After visiting Barcelona for the first time I have decided that I don’t like Gaudi much. For those that haven’t visited, he is the city’s most famous architect, the vision behind the Sagrada Familia, and is unavoidable in the city. His style is in your face, jagged edges, sharp curves and garish tiles; I would call it ostentatious and brash. Yet, I do have an admiration for what he was doing, it’s a pretty bold break from the past, when others in the early 19th century were creating pastiche roman buildings, neo-gothic and neo-baroque, he was doing his own thing. There are strong links to Art Nouveau, a style which I really like, and it is highly referential to Catalonia, making it admirably grounded in its setting.
Yet, my favourite piece of architecture in the city is the Barcelona Pavilion by Mies Van der Rohe. It is stunning, a temple to modernism designed by possibly the most influential modernist architect. In many ways it is the antithesis to Gaudian design, embodying the principle of less is more. Every surface is smooth, every junction is deliberate, and the ceilings is apparently suspended by a twine of invisible string. It feels strikingly modern, yet it was designed in 1929; imagine the stir it would have caused back then
While I think the Sagrada Familia is a pretty monstrous building what is has in common with the Barcelona Pavilion is a true sense of originality and boldness. I read that George Orwell, who fought in the Spanish Civil War, and was based in Barcelona called it “one of the most hideous buildings in the world and hoped that it would be destroyed in the war. On balance it’s fortunate that didn’t happen, as a record of Gaudi’s work it’s great that it can be seen and discussed. Yet, the continuing construction of the cathedral is farcical.
My issue is that none of Gaudi’s plans still exist, so the architects are simply imagining what might have been drawn. They are creating a pastiche of an already bizarre building and it’s hideous. It would have been much more atmospheric and meaningful to walk around the cathedral as Gaudi left it.
If you want to provide a completed building, then engage a modern Catalonian architect and make it clear the distinction between old and new. I’m not saying that would create a beautiful building, but it would be more honest and more forward looking.