Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família: a landmark of its time

The Catalan architect dedicated his life to building the church, which remains unfinished 138 years after construction first started

Spiritual high …

Religious ecstasy can soar to new heights in Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família in Barcelona. When completed, the basilica will be the tallest church in the world. The nave ceiling (pictured) resembles a trippy fractal pattern or the canopy of an otherworldly, psychedelic forest.

Planet organic …

Gaudí’s visionary adaptation of nature’s supporting structures enabled its columns to grow miraculously tall, without the expected scaffold of gothic flying buttresses. They shapeshift as they grow, from square to octagonal and eventually circular, then branch out like a tree.

Life’s work …

Gaudí was 31 when he began work on the church. He was still at it, aged 73 and living on site, when he died after being hit by a tram in 1926. Many landmark buildings had been completed in between, but the last 14 years of his life were dedicated to the church.

Contradiction in terms …

The architect was renowned for buildings that defied norms, exploding with rebellious colour. In their curvy, natural forms, they are remarkable for a not-so covert libidinal energy. By the time of his death, however, his existence was one of extreme religious asceticism. He wore literally mouldy suits and held his underwear together with safety pins.

Life models …

Creating the church was his obsession, going so far as to cast stillborn babies and drugged animals (he was vegetarian) to create the sculptures for its ornate facades. These were meant to be brightly painted, but left as bare cream stone, the riotous decoration has more than a passing resemblance to splurged bodily fluids.

Planning spontaneity …

Today the church pulls in 2.5 million visitors a year, but as hunks of architectural genius go it’s not without controversy. Gaudí was a one-off, but his masterpiece is an as-yet-unfinished composite thanks to other architects working with what remained of his plans. Yet those plans were always adapted to what happened on site and he left no written theory of his architecture, so the idea of a faithful Gaudí recreation is anathema to his organic process.

Gaudí: The Complete Works is published by Taschen


Skye Sherwin

The GuardianTramp

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