Following last week’s Barcelona blog, we continue our look at the best of the Catalan capital city’s architecture, from the famous and the luxurious to the minimalist and the undiscovered…
6. HOTEL ARTS
Hotel Arts – Photos by Photo Kamil and [bastian.]
As the joint tallest structure in Barcelona, the Hotel Arts was designed to be noticed. Designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, who have been behind such iconic architecture as the John Hancock Center and the Willis Tower in Chicago and 1 World Trade Center, currently under construction in New York, the Hotel Arts was constructed in 1994 as luxury hotel accommodation on Barcelona’s sea front. As with many of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill creations, the Hotel Arts is a classic example of structural expressionism, with the exterior aesthetics made up of the structural elements of the building (although whether these beams are fully functional or simply decorative is questionable). Operated by Ritz-Carlton, the hotel is extremely luxurious and considered one of the top ten places in the world to indulge in some celebrity-spotting.
7. CASA VICENS
Casa Vicens – Photos by ctsnow, Lico43 and Morgaine
Casa Vicens is one of Gaudí’s first important works of architecture, with building work beginning in 1883 and completion in 1889. Although at first glance it seems to shun Gaudí’s usual Catalan influences, Casa Vicens draws from Barcelona’s Moorish past, as well as adding biographical details about its owner, Manuel Vicens.
The Moors conquered Barcelona in 717AD, and much of historic Barcelona still demonstrates their influence. Las Ramblas, one of the most famous streets of Barcelona and a favourite of the tourists, derives its name from the Arabic ‘ramla’, meaning sandy riverbed. Although re-conquered in 801 by the son of Charlemagne, the Moors left behind Mudéjar – a Moorish influenced architectural style that was adopted by Muslims and Christians alike. Gaudí taps into this history with Casa Vicens in its ornate tiling, red brick, undressed stone and use of geometric columns and arches and minaret-style towers. The ceramic tiles and red bricks also relate to Manuel Vicens, owner of a brick and tile factory, and the yellow flowered tiles on the facade were manufactured by his own factory.
As a forerunner to Gaudí’s later, more famous works, several signature patterns can be noted, including the use of bright colours, ceramic tiles and elaborate chimneys, not to mention Gaudí tapping into Catalan history for inspiration. Gaudí also worked as an interior designer for this project, with the interior just as extravagantly and intricately decorated as the exterior. The Smoking Room in particular is a beautifully lavish affair, with a carved wood Mudéjar ceiling, elaborate stained glass and floral tiles. Whilst the house remains a private residence, its owners generally open Casa Vicens to ‘neighbours and citizens’ on May 22nd.
8. IGUALADA CEMETERY
Igualada Cemetery – Photos by axmiller, Cecilia and Fred Scharmen
Whilst a cemetery may seem to be an unlikely source of inspirational architecture, Catalan architects Enric Miralles and Carme Pinós designed Igualada Cemetery as something completely different from the norm. An entrant into a design competition to replace the old cemetery, Miralles and Pinós’s concept of a ‘City of the Dead’ that complemented the landscape and contemplated the relation between living and dead won and construction began in 1985, finishing in 1994. Originally there were plans to include a chapel and a monastery; whilst these were not completed, the spaces that would have housed them exist on the second floor.
The cemetery is set up as a ‘river of life’ that flows from a processional pathway, past the gates of rusting steel that are reminiscent of the crosses at Calvary (see photo above), down into the burial areas. The materials used are wood, concrete and stone, designed to blend into the landscape rather than stand out from it, which creates the effect of the cemetery seeming to have naturally come from the land rather than having been built upon it. This is particularly noticeable in the wooden railway sleepers set into the concrete floor, the placement of trees emerging from the pathways, subdued earthy colours and the sloping gabion walls that resemble hills and mountainsides. This sense of immersion and seamless linking with nature and the surrounding landscape is intended to create a link between the living and the dead, breaking down binary oppositions and creating a space for gentle contemplation.
Miralles himself is buried here, sadly passing away in 2000 at the age of 45.
9. SAGRADA FAMILIA
Left: Sagrada model (Graceycat)
Centre: Passion Façade as of Feb 2011 (Howard Walfish)
Right: Interior (Montxo-Donostia)
Sagrada Familia is Gaudí’s most famous and impressive work, with vast amounts of tourists flocking to see it each day, and yet it is not expected to reach completion until 2026. Amazingly, work began on Sagrada Familia (full name: Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família) in 1882, and when Gaudí sadly passed away in 1926 less than a quarter of the project had been completed. Despite this, the project continued to progress, with the project reaching the halfway stage in 2010.
Sagrada Familia began life as a very different design, when a Catalan bookseller called Josep Maria Bocabella was inspired by a church in Loreto, Italy and returned to Barcelona with the intention of building a similar Gothic Revival church. Work began in 1882, but when the architect retired in 1883 Gaudí was drafted in and changed the entire design to the radical structure seen today. Gaudí was an extremely religious man, with previous works including several small scale churches and others such as Casa Batlló and Casa Milà containing religious symbolism, so the chance to work on such a project must have been enticing. Apart from some extremely small scale projects, Sagrada Familia almost exclusively dominated his professional life from 1915 until his death. His work has been continued by a team of architects that have been inspired by Gaudí’s work and have tried to follow his original directions and plans as much as possible.
The most noticeable features of the exterior design are the spires and the facades. The spires, of which there should be eighteen, represent the twelve Apostles, four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, and each of these groups should be at a different height with the Jesus Christ spire being the tallest. At present, only four of the apostle spires have been constructed. There will also be three grand facades detailing important events in Christ’s life – the Nativity façade to the east, the Passion façade to the south and the Glory façade to the west. All three are very different, with the Passion façade evoking a sombre and severe mood with its bare stone cut into angular columns that represent sequoia trunks. In contrast to this, the Nativity façade is joyful in its ornamental sculptures and use of natural imagery such as the turtles and tortoises that decorate the base of each column. Gaudí also intended for this façade to be brightly painted, in contrast with the bare stone of the Passion. The Glory façade will be the largest of the three, offering access to the central nave and depicting scenes of both Heaven and Hell. Construction began on this in 2002.
Opinion has been divided over Sagrada Familia; it has been praised both for its ‘ruthless audacity’ and as being ‘sensual, spiritual, whimsical, exuberant’, but has also been termed ‘one of the most horrendous buildings in the world’. Funded privately by donors and through visitor ticket costs, Sagrada Familia is not supported by any government or church authorities.
10. MONTJUÏC COMMUNICATIONS TOWER
Montjuïc Communications Tower – Photos by Stefan Schmitz and Wojtek Gurak
Built to transmit television coverage of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the Montjuïc Communications Tower, also known as Torre Téléfonica or Torre Calatrava, is a novel design for a potentially very plain piece of telecommunications apparatus. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, an architect that incorporates engineering and sculpture into his designs, the tower is 136 metres tall and represents an athlete holding the Olympic flame. The ring-shaped element holds the transmitting dishes and connects to the pylon in the middle, and the whole structure is covered in trencadis, the mosaic method that Gaudí pioneered using ceramic tile shards. As well as transmitting television signals, the tower also doubles as a sundial as it casts a shadow on the circular platform on which it stands.