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Antoni Gaudí

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Background Information

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Antoni Gaudí

Antoni Gaudí in 1878
Born (1852-06-25)June 25, 1852
Reus, or Riudoms
Died June 10, 1926(1926-06-10) (aged 73)
Barcelona, ( Catalonia, Spain)
Buildings Sagrada Família, Casa Milà, Casa Batlló
Projects Park Güell, Colònia Güell

Antoni Plàcid Guillem Gaudí i Cornet ( Riudoms or Reus, 25 June 1852Barcelona, 10 June 1926) – sometimes referred to by the Spanish translation of his name, Antonio Gaudí – was a Spanish, Catalan architect, who belonged to the Modernisme (Art Nouveau) movement and was famous for his unique style and highly individualistic designs.



Gaudí was born in the province of Tarragona in southern Catalonia, Spain in 1852. While there is some dispute as to his birthplace – official documents state that he was born in the town of Reus, whereas others claim he was born in Riudoms, a small village 3 miles (5 km) from Reus, – it is certain that he was baptized in Reus a day after his birth. The artist's parents, Francesc Gaudí Serra and Antònia Cornet Bertran, both came from families of metalsmiths.

The youngest of five, Gaudí found he was too lame to play with friends his own age because of rheumatism. (Some believe he only had arthritis in his hands and could, in fact, take walks.) Because he was in considerable pain, he was rarely able to walk on foot and was forced to ride a donkey when he wanted to venture from his home. The fact that he remained close to home allowed him substantial free time to inspect nature and its design. It has been hypothesized that it was this exposure to nature at an early age that began to hone two of his greatest qualities: observation and the analysis of nature.

Higher education

Gaudí, as an architecture student at the Escola Tècnica Superior d'Arquitectura in Barcelona from 1873 to 1877, achieved only mediocre grades but did well in his "Trial drawings and projects" After five years of work, he was awarded the title of architect in 1878. As he signed Gaudí's title, Elies Rogent 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. Time will tell.")

The newly named architect immediately began to plan and design and would remain affiliated with the school his entire life .

Early career

  • 1878–1879: Lampposts for the Plaça Reial at Barcelona;
  • 1878: Showcase for glove manufacturer Comella. Via this work, used at the World's Fair in Paris, Eusebi Güell came to know the architect.
  • 1878–1882: Several designs for the Obrera Mataronense at Mataró. Only a very small part of these plans was built, but it shows Gaudí's first use of parabolic arches, here in a wooden structure.
  • 1883–1885: Casa Vicens;
  • 1883–1885: Villa " El Capricho" at Comillas ( Santander);
  • 1884: Finca Güell: Entrance pavillion and stables for the palace at Pedralbes (first completed building for Eusebi Güell);
  • 1884–1891: Completion of the crypt of the Sagrada Família (the crypt had been started by the architect Francisco del Villar in 1882, who had to abandon the project in 1883);
  • 1885–1889: Palau Güell;
  • 1887–1893: Episcopal palace at Astorga;
  • 1889–1894: Colegio Teresiano;
  • 1891–1893: Outer walls of the absis of the Sagrada Família;
  • 1892–1894: Casa de los Botines at León.

Later years

The Casa Milà, in the Eixample, Barcelona.

Gaudi was an ardent Catholic, to the point that in his later years, he abandoned secular work and devoted his life to Catholicism and his Sagrada Família. He designed it to have 18 towers, 12 for the 12 apostles, 4 for the 4 evangelists, one for Mary and one for Jesus. Soon after, his closest family and friends began to die. His works slowed to a halt, and his attitude changed. One of his closest family members – his niece Rosa Egea – died in 1912, only to be followed by a "faithful collaborator, Francesc Berenguer Mestres" two years later. After these tragedies, Barcelona fell on hard times, economically. The construction of La Sagrada Família slowed; the construction of La Colonia Güell ceased altogether. Four years later, Eusebi Güell, his patron, died.

Perhaps it was because of this unfortunate sequence of events that Gaudí changed. He became reluctant to talk with reporters or have his picture taken and solely concentrated on his masterpiece, La Sagrada Família.

On June 7 1926, Gaudí was run over by a tram. Because of his ragged attire and empty pockets, many cab drivers refused to pick him up for fear that he would be unable to pay the fare. He was eventually taken to a pauper's hospital in Barcelona. Nobody recognized the injured artist until his friends found him the next day. When they tried to move him into a nicer hospital, Gaudí refused, reportedly saying "I belong here among the poor." He died three days later on June 10, 1926, half of Barcelona mourning his death. He was buried in the midst of La Sagrada Família. although Gaudi was constantly changing his mind and recreating his blue prints. The only existing copy of his last recorded blue prints were destroyed by the anarchists in 1938 at the height of Franco's invasion of Barcelona. This has made it very difficult for his workers to complete the cathedral in the same fashion as Gaudí most likely would have wished. It is for this that Gaudí is known to many as "God's Architect". La Sagrada Família is now being completed but differences between his work and the new additions can be seen.

As of 2007, completion of the Sagrada Familía is planned for 2026. However, this may prove wildly optimistic if the worst fears of many eminent engineers and architects are realized. These have pointed out the structural dangers posed by a tunnel for a TGV-style high-speed rail, which would run within feet of the church’s foundations ; one might note the precedent of one metro tunnel in Barcelona’s Carmel district that collapsed and destroyed an entire city block on the 27th of February 2005. Others of Gaudí works threatened by the city-centre route chosen by Barcelona's mayor Jordi Hereu for the new rail line include Casa Batlló and Casa Milà.

Artistic style

Gaudí's unfinished masterpiece, Sagrada Família

Gaudí's first works were designed in the style of gothic and traditional Spanish architectural modes, but he soon developed his own distinct sculptural style. French architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, who promoted an evolved form of gothic architecture, proved a major influence on Gaudí. But the student surpassed the master architect and contrived highly original designs – irregular and fantastically intricate. Some of his greatest works, most notably La Sagrada Família, have an almost hallucinatory power.

Arch and spiral staircase.

He integrated the catenary arch and hyperboloid structures, nature's organic shapes, and the fluidity of water into his architecture. While designing buildings, he observed the forces of gravity and related catenary principles. (Gaudí designed many of his structures upside down by hanging various weights on interconnected strings or chains, using gravity to calculate catenaries for a natural curved arch or vault.)

Using the trencadís technique, Gaudí often decorated surfaces with broken tiles.

The architect's work was categorized as Art Nouveau architecture, a precursor to modern architecture. But his adoption of biomorphic shapes rather than orthogonal lines put him in a category unto himself (in Latin, sui generis).


Gaudi was a man of simple ideas and common sense. In his architecture it fuses structure and decoration. He clearly accepted nature as his guide. All aspects of his work evince this. It does not copy the nature but that includes/understands its geometry and its principles: it has infinity of forms that can be studied by means of regulated geometry; he studies the laws of statics and dynamics like example the natural structures of fibrous composition, such as rushes, canes and bones. His interest in nature was in three dimensional forms, rather than in two dimensional and he was interested primarily in nature’s inner forces, which expressed themselves on the surface. This can be seen in the tilted columns and the warped walls supporting the roof of the chapel in the Colony Guell, or the doorway and columns of the Mila house.

If the nature always works looking for functional solutions, since it is put under the inexorable law of the gravity, he is very wise to study the natural structures that during million years have had a perfect operation. Knowing the essence these structures, it was intention of Gaudi to take them to the land of the construction.

Helicoid is the form that takes the trunk from the eucalyptus, and Gaudi used in the columns of the Teresiano School. The hyperboloid is the form of femur, and Gaudi used in the columns of the Sagrada Family. The conoid is frequent form in the leaves of the trees, and Gaudi used in the covers of the Provisional Schools of the Sagrada Familia. Parabolic the hyperbolic one is the form that adopts the sinews between the fingers, and Gaudi applied it in the vaults of crypt of the church of the Güell Colony.

Tree vs columns of Sagrada Familia Cathedral, structures subjected to compressive and bending stress have branching systems with increasing slenderness as a result of the higher stability due to bundling. These are of equal proportions on all branching levels. Branching structures are used to transmit forces which attack in space in a distributed manner. The three-dimensional growth of trees follows the same forming principles due to the biological necessity to occupy free unshaded spaces. The branched structure results in a favourable structural system, in addition to making optimum use of the available surface. The elements verticalizing the resulting forces are interior in the Sagrada Familia cathedral, these columns resemble trees and are divided into several branches at certain heights. This comparison of columns to trees has often been made in reference to Gothic cathedrals, but the parallel is not exact as trees support independent loads, while the columns of the gothic cathedrals do not. On the other hand, it holds good for the Sagrada Familia where each branch of a column and the column itself only support one particular section of the superstructure, roof and ceiling, independently from the rest. Each branch of the tree-column is directed towards the centre of gravity of the section of the vault that it is supposed to carry. Their shapes are hyperboloids and hyperbolic paraboloids.

Trunk of a sweet chestnut tree vs parc Guell columns. In the parc Guell columns and the Sagrada Familia cathedral either, Gaudi made use of a warped surface, the helicoids. This helicoid form was specially applicable to columns, since columns are probably in their origin derived from tree forms and the tree grows in a similar way, Gaudi planed all the columns for the Sagrada Familia using this form and made many models and studies for these helicoid generated columns. Their sections vary, some are polygonal, regular and irregular, others star shaped. He chose warped surfaces because model makers and masons can construct them easily, as both the hyperboloids.

Human bones, tibia and fibula vs Batllo house columns.

Towers of the Sagrada Familia Cathedral. In the course of time, as Gaudi’s work developed, the influence of natural forms became more noticeable in his larger shapes. He no longer applied them decoratively as he did in his early buildings. Natural shapes created to resist wind and weather require sound structures. Shell shapes that have these qualities may have inspired the towers of the Sagrada Familia. Their curves follow similar mathematical formulas.

Towers of the Sagrada Familia Cathedral. In the course of time, as Gaudi’s work developed, the influence of natural forms became more noticeable in his larger shapes. He no longer applied them decoratively as he did in his early buildings. Natural shapes created to resist wind and weather require sound structures. Shell shapes that have these qualities may have inspired the towers of the Sagrada Familia. Their curves follow similar mathematical formulas.

Inverted Catenary arches in Casa Mila building vs rips. After the careful study of the structure of skeletons of animals, plants or shells, he found fresh forms which he adopted as guides, after mathematical computations had proved them to be right for his purpose.

                                        The Hanging Model

Between 1889 and 1908 Gaudi designed the Colonia Guell Church with a highly innovative method: the hanging model. With the model inverted, a very lightweight masonry brick structure was developed.

The hanging model is based on the theory of the "reversion of the catenary." A chain suspended from two points will hang spontaneously in the shape of a so-called "catenary". Only tension forces can exist in the chain. The form of the catenary upside down gives a perfect shape for an arch of stone masonry, and in such an arch only reversed forces of tension, being compression, will occur.

In Gaudi's hanging model a system of threads represents columns, arches, walls and vaults. Sachets with lead shot resemble the weight of small building parts.

Gaudi spent ten years working on studies for the design, and developing a new method of structural calculation based on a stereostatic model built with cords and small sacks of pellets. The outline of the church was traced on a wooden board (1:10 scale), which was then placed on the ceiling of a small house next to the work site. Cords were hung from the points where columns were to be placed. Small sacks filled with pellets, weighing one ten-thousandth part of the weight the arches would have to support, were hung from each catenaric arch formed by the cords. Photographs were taken of the resulting model from various angles, and the exact shape of the church's structure was obtained by turning them upside-down obtaining therefore the form, absolutely precise and exact, of the structure of the building, without to have conducted no operation of calculation and without possibility of error. The forms of cords corresponded to the lines of tension of the prim structure and when investing the photo, the lines of pressure of the compressed structure were obtained. An absolutely exact and simple method, giving an example of the intuitive and elementary methods that Gaudi applied in its architecture and that allowed him to obtain balanced forms very similar to which it offers the nature.


Gaudí, throughout his life, was fascinated by nature. He studied nature's angles and curves and incorporated them into his designs. Instead of relying on geometric shapes, he mimicked the way trees and humans grow and stand upright. The hyperboloids and paraboloids he borrowed from nature were easily reinforced by steel rods and allowed his designs to resemble elements from the environment.

Because of his rheumatism, the artist observed a strict vegetarian diet, used homeopathic drug therapy, underwent water therapy, and hiked regularly. Long walks, besides suppressing his rheumatism, further allowed him to experience nature.

Gaudi loved for his work to be created by nature as he used concreate leaves and vine windows to create his ideas for him, so his work is not just because of him but because of nature as well.


Gaudí's originality was at first ridiculed by his peers. Indeed, he was first only supported by the rich industrialist Eusebi Güell. His fellow citizens referred to the Casa Milà as La Pedrera ("the quarry"), and George Orwell, who stayed in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, admittedly loathed his work. As time passed, though, his work became more famous, up to the point that he is now considered one of history's most original architects.

Social and political influences

The opportunities afforded by Catalonia's socioeconomic and political influences were endless. Catalans such as Antoni Gaudí often showcased the region's diverse art techniques in their works. By mimicking nature, such artists symbolically pushed back the province's ever-increasing industrial society.

Gaudí, among others, promoted the Catalan movement for regaining sovereignty from Spain by incorporating elements of Catalan culture in his designs.. Gaudí was involved in politics since he supported the Catalanist political party Regionalist League. For example, in 1924 Spanish authorities (ruled by the dictator Primo de Rivera) closed Barcelona's churches in order to prevent a nationalist celebration (September 11th, National Day of Catalonia), Gaudí attended to Saints Justus and Pastor's church and was arrested by the Spanish police for answering in Catalan .

Major works

View of the Park Güell, El Carmel, Barcelona.
  • Casa Vicens (1878–1880)
  • Palau Güell (1885–1889)
  • College of the Teresianas (1888–1890)
  • Crypt of the Church of Colònia Güell (1898–1916)
  • Casa Calvet (1899–1904)
  • Casa Batlló (1905–1907)
  • Casa Milà (La Pedrera) (1905–1907)
  • Park Güell (1900–1914)
  • Sagrada Família Nativity façade and Crypt of the Sagrada Família cathedral (1884–1926)

See also the List of Gaudi Buildings.


  • Gaudí's abandoned plans for a New York skyscraper hotel were re-proposed for the redesign of the World Trade Centre after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
  • In 1992, five artists founded La Asociación pro Beatificación de Antoni Gaudí. The secular association has since pushed for the Roman Catholic church to declare Gaudí blessed.
  • Gaudí's life and work inspired The Alan Parsons Project to create the 1987 album Gaudí.
  • There are striking similarities between the work of Gaudí and that of Friedensreich Hundertwasser, mainly in the latter man's biomorphic forms and use of tile.
  • Surprisingly, Gaudi's influence appears heavily in the Pokémon film Dialga VS Palkia VS Darkrai. Sagrada Familia appears in the form of the "Space-Time Tower," mimicking the cathedral's spires. Its architecht is named Gaudy, and another major character and Gaudy's great-granson is named Tonio, their names together forming Gaudi's name.
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