The secret of genius. Why does Antonio Gaudi's architecture seem relevant to us after a century?

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The term "Gaudism" appears more and more often in professional publications and tabloids, which refers not only to the architectural heritage of the Catalan genius, but also to his followers among modern architects. In 2022, the world celebrated the 150th anniversary of the birth of Antonio Gaudi: hundreds of events and exhibitions around the world and millions of new fans of the talent of the Catalan surrealist. The date has passed, and the interest in Gaudí's personality and legacy has not waned. All the more, the hundredth anniversary of the architect's death in 2026 and the completion of the construction of the famous Sagrada Familia in Barcelona in 2027 are approaching. So what is the secret of the attraction of the Catalan modernist architecture for the people of the XNUMXst century?

Biography of Antonio Gaudi

Photo: Raimond Klavins on Unsplash

Organic architecture is inspired by nature. "Everything comes from the great book of nature," believed Antonio Gaudi, whose childhood was spent in the countryside, in the province of Tarragona on the southern coast of Spain.

Antonio Gaudi was born on June 25, 1852. Riodoms or Reus - biographers have still not reached a consensus about which of the two towns this event took place in, and municipalities still argue about where the cradle of architectural genius stood. Antonio was the fifth child in a family from a dynasty of farmers and craftsmen. The surroundings of El Mas de la Calderera, a farmhouse belonging to the Gaudí family, were for the sickly boy a promised land, which he explored with curiosity and in the smallest details. If you look at the photo of the manor house, you can see the smooth lines characteristic of Gaudí's fantastic architecture in the powerful curves of the old plane trees covering the facade of the house.

El Mas de la Calderera is a house that belonged to the Gaudi family. Photo source:

A sculpture of a young Antonio Gaudi playing with golden spheres by Arthur Aldom was installed in Reus in 2002. Reus defends the right to be called the birthplace of the great architect. Image source:

What then? Growing up, school, high school in Barcelona. In 1878, Antonio received an architect's diploma, graduating from the Escola Tecnica Superior d'Arquitectura. His first commission as a professional architect was the design of street lights for Plaça Reial. Today, we would say that this is unheard of: to entrust a graduate, who, moreover, had a reputation as an extremely dishonest student, to work in a public space in the very center of the city?...

However, at the age of 26, Gaudí had the experience of participating in several important architectural projects, including the restoration of the Poblet Monastery. He developed the project of the Citadel Park and Born Market. From 1873, when he had just begun his studies, Gaudí was already in close contact with Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano, the first architect of the Sagrada Familia. And in order to pay for his education, Gaudi worked as a draftsman, and also created sketches of decorative forged products and furniture. So by the time he received his diploma, he was far from a novice in architecture and design.

Wrought iron railings on the balconies of Mil's house are a separate work of art. Art historians consider this Gaudi work to be an example of early abstract sculpture. Photo: Vincenzo Biancamano on Unsplash

Furniture designed by the architect in the exposition of Gaudi's house-museum. Photo: Son of Groucho on Flickr

In the same year, 1878, the young architect, who stood out for his fantastic and whimsical ideas, became the guardian of the influential industrial magnate Eusebi Guel.

Entrance group to Park Güell. Photo: Manuel Torres Garcia on Unsplash

Güell met Gaudí because he really liked the extravagant showcase for gloves exhibited at the Universal Exhibition in Paris. Gaudi was the author of the showcase made of glass and forged metal. Thus, with the gloves, a collaboration between the genius and the capitalist-patron began, similar to that which connected the artists and architects of the Renaissance era with their patrons-customers. Over the next 20 years, Gaudí designed several objects for his sponsor, including the famous Park Güell.

Equally important, Eusebi Guel introduced his protégé to other rich patrons from bourgeois circles. The young architect was in demand, and in 1883 he was appointed architect of the Church of the Holy Family. This project became the main work and mission of Antonio Gaudi.

Church of the Holy Family, Nativity Facade. Photo: Ken Cheung on Unsplash

Gaudi's life ended on June 10, 1926 as a result of a senseless road accident. The 73-year-old architect, distracted and completely immersed in his thoughts, simply did not notice the moving tram. Gaudí is buried in the chapel in the crypt of the Church of the Holy Family.

The creative path of an architect

To contemporaries, the surreal volumes created by Gaudí seemed defiant. Thus, Antonio Gaudi, who worked at the turn of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, is called a pillar of Catalan modernism - "modernismo catalán". But so that there is no confusion, we should immediately note that his style had nothing to do with the later modernism of the Bauhaus (about the difference in styles and confusion with terminology PRAGMATIKA.MEDIA previously wrote in the article "Discrimination of modernism as a way of destroying memory").

Gaudi had an antipathy to straight lines and right angles. His architecture is orientalism, naturalism, surrealism, early modernism - what was called art nouveau in Europe. It was the era of Victor Horta and Henri van de Velde, and Gaudí was generally in the mainstream. But his architecture compared to the works of his European colleagues was more whimsical, brighter, full of details and decor. Thanks to Gaudí, craft workshops and factories flourished in Barcelona.

An example of Gaudí's parabolic arch in the entrance area of ​​Guell Palace. Photo: Manuel Torres Garcia on Unsplash

Behind this strangeness and external excess is a lot of innovation. The architect studied and analyzed the structure of plants and animals to understand how fragile structures and skeletons can support significant weight. By studying the architecture of trees, Gaudí developed a "balanced architectural system", a self-supporting structure that did not need additional supports. The architect implemented this innovation during the construction of two buildings — the Batlo house and the Mil house.

Gaudí reinterpreted the traditional mosaic technique, using waste ceramics, broken dishes, tiles or glass bottles to finish the complex curved surfaces of his buildings and garden sculptures. Together with his student and assistant architect Josep Maria Juyol, Gaudí developed an innovative technique for the trencadis mosaic design. Today, we would call such an approach surprisingly sustainable. Indeed, the ceramic factories of Catalonia and Valencia, whose products were famous for their bright glazes and ornaments, supplied the architect with first-class material for his experiments at a waste price. Undoubtedly, the architect also made special orders to ceramists: the edges of the supports and the dragon's vertebrae were made according to the author's sketches.

Trencadis mosaic in the design of a bench in Park Güell. Photo: Rosy Ko on Unsplash

Trencadis mosaic in the design of the fountain in Park Güell. Photo: Yuval Zukerman on Unsplash

In the museums of Barcelona, ​​you can also see examples of ergonomic furniture designed by Gaudi. The legacy of the architect is studied at a separate department of the Higher Technical School of Barcelona - Real Cátedra Gaudí. The museum of the department houses the largest collection of drawings, plans and drawings of the architect.

Gaudi's most famous projects

Vault of the Church of the Holy Family. Photo: Duncan Kidd on Unsplash

Gaudi's key works are included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Güell Park; Güell Palace; Mila's house; Vicens House; Gaudi's work on the facade and tomb of the Holy Family; House of Batillo; crypt in Colonia Güell. These seven properties in and around Barcelona are recognized as landmarks of Gaudí's eclectic and highly distinctive style, in which architecture, landscape design, sculpture and decorative craft practices are equally important. These objects annually attract hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world to Barcelona.

House of Vicens (1883–1885)

Vicens House and unique wrought iron fences with palm leaves. Image source:

The Vicens House is considered a pioneer of the "Catalan Modernism" architectural trend. It stands out somewhat from Gaudi's legacy. As we mentioned, the architect preferred organic, flowing forms, but the house designed by Gaudí for stockbroker Manuel Vicens, on the contrary, has a rhythmic pattern of the facade with narrow windows and columns and a roof of complex geometry with sharp corners and neo-Moorish towers. By the way, the Vicens building was the first example of a building with a roof in Barcelona.

Photo: Pedro de Sousa on Unsplash

Site plan and Vicens house. Image source:

The facade of the house is decorated with bright ceramic tiles laid out in a checkerboard pattern. The sharp corners of the architecture are softened by rich decor of forged metal with plant motifs. Gaudí also developed interior design, where he implemented many ideas in the art nouveau style: painting, sgraffito and furniture with stylized images of flowers and animals.


Batillo House (1904–1906)

The facade of the Batlo house. Photo: Moyan Brenn

The Batillo House was recognized as the best tourist attraction in Spain in 2022. At first it was an unremarkable profit house, built in 1877. But in 1903, the building was purchased by the textile industrialist José Batillo, who commissioned Antonio Gaudi to modernize it and suggested not to limit his imagination. After 3 years, a masterpiece appeared on the place of an ordinary building. Gaudí added an attic, designing a roof resembling the scaly spine of a fallen dragon. Chimneys in the form of stylized spears decorate the roof terrace. The facade has also changed beyond recognition. The facade is distinguished by huge modernist windows with multi-colored stained glass. Shell balconies are decorated with cast-iron fences, which remind someone of Venetian masks, and someone - skull bones. This similarity was the reason for the informal names "House of Bones" or "House of Masks". The outer walls are richly inlaid with ceramic and glass mosaics.

Photo: Igor Ferreira on Unsplash

Gaudi's modernization increased the total area of ​​the building by one thousand square meters by adding an attic and a basement. The interior spaces are filled with light and colorful flashes. The architect involved the best masters of artistic glass and metal in the design of the interiors.

Photo source:

Park Güell (1900–1914)

Park Güell. Photo: Martijn Vonk on Unsplash

Park Güell is one of the largest green areas in Barcelona with an area of ​​more than 17 hectares. Initially, it was not supposed to become a public park, but was designed as a residential area on the mountainside with a wonderful view of the sea and the center of Barcelona. According to the plan, 60 private houses were to be located on the plot with a common park space between them. The municipality allowed building only 1/6 of the plot with houses. Eusebi Guell admired English landscape parks and commissioned Gaudí to create something similar.

Pedestrian alleys-grottoes in Park Güell. Photo: Adora Goodenough on Unsplash

This park fully reveals Gaudi's talent as a landscape architect and engineer. Gaudí tried to preserve all the old trees on the site, which became the starting points for planning. To create a lush green border for the future estates on the slope, the architect designed an irrigation system with viaducts and tanks to collect and store rainwater, which the future residents could also use for the technical needs of their homes.

Gaudí designed the entrance group, grand staircase and public space with a bright bench inlaid with fragments of tiles in the signature trencadis technique

Despite the lively interest shown by the townspeople in the construction, the plots were never sold. The park was located on the outskirts of the city, and real estate in the Eixample quarter was the most popular in those years. Due to building restrictions, houses could not be large in area or tall. Therefore, until 1914, when Güell was forced to admit the failure of his development idea, only three families lived in the park: his own, in a modernized old manor house, a lawyer's family, and Antonio Gaudi's family (himself, father and niece) in a demonstration house .

Photo: Kristijan Arsov on Unsplash

Eusebi Guel was a truly generous man. He opened his private park to the townspeople and allowed mass events to be held in it. After his death, the heirs sold the park to the municipality. So the developer's failure turned out to be a huge boon for the city.

Sagrada Familia — Church of the Holy Family (1882–…)

The columns inside the Church of the Holy Family resemble the trunks and crowns of trees. Photo: Ank Kumar on Unsplash

The Church of the Holy Family is the most famous long building in the world. However, in the Middle Ages, no one was surprised that huge cathedrals were created over several generations and by several architects. Although Gaudí officially began the duties of the architect of the temple from the moment of construction, the original project of the grandiose structure does not belong to him. Architect Francisco del Villar designed the cruciform plan of the basilica in the Neo-Gothic style. But just a few months after the first stone was laid, he left the construction site due to a conflict with the customer-custodians.

Drawing of the Church of the Holy Family from the Gaudi archive. Image source:

31-year-old Antonio Gaudi followed the plan of his predecessor for only the first year, and then resolutely and radically reshaped the project, incorporating many of his own innovations into it. He developed the spiral structure of the towers, which made it possible to abandon the buttresses, raised the vaults to a height of 60 meters, supporting them with branched tree-shaped columns. Gaudi reformatted the facade, decorating it with fantastic sculptures.

Gaudi personally worked on the decoration of the Christmas facade, creating a complex sculptural group in "sand" plastic. Photo: Look Up Look Down Photography on Unsplash

Starting in 1914, the architect refused other orders, fully immersing himself in the work on the construction of the temple, and even moved to the workshop equipped in the basilica.

The star on the tower of the Virgin Mary was installed on the eve of Christmas 2021. Photo: Hernan Gonzalez on Unsplash

In recent years, the construction of the temple has been accelerated due to the use of 3D printing technology, when fragments of walls and towers are cast from a stone composite at a factory, and then assembled using tower cranes.

Previously, РRAGMATIKA.MEDIA wrote about the construction progress here і here.

Antonio Gaudi: interesting facts about the life of the architect

Stained glass windows in the Church of the Holy Family. Photo: Dimitry B on Unsplash

Everyone probably already knows that Antonio Gaudi was a vegetarian from childhood until the end of his life. This has nothing to do with eco-consciousness. Since he suffered from an autoimmune disease (rheumatism), the doctors recommended him to follow a strict diet. Perhaps their recommendations were wrong, and vegetarianism only made the architect feel worse.

Antonio Gaudi was single and did not create a family. According to his biographers, this is not related to his sexual orientation. Maybe he just didn't meet a woman who attracted him more than the architecture.

Antonio Gaudí advocated the independence of Catalonia from Spain and in his youth took an active part in the political movement for separation.

Since June 10, 1992, Catalan architects who have united in the Union for the Beatification of Antonio Gaudí have been lobbying for the idea of ​​canonizing Gaudí. On February 22, 2000, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints gave official permission to the Archdiocese of Barcelona to open the beatification process for Antonio Gaudí. Evidence of the creation of a miracle is a necessary condition for beatification and subsequent canonization. We do not undertake to predict the decision of the Vatican, but, in the humble opinion of our editorial staff, Gaudi's architecture is a real miracle.

Mosaic design of the roof of the Batlo house. Photo: Héloïse Delbos on Unsplash

In 2007, the patriarchal central square of the town of Riodoms, famous for its collection of cherry blossoms planted at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, was modernized. As a result of the reconstruction according to the project of Japanese architect Hiroi Tanaka, curved benches appeared here, inspired by the famous wavy benches from Park Güell. Tanaka avoided direct quotation: his benches are not decorated with mosaics in the trencadis technique, but made of wood, but even a dilettante in architecture will understand to whom this gesture of respect is dedicated.

In 2022, digital artist Ariadna Jimenez created a series of fantastic architectural landscapes with the help of artificial intelligence, calling her project Gaudism.

An organic structure inspired by Gaudi's work. Project Gaudism, artist Ariadna Jimenez. Image credit: Ariadna Giménez

And, answering the question about the secret of the attractiveness of Gaudí's architecture, we will risk putting forward our own version. The reason for the fascination with "Gaudism" is explained by the effect of recognition. People from different countries, from different continents recognize in the architecture of the Catalan architect numerous metaphors of seaside landscapes and fragments of their own colorful dreams. We look at the houses, but we see sand castles in the foam of the surf, coral wrecks, magical dragons, mosaics of foil and colored glass, a kaleidoscopic magical world of childhood, joyful discoveries and limitless flights of imagination.