishing its walls and providing land for new residential areas. It seems that his plans were influenced by Haussmann’s redesign of Paris, and were based on a similar grid system. Cerda was shocked that the working classes were paying proportionately more in rent for their confined living accommodation than the wealthy paid for their luxurious housing. The design for city, although Neo-classical, was also considered ‘realist’ because of Cerda’s understanding of modern urban sociology and living conditions. It seems that this expansion signalled to other architects that it was acceptable to explore new ways of designing public and private spaces. This new sociological attitude towards urban spaces can be seen as the catalyst for the creation of the idea of the Garden City. The concept of setting up communities outside cities was started by enlightened industrial philanthropists such as Robert Owen, Titus Salt and George Cadbury, creating small housing projects for their workers in England as far back as 1800. However, the most important of the Garden City movement was Ebenezer Howard whose book ‘Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform’, published in 1898, was to become highly influential in town planning throughout the 20th century. The Garden City movement is a good example of the changing social attitude towards the built environment and can be seen in the later planning texts of Tony Garnier and of Le Corbusier’s ASCORAL, first published as ‘Les Trois Establissements Humains’ in 1945. In a short text called Notes on the family house (Casa Pairal) written by Gaudi between 1878 and 1881, he reflects on the relationship between house and family:
The house is a small nation of the family…The privately owned house has been given the name of Casa Parial (family home) who among us does not recall, on hearing this expression, some beautiful example in the countryside or in the city? The pursuit of lucre and changes in customs have caused most of these family homes to disappear from the city, and those that remain are in such a terrible state that they cannot last long. The need for a family house is not only limited to one age and one family in particular but is an enduring need for all families.
The text seems to be referring to the unity of a nation and of its people, it reflects the understanding of an architect who strives for sanitation and well being, as well as the anti-urban feeling which had arisen in England and spread throughout Europe. One could presume that it also reflects Gaudi’s deep-rooted connection with the rural world, that of peasant and craftsman, a world from which he had come. Maria Antonietta Crippa explains in her book, Living Gaudi that:
Gaudi’s attention was not directed immediately to the bourgeois house, but to the “needs of everyone”. She goes on to say that ‘He does not hide his unease at the excessive, over accelerated growth of cities, which uproot many people from the land of their birth and force them to live in rented houses in the “land of emigration.” And he applauds the decision to abandon congested city centers for the spacious, light-filled, leafy suburbs.
Perhaps this sociological approach is what allowed Gaudi to think up the imaginative design that he created for Park G?ell in 1900. This was a garden city which captured the spirit of the 20th century and followed the fashionable trend in Europe for creating large ornamental spaces. It was a public space which would create a haven away from industrialisation, where the common man, both wealthy and poor, could exercise and see public events during their new-found leisure hours. It was also designed as a space where nouveau-riche families could live comfortably away from the crowded city centre. The park seems to reveal Gaudi’s extraordinary imagination in what could be seen as an optimistic phase of his life. Maria Antoietta Crippa explains that: ‘Gaudi’s gardens are reminiscent of “The Rose Garden,” evoked in the first of T.S Eliot’s Four Quartets: a place that arouses memories of childhood, but which is also a symbol of a past and a future that are alive in our present: “Humankind cannot bear too much reality. / Time past and time future / what might have been and what has been / point to one end, which is always present.’ She goes on to explain that the garden is a metaphor not just for an earthly paradise, but also of the power of human memory, another expansion of Gaudi’s inner world. The park draws together urban sociology, his early childhood interest in nature and his strong sense of Mediterranean Catalan nationalism and symbolism. Gaudi uses the Moorish art of ‘trencadis’, a method of deliberately breaking tiles and re-arranging them into intricate patterns. He uses this technique on the long serpentine bench-balustrade where broken ceramic pieces have been arranged into words and symbols with religious and Catalan nationalist connotations. Some historians have also suggested that the Doric columns which consist of fluted shafts made of rough stone, covered at the base with white ceramics, and joined to the ceiling by domes which are supported by gently curving beams, not only evoke the motion of Mediterranean waves but are also reminiscent of the Temple of Delphos and reflect the culture of Greece and the Mediterranean. They believed the structure of these columns existed as a tribute to Greece, which had won its independence from the Turkish Empire, drawing parallels with the political situation of Catalonia and the Catalans’ desire for independence.
Gaudi arrived in Barcelona at a time of important change in architectural thinking and it seems that he benefited from meeting and leading architects of his day, who were involved in the regeneration of Catalan culture, in which, the re-birth of the language had a vital contribution in Catalan’s rediscovering their heritage and their common identities. In the journal: Tongue tied: The role of linguistics in Basque and Catalan Nationalism, Ryan Barnes explains how important the rebirth of the Catalan language was:
Language has always been an essential element of nationalism, providing a distinctive feature and source of pride for a collective people. The ability to communicate with one another is essential to building bridges between strangers and forging the idea of a ‘nation’, which instils the idea of unity among a people that have never met… Moreover, communication brings knowledge with it. Language conveys the ideas of a people or nation through literacy works such as poems or novels, which nationalists can look back on with pride.
It seems that Catalan nationals were comparing themselves, not to the intellectuals in the Spanish capital, Madrid, but to artists and designers of other nations in Europe who were more technologically advanced, such as: England, France and Germany. The Catalan language had been suppressed for many years by Spain’s central government but now Catalans seemed to take pride in self-expression, while being aware of developments from the other side of the Pyrenees, including the redevelopment of Paris and the creation of the London squares with their ornamental gardens. They also seemed aware of the Neo-gothic architecture which was encouraged by intellectuals such as Pugin, the architect of the Houses of Parliament and John Ruskin’s ideas on workers’ education and benefits. It seems that Gaudi too was aware of these ideas, and although Catalonia was isolating itself from the decline of Spain, it was also keeping up with new and important influences from abroad. Catalonia was becoming a developed region within an undeveloped country.
The history of Catalan nationalism, social classes and the rise of Catalan industrial capitalism and political tensions in Catalonia and Spain.
Catalonia had become the industrial centre for the rest of Spain during the 19th century, a period when there was increasing unrest in the whole country. During the 18th century Catalonia had evolved from an economy based on goods for local consumption to an economy with wider commercial aspirations. This industrialisation took place in a country of untapped raw materials and very low purchasing power. Catalonia’s manufacturing expansion depended upon its source of energy generated from hydraulic turbines on its irregularly flowing rivers, but in the 20th century the hydroelectric potential of the Pyrenees was eventually secured for advancing industrial production. The class system of Catalan society was largely the result of three successive long waves of industrialisation and capital accumulation, with the attendant growth of new factory-linked centres, the massive importance of the workforce, the consolidation of a skilled working class and a large middle class, together with further advances in the direction of secularisation and urbanisation. These three long waves entailed the following developments: the growth of the bourgeois class, the rise of an industrial society based, at first, as in so many other places, on the textile industry, and the establishment of great family fortunes. Karl Marx was writing in Das Kapital at this period of time about the expansion of the bourgeoisie in Europe:
Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeoisie epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify… The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cites, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and thus rescued a considerable part of the population from rural idiocy.
In common with the bourgeoisie across Europe there was an increasing number of newly rich Catalan industrialists such as Eusebi G?ell and Pere Mila i Camps who were seeking the outward expression of their fortunate position in society. The city culture of Barcelona attracted them because it offered them a style of life that was equivalent to what they witnessed in other European industrialised societies. To express their power, and their love of the new, as Marx discusses, they needed modern fashionable architects who could take advantage of the trends in design that were current in those other countries.
Most of the architects at this time were drawn into the Capitalist desire to use space as a commodity that could be built on and sold. Gaudi, although willing to offer his considerable talent to industrialists who were acquiring land for building projects, eventually rejected this approach to architecture in favor of a return to the traditional architectural forms, such as church building, as a symbolic representation of Catalan nationhood. According to Maria Antonietta Crippa, Gaudi was already setting out on a different path in terms of the secularisation of modern architecture, as will be demonstrated in the example of the Casa Mila. In her book, Living Gaudi, The architect’s complete vision, she suggests that:
…(Gaudi’s) constructions were built at a time when a utopian, secularising trend was developing in the world of European architecture. This trend, which was radically different from the direction taken by the Catalan architect, proposed the creation of the new urban and residential spaces that would resolve the imbalances caused by the violent growth of cities and by the technological revolution that took place in the second half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth.
Despite the apparently luxurious life of Barcelona’s bourgeoisie, the political situation in the whole of Spain was increasingly unstable throughout the 19th century. Instead of developing a system of political parties Spain had been confronted by a series of military coups; and instead of political debate there were attempts to change the written constitution. Between 1822 and 1875, opposition to liberal capitalism led to five civil wars, which were fought out on Catalan territory. The last three were to be known as the Carlist wars, in which royalists and the military opposed the liberals and republicans, and this conflict continued into the 20th century with increasing brutality and bloodshed. The Third Carlist war ended in 1876 when Gaudi was 24. Gaudi believed that: ‘war, offering violence as a solution to any problem, is inevitably demoralising. The Crusades were a failure and many sensible Carlists abandoned that cause in the face of the behaviour of the Carlist forces.’ It seems that Gaudi was interested in public affairs and followed developments on the political scene. He once said:
I am very like my father. At one point, not long before he died, there had just been elections, and he still had enough enthusiasm for the subject to ask me to tell him which candidates had been elected’ He railed against separatism and he defended energetically the ideas of rationalism and a strong and united Spain. Gaudi was one of a large group of intellectuals known as the generation of ’98. In 1898 the political decline of Spain worsened when it entered a war with the USA, which it could not afford to fight. America supported the minority of planters in the colony of Cuba, who were making demands for emancipation from Spain. Following Spanish reprisals against these rebels, and supported by fictitious claims in the US press, America launched an attack on Spanish forces which caused enormous loss of life and led to Cuba being
‘liberated’ into an American sphere of influence. The shock of defeat in Spain was overwhelming, as Gabriel Tortella explains in The Development of Modern Spain, an Economic History of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries:
…the loss of markets for industry and agriculture, the loss of human life, of physical and military resources and income to the Treasury, the disappearance of various transportation and communication networks, and perhaps the most important, a widespread sense of revulsion and demoralization.
For Spanish rulers and people, it seems that such a national humiliation inflicted by a relatively young democratic state would mark their country out as deeply flawed and unstable in the modern age of the early 20th century, and would be linked to decline, political chaos and eventual brutal civil war in 1936-1939. A few years after this catastrophe, Gaudi began work on the Casa Mila, a building six stories high, with eight apartments on each floor grouped around two internal courtyards, one circular and the other oval. It is designed so that light floods in through the two inner courtyards which are open to the sky. Gaudi’s idea was that the building should be a pedestal for an enormous statue of the Virgin Mary accompanied by two angels, which he had hoped would stand 25m above the roof of the building and would have dominated the city. The building seems to reflect Gaudi’s revulsion at the anti-clerical violence in Spain and loss of spiritual meaning in modern day society. Perhaps he would have agreed with Kandinsky’s view that: the nightmare of materialism, which has turned the life of the universe into an evil, useless game, is not yet past: it holds the awakening soul still in its grip.
It seems that Mila I Camps was uneasy about the appearance of the proposed vast statue of the Madonna on the roof of his property, as according to art historian Robert Hughes: …given the turbulence of 1904 it would probably lead to the destruction of his building by infuriated anti-clerical mobs. It seemed that Gaudi was obliged to convey the importance and opulence of the life of this new entrepreneurial class, who: did not look to the past, but only desired one thing: to invent their own future. Instead of the statue of the Virgin Mary, Gaudi was compelled to replace it with ventilation towers, chimneys and sculptures. The stair units are topped with crosses with four equal arms and the chimneys are surmounted by small domes similar to warrior heads. According to Maria Antonietta Crippa the resulting sculptures on the roof: ‘(carry) a powerful emotive charge’. She goes on to say ‘ consider, for example, that way that he uses catenary structures and fluted surfaces, or the features that appear in his artificial landscapes and stone gardens; these elements all work to create a fantasy world, as in the case of the multitextured, undulating façade of Casa Batllo, or the mysterious ghost world of the roof terrace of Casa Mila.’ Could these anguished, twisted shapes express Gaudi’s inner fantasy world? Or indeed his mental state at the time? Could they possibly convey the violence of his times and his personal bereavements? It is reasonable to consider that the architect’s creative process is strongly influenced by his unconscious mind, as Karl Jung argues: Archetypes are numinous structural elements of the psyche which have a degree of autonomy and energy of their own, which allows them to attract whatever contents of the consciousness that suit them. These are not hereditary depictions, but rather certain innate predispositions to form parallel representations, which I called the collective unconscious. One could assume that these distorted forms were connected with his distress at the loss of his preferred sacred symbol, the Mother of Christ, but may also have held a more personal significance as a representation of his own mother, who had died 30 years previously along with his brother Francesc. The period following their deaths, in 1876, had caused an all ‘enveloping depression’ for Gaudi.
Reflecting on the Casa Mila it was probably a good idea that Gaudi had not used the building as a living shrine, as violent protests again erupted in the city, and saw the burning of 40 religious schools, convents and monasteries, and 12 Parish churches in 1909, the rioters considering the Church to form part of the corrupt bourgeois structure. The so-called Tragic Week seemed to affect Gaudi deeply; perhaps this is why everything he produced afterwards seemed to be built in the Catholic spirit of somehow making amends for the destruction. Could it be that he was carrying the burden of unconscious guilt for his own losses and for those that had devastated the Mother Church? At the same time as dealing with this spiritual crisis, it seems that he was coping with failing physical health. The death of Gaudi’s patron Don Eusebi G?ell in 1918 ground him to a complete halt, after which it is presumed that he had a psychological breakdown. During his last eight years of increasing isolation, perhaps he turned his back on the chaotic events in his country and withdrew into a life of abstinence and religiosity. Upon these painful tragic loses, after his father’s death and the death of his sister’s daughter Rosa, his sense of uncertainty about life and on suffering from bouts of Mediterranean fever. He began his descent into a strict life of religiosity. My closest friends are dead; I have no family, no clients, no fortune, nothing. Now I can dedicate myself wholly to my church. Gijs Van Hensbergen summarises the crisis for Gaudi’s generation when he explains in his book: Gaudi the Biography:
…Spain’s loss of her empire in 1898 and the Tragic Week of 1909 in which convents and churches were burnt down; both had strong effects on Gaudi, his friends, patrons and completely changed his working patterns. The political situation in Catalonia was a complex, potentially explosive one. Catalonia’s alliance with Spain (Castile) was one of immense tension…Before the civil war, some Spanish intellectuals and politicians recognised the dangers, but tragically they didn’t have the power to halt the momentum of the approaching crisis. Few generations have ever been so savagely self analytical as Gaudi’s. Few have put themselves through such painful discovery…These political and social tensions between reform and reaction provide the subtext and hidden structures of Gaudi’s work.
Shift in faith and its impact on Gaudi’s architecture
The wish to form something uniquely powerful and symbolic in a time of unpredictable political and social events may be at the heart of Gaudi’s most famous design, the cathedral. A personal account of Gaudi is given by one of his close friends Joan Bergos who remarked on the transformation in Gaudi during the latter years of his life, when he became completely consumed by his creative masterpiece. Bergos said: Faith changed the passionate, impetuous, irascible youth into a serene, balanced, exemplary man, who only on rare occasions gave vent to any temperamental outburst and who radiated such a beneficent aura that he sometimes inspired conversion and even heroic sacrifice in those lives he touched. Furthermore, Mark Burry suggests in his book Expiatory Church of the Sagrada Familia: Architecture in detail: The Sagrada Familia is a biography of a singular architect’s coming to terms with his time, his personality and, eventually, his vulnerability.
Also one could also consider that Gaudi had been influenced by Viollet-le-Duc’s statement that: We must find creativity through an accurate knowledge of the works of our ancestors. Not that such knowledge must lead us to imitate them slavishly, but rather it will reveal and make available all the secret skills of our predecessors. Perhaps what was important for Gaudi was that a designer must take from the traditional what he has absorbed into his own knowledge and re-interpret and re-work it so that it can appear innovatory and familiar, as well as inspirational.
When Gaudi moved to Barcelona as a young man, it seems that he had been impressed with its wealth of historical architecture, which dated back to the Middle Ages. He had visited the Basilica Church of Santa Maria del Mar in the Ribera district which has three aisles forming a single space with no transepts and no architectural boundary between nave and presbytery. The simple ribbed vault is supported on slender octagonal columns, and daylight streams in through the tall clerestory windows. The foundation stone was laid by King Alfonso IV in 1329 and the whole building was carried out by local people including dockworkers, who collected the large stone slabs from near
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