Catalan Architecture – In Awe of Gaudí

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Barcelona is one of my favorite places in the world. Aside from amazing Catalonian food, it’s also home to the work of, in my opinion, one of the best architects of all time.

At the turn of the century, between 1890-1910, all of Europe was undergoing a change in style. These rhythmic, organic lines echoed across all areas of life, from architecture, to decorative arts and graphic design to painting, ceramics, and metal work. In France, this movement was known as Art Nouveau and in Spanish Catalonia, it was called Modernism.   

Modernist houses on Passeig de Gràcia.

Antoni Gaudí is best known for his Modernism style of architecture. He took Art Nouveau to a whole new level, adding bright colors, curvy walls, looming shapes to create bold, organic buildings for which he is still known for today. In many ways he was ahead of his time and misunderstood by his peers and those he respected, similar to Hector Guimard and his Art Nouveau work in Paris. Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, in particular, famously despised Gaudí’s work.

Fun Fact: While handing Gaudí his degree, the director of the Escola Tecnica Superior d’Arquitectura de Barcelona (School of Technical Architecture in Barcelona) said, “We have given this academic title either to a fool or a genius. Time will show.”

He had a major love for nature, religion, and architecture and held extreme passion for his work. This explains the organic lines and flow of his designs as well as his dedication to his most famous work, La Sagrada Familia.

Fun Fact: He was so passionate about La Sagrada Familia that he moved his studio into the crypt so that he could work on the cathedral every waking moment.

Naturally (see what I did there? Lol), when I was visiting Madrid, I jumped at the chance to go to Barcelona for a weekend. I HAD to see Gaudí’s works in real life!

Given that I was only able to spend a weekend in Barcelona, I had to maximize my time and only could visit 4 of his buildings.

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Parc Güell

This was one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen and by far, the most architecturally designed.

The park was originally envisioned as a luxury housing development by Count Eusebi Güell, who commissioned Gaudí to work on several projects in addition to this development. However due to poor sales, the development was never fully built out and the Güell family gave the city the property after Count Güell’s death.

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Fun Fact: Gaudí built in lumbar support and a water drainage system into the famous serpentine mosaic tiled bench, making it comfortable for visitors while preventing them from getting their seats wet. If this isn’t genius, I don’t know what is! They were so comfortable to sit on!

The development was meant to be an escape for the rich to avoid the smoky polluted areas of the city below. But Gaudí always wanted the park space to be open and available for all, and that’s how it was originally. However because we can’t have nice things, people have destroyed many of the mosaic tiles of the famous serpentine bench within the Monumental Zone.

The curvature on the back of the bench serves as lumbar support, and the holes and bumps along the seat of the bench allow for water drainage.

Today, the missing areas have been filled in with white tile as a testament to the destruction and a fee is charged to get to the bench area (Monumental Zone). The rest of the park remains FREE to all.

Website
Entrances: Carrer de Larrard (main entrance); Carretera del Carmel, 23; Passatge de Sant Josep de la Muntanya via an escalator
Park itself is FREE, prices are for access to Monumental Zone: Adults – €7 (online), €14 (online for guided tour)

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Casa Batlló

This residence is known specifically for it’s dragon-backed roof tiling and skeletal balconies, as a result, it is also locally called casa dels ossos or “House of Bones.”

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Doorway glass and wood detailing.

Gaudí renovated this house for Josep Batlló and his family. Aware of Gaudí’s eclectic and risky designs, Batlló had requested a unique house unlike any other.

Fun Fact: Unlike many of his other buildings, this home was renovated as opposed to rebuilt. Originally Batlló had wanted to tear down the original home on the property but Gaudí told him he could just renovate it. Gaudí ended up altering many aspects of the home, including removing all straight lines, expanding the light well, and adding more floors.

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Curved ceilings and rounded windows adorn the rooms.

Gaudí delivered a home with wavy walls, rounded wrought-iron balcony railings, and marine styled decorations. The family primarily resided on the main floor, with tenants living on the other floors. Gaudí kept that in mind and a created private access to the main floor and communal stairs for the rest of the building. The entire building consisted of ground floor, a main floor with a courtyard, four additional floors, a loft and a roof terrace.

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Dinosaur-like structure masking the stairwell entry on the roof.

Casa Batlló became a UNESCO heritage site in 2005.

Website
Address: Passeig de Gràcia, 43, Barcelona 08007
Prices: Adults – €23.5 (online) and up

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La Pedrera – Casa Milà

This other-wordly building is famous for its outer space-like roof and curved walls. It is also the last private residence built by Gaudí and was built between 1906 and 1910. Roser Segimon and her husband Pere Milà commissioned this building and it was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1984.

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It was designed to be an apartment building that encouraged residents to socialize with one another; he created elevators on every other floor so that people living on different floors would meet each other. He also designed the wide open space on the roof for the residents to enjoy together.

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Model of Casa Mila.

Fun Fact: When the building was originally built, the roof did not have the iron fences that you see today. This meant that people could easily fall off the roof and into the courtyard, so the fencing was later added on for the safety of visitors.

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Although the roof is a simple neutral creamy tone, Gaudí stretched his creative muscles with his designs on the famous roof. He used curved and geometric shaped structures characterized by his work to mask skylights, stairways, and chimney vents. In some of those pieces, he also incorporated crosses as symbols of God. The roof itself is a sight to be seen and I probably spent about an hour just on that roof alone!

TIP: You can also see Gaudí’s La Sagrada Familia from this roof!

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The structure, itself, was ahead of its time in a few ways. The stone facade was self-supporting and free of load-bearing walls, this allowed residents to modify their units as they pleased, adding and removing walls, without affecting the stability of the building.

Like Frank Lloyd Wright, Gaudí would sometimes also create furniture to go with the building, mainly for the commissioners of his buildings.

Fun Fact: Over the course of the building process, Gaudí’s interiors and furniture designs became a point of contention with Milà’s wife, Segimon, and many of the pieces on the main floor were removed after Gaudí’s death.

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It must have been an amazing place to live as the design is so unique and inspiring. Today, there are still a few tenants residing within the walls of Casa Milà, learn more about them here and here.  

Website
Address: Passeig de Gràcia, 92, Barcelona 08008
Prices: Adults – €22 (includes audio guide) and up

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La Sagrada Familia

It’s difficult for me to pick a favorite work of Gaudí; however if I had to choose, it would be La Sagrada Familia. When you walk out of the Sagrada Familia metro stop, you are already greeted by La Sagrada Familia, it already looks amazing from the outside. But once you walk in, you see that the interior is mind-blowing with tons of detail and rainbow spears of light shooting through the building via colorful stained glass windows.

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Fun Fact: La Sagrada Familia has taken longer to build than the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, the pyramids only took 20 years.

La Sagrada Familia has been in continuously under construction since its groundbreaking in 1882. The building is already amazing and it hasn’t even been finished! Yes, this building has been under construction for over 135 years; however the current goal is to complete it by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death. Even though it isn’t a finished piece, it is still very mind-blowing.

Fun Fact: Gaudí knew he was not going to live to see the finished La Sagrada Familia; and as a result, he wanted the portions he could finish to serve as the example for which the rest of the church would be built.

Tragically in 1926, Gaudí dies at 73 years of age, after getting run over by a tram in front of La Sagrada Familia. Gaudí created a model of the finished product for future architects and artisans to work with in the future that was unfortunately destroyed during the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Currently, people are still working to piece the models together to figure out Gaudí’s original design; as the construction is ongoing, a mixture of the restored models and previous plans are used.

“It is not a disappointment that I will not be able to finish the temple. I will grow old, but others will come after me. What must be always preserved is the spirit of the work; its life will depend on the generations that transmit this spirit and bring it to life.”
– Antoni Gaudí

Today, it is possible to view pieces of the models in the museum located in the crypt of the basilica. The entrance to the museum is across from the school Gaudí built on-site.

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Nativity facade.

The level of detail on the exteriors of the basilica are magnificent. The Nativity facade was the only facade to be built by Gaudí’s direct influence and was completed in 1935. Gaudí intended this side to be most accessible to all and includes sculptures symbolizing the birth of Christ.

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Passion facade.

The Passion facade is more simple, resembling clean bones and represents the suffering of Jesus during his crucifixion and the sins of man. The final facade, the Glory facade, began construction in 2002 and will embody the road of Jesus to God, from death, to the road to judgment, and finally, to glory.  

Fun Fact: To design the texture on the Nativity facade and the spires, Gaudí created a model and dripped melting wax upside down.

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Closer view sculptures and textures of the Nativity facade.

There will be a total of 18 spires on the church when it is complete. The Twelve Apostles are represented by the spires, the Virgin Mary, four Evangelists, and the tallest of them all, symbolizes Jesus Christ. When the final spire is finished, La Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church in the world.

Fun Fact: Gaudí intentionally designed La Sagrada Familia to be only 1 meter shorter than nearby mountain, Montjuïc, because he believed that a man-made creation should not supercede God’s work.

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The interior is full of Gaudí’s natural inspirations, or what he would call God’s creations; he incorporated curved lines, since God didn’t create straight lines in nature. The columns are reminiscent of trees, providing structural support through branching. Gaudí’s intent with the bright, naturally-lit interior was to provide believers with a sense of enlightenment and to encourage introspection.  

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One of the coolest things about visiting La Sagrada Familia, aside from learning about Gaudí’s architecture, is that you can visit 2 of the towers: the Passion and the Nativity towers. Each tower is named for the facade on the respective side of the church. You do have to buy separate tickets for this in advance, since they might be sold out on site. We purchased tickets for the Passion tower since it provides better views of Barcelona and the ocean. From the Nativity tower, you get a view of Montjuïc and another part of the city.

Website
Address: Carrer Mallorca, 401, Barcelona 08013
Prices: Adults – €15 for general admission ticket, €22 ticket includes audio guide, €24 ticket includes guided tour OR audio guide & ticket to Gaudí Home Museum, €29 ticket includes audio guide & admission to either ONE of the Passion or Nativity towers

I would love to see all of Gaudí’s works some day. I will update this post with more sights as I am able to see them. Gotta collect them all, like Pokemon! 🙂

44 COMMENTS

  1. Very informative post! I actually learned a lot of things that I unfortunately did not know when we were there viewing these buildings. So thank you 🙂
    These were the only 4 we were able to see while there, too! We only paid to go into La Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, though. I found the other 2 to be so expensive. and the other 2 were our top 2 choices anyway 🙂 maybe if we go back we can see La Pedrera and Casa Batllo.

    • Thank you! Yeahhhh I’m a major architecture buff, comes with my design degree 😉 I learned about Gaudi’s work in school so I had to see as much of it as I could IRL on that trip.

      I personally loved ALL of them because they’re all different, even though they were by the same guy. Casa Batllo actually has more of Gaudi’s original furniture in comparison to La Pedrera because the Milas got rid of a lot of it after Gaudi’s death.

      Did you hear that Casa Vicens, Gaudi’s first house, is supposed to open this fall? I’ll need to go see that haha along with La Sagrada again depending on when they’re done 😝

      • Oh, I didn’t realize you had a design degree – that’s awesome 🙂

        No, I didn’t know about Casa Vicens. Cool! Definitely have to check that out and La Sagrada again 🙂

        • Haha yeah, that’s mainly why I 💖 going to Europe (in general) and looking at houses 😝 part of seeing something IRL that you’ve previously only seen in a book is so inspiring!

          I’ve been looking up Casa Vicens more because I’m curious about the pricing, but I haven’t seen anything yet. So I’m wondering if the construction is delayed, they were supposed to open at the beginning of this year.

  2. In May it was our third visit to Antoni Gaudi’s fabulous La Sagrada Familia and yet again we were in awe!

    The detail in this cathedral is mind blowing… from a distance, it looks very Gothic in nature but then you get closer and every single element leaves your jaw hanging. From the lighting, the tree-like columns, the sculpture… It’s safe to say we have witnessed a work of art in the making!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post! I completely agree, it’s such an amazing piece of work that’s unlike any other seen before and I’m doubtful there’d be anything like it in the future. I definitely want to go back and see it again and see what else has been built up. You’re so lucky you’ve gotten to go 3x, I’m pretty jealous about that! 😝

  3. I love Barcelona and the architecture. I think it’s crazy the impact Gaudi has had on the city, his influence is literally all over. I’ve learned a few things from your blog, great fun facts, thank you!

    • Yes! I think Gaudi is definitely one of the reasons I love Barcelona. It’s just so amazing how much he’s impacted the city. Glad you enjoyed the read!

  4. Thank you for a wonderful read. I think history has been witness to architectural geniuses like Le Corbusier who designed Chandigarh in India. Similarly, Gaudi has a place among the greats! Casa Battlo looks like an intricately designed architecture. No wonder it was declared a World Heritage site way back in 2005.

  5. Constance, this is an amazing article! I have rarely seen any posts on Gaudi’s architecture. I’m also in such awe of his work and so badly wish to see it! This really is fantastic, thanks for sharing so much information.

    • I noticed that as well, that’s why I decided to take the matter into my own hands and write my own post! Glad you enjoyed it and I appreciate the feedback!

  6. Great post! If you love architecture, Barcelona is certainly a great destination, especially for the distinctive Gaudi houses which are out of this world.

  7. I love Spain. When I studied abroad, we had a free weekend to travel and I went to Portugal, others went to Barcelona and I have been trying to get Barcelona ever since seeing their pictures of the beautiful architecture and city. I’ve been now and was not disappointed. Gaudi has indeed left his imprint all over the city of Barcelona.

    • Wow! I totally should’ve studied abroad in Europe haha one of my minute regrets in life, but I studied abroad elsewhere so I’ll live. Barcelona is one of my faves and I totally agree with you, the architecture and the city are so beautiful and inspiring! 😍

  8. great post on all the Gaudi sites! I love the way he was inspired by nature in all of his designs. And I learned a lot from your fun facts – how cool that he built in lumbar support into benches!

    • Thank you! I made sure to test out that lumbar support when I was there, just to double check. It was very comfortable 😝 Glad you enjoyed the fun facts!

  9. I too had written a lengthy post on Gaudi’s architecture. After a bit of reading I could not find someone more quirky architecturally than him. Love the Parc Guell the most! Of course Sagrada towers over many!

    • Oh how cool, I’ll definitely check out your post! I totally agree, he was definitely a quirky guy and it showed in his work

  10. Gaudi is such a cool artist and the Catalan region is a special place to experience it. Barcelona is a fun place to visit and a convenient connection point in Europe.

  11. I am impressed by the research you made about Gaudi’s life and all those fun facts are so interesting! I do agree that his work is amazing – each building looks like from a fairy tale. I have been to BCN couple of times but never fully enjoyed seeing the city as a tourist as I was spending time with some friends who are from there and who don’t like doing touristy stuff!

    • I love Gaudi’s works so I made it a point to visit as much as I could in the little time I had (2 days). But the city, in general, was great, you should definitely visit some of his buildings next time. They’re so inspiring! I always wonder how he came up with this stuff!

  12. I have to say, Catalan architecture is something that draws me to Barcelona so much, it’s a city I’ve yet to visit but it’s a place I could see my self settling in and wanting to live there (I don’t settle anywhere) I love the the architecture there and I know it would be one of those places I just could never get bored of.

    • You definitely need to at least visit someday! The architecture is so much more amazing in real life, it’s a must-go for architecture lovers like us!

  13. I have been to Barcelona, well not posted yet on my blog. I love your adventures and tours inside those popular landmarks and monuments of the city. However for me it was a budgeted trip so I haven’t got the budget to pay every entrance fees. If I ever visit again It would be Sagrada Familia and the rest maybe I’ll think about it.

    • Sagrada Familia is definitely worth a visit, I probably spent about 4hrs there just taking everything in. I’d highly recommend seeing that if that’s the only thing you’re able to see 😊 Although, Park Guell might be a more budget friendly option, it’s spectacular in a different way.

  14. I used to live in Barcelona and worked there as a bike tour guide and I can only agree – it is one of the most beautiful places in the world! Your article covers so much information about the most important things to do and see of Gaudis architecture. Indeed I am surprised about some of the fun facts you posted!! Thank you for sharing!!

    • Glad I was able to impress a Barcelona local with my fun facts and I’m glad you enjoyed my post, thank you for the compliments! 😊

  15. I have never been to Barcelona, but I can say that while reading your post I can relate myself with Barcelona when I visit their. Nice pictures click of buildings and architecture looks amazing

  16. So jelly that you went inside the Sagrada Familia! I’ll have to do that next time:) I also really enjoyed Parc Guell, it’s so pretty and those benches are way comfier than they look!

    • Sagrada Familia was worth it! Though it felt a little weird to me to be paying so much for entrance to a church, I was dying to see the interiors so I just paid it. Definitely try to go up to the towers if you are able to get the tickets! You get a much closer view of some of the mosaics on the roof.

  17. La Samgrada Familia a huge project. I have been to Spain 7 years ago, remember seeing under construction. Now it is finally about to be completed. Funny thing is that the cranes construction it are the ones my company produces 🙂 I have to tell my boss that they have done well 🙂

  18. You have the knack of making a post interactive, funny and informative. While reading your post, my attention invariably goes to the Fun facts. I loved the comment of the director after awarding the degree! Couldn’t hold my laughter. By the way, Casa Battlo looks really impressive.

    • Thank you so much! That makes me so happy and I’m glad you enjoy my posts and fun facts. Casa Batllo is even more impressive in real life, I highly recommend going if you get a chance!

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