Biography of Antoni Gaudí

Who Was the Spanish Modernist Architect? (1852-1926)

sepia photo of white, bearded man
Antoni Gaudi, 1880s. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images (cropped)

Antoni Gaudí (born June 25, 1852) was Spain's genius architect who combined sculpted designs with new building technologies well before computers made it seem easy. Leading the Spanish Modernist movement, Gaudí has been linked with Gothicism (sometimes called warped Gothicism), Art Nouveau, and Surrealism. He was also influenced by Oriental styles, nature, sculpture, and a desire to go beyond anything that had ever been done before. Defying labels, Antoni Gaudí's work might be simply called Gaudí-ism.

Born Antoni Plàcid Guillem Gaudí Cornet somewhere in Catalonia, possibly Baix Camp, Tarragona, Spain, the young Gaudi was stricken with a rheumatic problem that made walking painful. He often missed school and had little interaction with other children, but he had ample time to study nature. While seeking his degree in architecture at Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura in Barcelona, Gaudí also studied philosophy, history, and economics. He came to believe that differences in architecture were caused by society and politics, rather than aesthetics.

Gaudí was granted the title of Architect and presented his first major project, the Mataró Cooperative (a housing project for factory workers), at the Paris World Fair in 1878. Far ahead of his time, only a small portion of the project was actually built, but Gaudí's name became known. He soon met Eusebi Güell, who would become a very close friend as well as a patron. This meeting was extremely fortuitous as Güell trusted his friend's genius completely and never limited or tried to change the architect's vision during his many projects.

In 1883, Gaudí began work on his greatest project, the Sagrada Familia, a Barcelona church whose construction was started in 1882 by Francisco de Paula del Villar. For nearly 30 years, Gaudí worked on Sagrada Familia and other projects simultaneously, until 1911, when he decided to devote himself exclusively to the church. During the last year of his life, Gaudí lived in his studio at the construction side of Sagrada Familia.

Tragically, in June 1926, Gaudí was run over by a tram. Because he was poorly dressed, he was not recognized and taxi drivers refused to take a "vagabond" to the hospital — they were later fined by the police. Gaudí died five days later, on June 12, 1926, and was buried in the crypt of the building to which he had devoted 44 years of his life, the as-yet unfinished Sagrada Familia.

During Gaudí's lifetime, official organizations rarely recognized his talent. The City of Barcelona often tried (unsuccessfully) to stop or limit Gaudí's work because it exceeded city regulations, and the only project the City ever assigned him was that of designing streetlights. He received the Building of the Year award for his least impressive building, Casa Calvet.

Important Buildings

Gaudi's portfolio of architecture is a study in how the world moved into modernism, from the 19th to 20th centuries. The natural shape of the entrance gate to Finca Miralles (1901-1902) reminds the Barcelona tourist of how Art Nouveau moved the arts to modernism. Casa Calvet (1898-1900) with its sculpted ironwork and spiraling columns seems to take on a more Baroque flavor, not to be outdone by the famous Casa Milà (1906-1910), also known as La Pedrera; with its sculpted walls, La Pedrera could easily be confused as a modernist early work of Frank Gehry or a parametric design of Zaha Hadid.

Casa Vicens (1883-1888) in Barcelona and El Capricho (1883-1885) in Comillas are two of Gaudi's earliest works, expressing the colors and elaborate tile work that would define his later work, such as Casa Batlló (1904-1906) and the projects for Eusebi Güell, such as Palau Güell (1886-1890) and Parque Güell (1900-1914) in Barcelona.

In contrast, the focus of Gaudi's Colegio Teresiano (1888-1890) in Barcelona is less on color and more on exaggerating the Gothic arch, bending it into a parabola. The neo-Gothic Casa Botines (1891-1892) in nearby León takes on a similar approach.

Gaudi began work on Sagrada Familia in 1882, and it is still under construction. The Sagrada Familia School (1908-1909) was built for the children of the workers.

Influences

Observation of an artist's life's work gives some indication of artistic influences, even for a man as ecclectic as Antoni Gaudí. As already mentioned, Gaudi was aware of the artists on the cusp of modernism and surrealism. At the same time, he was cognizant of neo-Gothicism, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, and medieval French architecture.

Feeling the effects of the Industrial Revolution, Gaudi embraced the "back to natural things" movement advanced by William Morris, especially buying into John Ruskin's sentiment that "Ornament is the origin of architecture." Gaudi was influenced by the shapes-taken-from-nature stylings of Art Nouveau and became one of the first designers of Organic architecture. He played with color, geometry, and was shaped by his study of Oriental structures.

The basis of Gaudí's inspiration In his later years was more personal — his religion and Catalan nationalism directed his later works.

Legacy

UNESCO World Heritage Centre sites seven Spanish properties designed by Gaudi for Outstanding Universal Value. The Works of Antoni Gaudí, sites UNESCO, "...is an exceptional creative synthesis of several 19th-century artistic schools, such as the Arts and Crafts movement, Symbolism, Expressionism, and Rationalism, and is directly associated with the cultural apogee of Catalonia. Gaudí also presaged and influenced many forms and techniques of 20th-century Modernism."

Although his works are considered "eclectic" and "personal," Gaudi is best-known for "the exceptional creative contribution of this architect to the development of architecture and construction technology in the 19th and early 20th centuries."

Quotes Attributed to Antoni Gaudí

  • "Originality consists of returning to the origin. Thus, originality means returning, through one's resources, to the simplicity of the early solutions."
  • "Everything comes from the great book of nature."
  • "Artists do not need monuments erected for them because their works are their monuments."

Sources

  • Gaudi & Barcelona Club at www.gaudiclub.com/
  • Gaudi 2002 at www.gaudi2002.bcn.es/english/index.htm
  • Gaudí and Art Nouveau in Catalonia at www.gaudiallgaudi.com/
  • Works of Antoni Gaudí, UNESCO, http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/320