Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (1852–1926) was a Catalan architect who is usually referred to by the Spanish translation of his name - Antonio Gaudí. He was the leading exponent of Modernismo, the particularly Spanish form of Art Nouveau.
Gaudi was born in the province of Tarragona in southern Catalonia and from an early age suffered from rheumatism which caused him great pain. Unable to play with friends or walk far, he took an interest in nature and natural forms. Later he went on to study architecture in Barcelona at the Escola Tècnica Superior d'Arquitectura. He graduated with average grades but even then, he must have been considered idiosyncratic, as when he received his professional diploma from Elies Rogent, the famous Catalan architect declared; "Qui sap si hem donat el diploma a un boig o a un geni: el temps ens ho dirà (Who knows if we have given this diploma to a nut or to a genius. Only time will tell.)
|Who knows if we have given this diploma to a nut or to a genius. Only time will tell.|
— Elies Rogent
Gaudi started work on small scale design projects such as lampposts. His design of a showcase for a glove manufacturer used at the 1878 Exposition Universelle (Worlds Fair) in Paris, first brought him to the attention a wealthy Catalan industrialist Eusebio Güell, but his first important work was for the private residence in Barcelona of another industrialist - Manuel Vicens, a brick and tile manufacturer. This was the Casa Vincens a building of red bricks and undressed stone with checkerboard and floral pattern tiles in the Moorish style. Broken ceramic tiles later became a key design element of Gaudi's works.
Eusebio Güell and Gaudi were both ardent Catholics and shared common interests. Güell gave Gaudi a series of commissions, the first of which was for a Finca Güell the entrance pavilion and stables for what was to be the Palau Guell (literally a palace) in the unfashionable district of Pedralbes. It was about this time that Gaudi became involved with the Cathedral of the Holy Family - La Sagrada Familia. The crypt had been started in 1882 by another architect, Francisco del Villar who abandoned it in 1883. Gaudi took over the project which eventually took over him for the remaining 43 years of his life. He completed the crypt in 1891 and then started on the walls.
In 1898, Gaudi started work on the church for Colonia Güell, a company-town project outside Barcelona for the Güell company, but only the crypt was ever built. Around 1900 he devoted his attentions to Parc Güell which was intended to be a garden city in the hills behind Barcelona and offer up to sixty homes for the upper middle-class. The development would now be regarded as "environmentally sensitive" as it was designed to mold itself to the landscape and the felling of trees was forbidden. Gaudi created fabulous mosaics using pieces of broken ceramics from Güell's factories for the pavilion and fountains. In the end very few houses were actually built on the site. In 1905 Gaudi received a commission to build an apartment building from Pere Milá, a member of the Cortes (Spanish Parliament). The construction was fraught with difficulties as the City government tried to stop the project owing to infringements of the local building code. However, Gaudi ignored them and completed the building of the Casa Milà, in 1910. It was considered ugly at the time and earned the nickname La Pedrera (The Quarry) from the local inhabitants, although it is now one of his most famous works.
Gaudi experienced some painful losses, his niece Rosa Egea, who lived with him in Barcelona, died in 1912 and in 1914, his faithful collaborator, Francesc Berenguer Mestres, also died. He became involved in litigation with the Milà family over professional fees and in 1915, an economic crisis in Barcelona, caused the cessation of most of the construction of the Sagrada Familia as well as Colonia Güell. In 1918 his good friend and patron Eusebio Güell also died and with this, his financial backing was removed. Gaudi largely shunned commercial work in his later life and devoted himself to La Sagrada Familia, working in his studio on the church premises. Despite being something of a dandy in his early years, as an old man he took little pride in his appearance and on June 7, 1926, while crossing the street, he was knocked down by a tram. Mistaking him for a vagrant, taxi-drivers refused to take him to a hospital for fear that they would not get their fare. Eventually he was taken to a paupers' hospital and only found by his friends the following day. Although they tried to move him to a better hospital, he refused, reportedly saying that "I belong here among the poor". He died three days after his accident on July 10, 1926 and was buried in the La Sagrada Familia. As Gaudi did not make use of blueprints for the design of the cathedral, preferring to keep most of it in his head, his fellow workers were unable to continue with the construction work.
In Spain, Gaudi is known as "God's Architect"; when he was questioned about the length of time that the construction was taking he is said to have joked "My client is in no hurry".
Contrary to popular belief, the word "gaudy" does not come from Gaudi's name. Apart from being somewhat inappropriate, the OED cites the earliest use of the word in the 16th century.
Notes & References
- Catalonia is a region of north eastern Spain with its own language
- The Casa Vincens is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Works of Antoni Gaudí".
- Gaudi & Barcelona Club (page 5)