Thursday, July 30th, 2015

A Manifesto Against Completing Sagrada Família Church

I’ve written before about Sagrada Família Church in Barcelona, an architectural masterwork by Antoni Gaudí. In particular you may remember my essay “Will Sagrada Família Be Mankind’s Last Ever Great Artistic Statement for God?.”

I wrote that piece after reading an article by Oscar Tusquets Blanca in Domus magazine in 2011. In it he talked about being an instigator as a student of the publication of a manifesto (his term) against completion of the church. And how he now believes he and his fellow signatories were very mistaken.

While researching a forthcoming lecture, I wanted to read that manifesto, but I could not find it online anywhere in either Spanish or English. Architect Duncan Stroik helped locate a copy for me via Pablo Álvarez Funes in London, who also kindly translated it into English. I’m reproducing that translation in English below, followed by the Spanish original. If you wish, you can view the original newspaper version as a PDF.

As this was an open letter published in a newspaper, I presume the authors have no objection to sharing this important document. To the best of my knowledge, there’s no other easily accessible English language translation. Thanks to Pablo and Duncan for making this possible.

This letter was originally published on Saturday, January 9, 1965 in La Vanguardia, Barcelona’s leading newspaper.

Letters to “LA VANGUARDIA”

Construction Works at the Church of Sagrada Familia

Mr. Director of LA VANGUARDIA

Dear Sir:

We request to please give place to the following letter within the pages of this newspaper that you worthily direct, for which we express our gratitude in advance.

The Church of Sagrada Familia was commenced in March 19, 1882, and it has remained unfinished for many years, with works developing slowly and practically interrupted. We are periodically reminded on the duty to contribute to its completion and an important part of the public considers Sagrada Familia as a task in we are all committed and whose renounce is a collective shame. A special day has been dedicated to remind it to us and raise funds for the continuation of construction works. This day is close and as many people will take part on the collection being convinced on collaborating on a religious, civic and artistic work; and as we are convinced that this work is not only non-positive, but also counterproductive, we think it is our duty to expose our points of view.

1.- The cathedral had as one of its purposes to gather all the city residents during the great religious celebrations; in the cities of today such a big monumental temple has no sense.

It is not a matter of building a great temple for the whole city, which should allow space for almost two million people, but building multiple parishes. In all fields, urban planning tends to these decentralized neighbourhoods, and the Church who strives to support itself in real urban entities precisely, tends to vitalize parishes as centres of evangelization.

A temple such as Sagrada Familia wouldn’t be either useful or large religious gatherings, as the Eucharistic Congress was. An opened space or a vast covered space with different characteristic from the temple designed by Gaudi should be required. We therefore believe that the continuation of a temple following this line is a social and urban mistake.

2.- Sagrada Familia has to be considered from the point of view of a expiatory monument. In this case, the temple would come to focus and symbolize the expiatory fervour of the whole society. But we don’t believe on such popular sentiment, nor anyone feeling really connected to this collective expiatory task. Today’s generation doesn’t understand that the need of expiation has to be precisely materialized in the construction of a temple that will cost millions.

3.- Even if there was no social, urban or pastoral justification to complete the temple, the could be another reason. Sagrada Familia is a work of Gaudí and has an artistic value. Let’s forget for a moment that the artistic value of a building cannot be separated from its social justification. It is a work of Gaudí, it is a work of art, and some people want to see it finished. But, is it possible to finish a building? Nobody would ever finish a painting or a sculpture, but can a building be completed without the architect who designed it? I might be possible if there were very accurate plans, if all building issues were solved on paper. But Gaudí had such a living concept of architecture that created his work daily following messy impulses, with preliminary drawings which could only be used as a guide. There is an essential pictorial and sculptural side of Gaudi which could only have been done by him. Without it, the work keeps distorted and diminished. But we neither have any model or drawings from Gaudí. This reason is conclusive and makes all previous seem unnecessary. Sagrada Familia cannot be continued because there are no drawings; anything done on this side is improvisation. Nobody really respecting Gaudi’s work can cooperate on this mess.

These are our reasons. The temple is inoperative from an urban and social point of view; the city does not need big temples but parishes to allow pastoral action; a great expiatory temple for the whole society is an idea out of time – today popular fervor is expressed in other ways, otherwise the temple would have been already concluding; finishing a building without the architect who designed it is very difficult; but if it desired to be finished following his designs and those drawings are missing, it is just a fully ambiguous attempt.

What to do, then, with what we have built? This lends itself to a long discussion. There are plenty and varied solutions which should be studied and choose the best. Our only certainty is that what is being done now is wrong, and only urgency is to finish with this error as soon as possible. There will be time to study solutions at a later day; from converting the current esplanade in an outdoor temple, leaving the facade and apse as a monumental altarpiece; to continue building adapting Gaudí principles to modern techniques and needs.

Yours Sincerely:

Antoni de Moragas, Chairman of the Colegio de Arquitectos (Institute of Architects).

Alfons Serrahima, President of FAD (Fomento de las Artes y el Diseño – Promotion of Arts and Design).

Roberto Terradas, Dean of the School of Architecture.

Students of the School of Architecture.

Nikolaus Pevsner, director of “Architectural Review”

Gio Ponti, director oh “Domus”.

Bruno Zevi, director of “L’architettura”,

Ernesto N. Rogers, director oh “Casabella”.

Vittorio Gregotti, director of “Edilizia Moderna”.

M. Capelladas, O. P., director of “Art Sacré”.

Carlos de Miguel, director of “Arquitectura”.

Asís Viladevall, director of “Cuadernos de Arquitectura”.

Le Corbusier, Ludovica Quaroni, Paolo Portoghesi, Ludovico Belgiolso, J. A. Coderch, Manuel Valls, N. Rubio Tudurí, Antoni Bonet, Oriol Bohigas, J. M. Martorell, David Mackay, Federico Correa, Alfonso Milá, Joaquim Gili, Francesc Bassó, Vicens Bonet, Ricardo Bofill, Enric Tous, J. M. Fargas, Xavier Subías, J. M. Sostres, Josep Pratmarsó, A. Fernández Alba, R. V. Molewin, J. A. Corrales, Jesús Bosch, Javier Feduchi, J. L. Pico, C. Ortíz Echagüe, Ignacio Araujo, architects.

Pere M. Busquets, O.SB.; Miguel Estradé, O. S. B.; Evangelista Vilanova, O.S.B.: A. Borras, Ricard Pedrals, presbyter; Frederic Bassó, presbyter; Joan E. Jarque, presbyter; J. Alemany, presbyter; Joan Ferrando, presbyter; Casimir Martí, presbyter; Josep Bigordá, presbyter; M. Prats, presbyter; Jordi Bertrán, presbyter; Josep Hortet, presbyter; Pere Tena, presbyter.

Joan Miró, Antoni Tapies, J. Llorens Artigas, A. Rafols Casamada, Todó, Marcel Martí, Hernández Pijuan, Subirachs, Antoni Cumella, Cesc, Oriol Maspons, Julio Ubiña, Leopold Pomés, Xavier Miserachs, André Ricard, Rafael Marquina, Jordi Fornas, Miguel Milá, Joan Gaspar, Miquel Gaspar, Manuel Dicenta, Román Gubern, Joan Prats, Oriol Martorell, J. M. Mestres Quadreny.

Roberto Pane, Gillo Dorfles, Giullo Carlo Argan, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, Alexandre Cirici, Camilo J. Cela, R. Santos Torroella, J. M. Valverde, A. Badia Margarit, Joan Teixidor, Joan Oliver, Joan Perucho, Salvador Espriu, Caries Soldevila, Carlos Barral, J. Gil de Biedma, J. M. Espinas, Joan Brossa, María Martinell, Lluisa Calvet, Pere Vegué, J. Gich.

Remember that the section “Letters to LA VANGUARDIA” is a platform opened to our reader’s opinions, which might not coincide with that of the newspaper, which has its specific sections for that purpose.

CARTAS A “LA VANGUARDIA”

La obra del templo de la Sagrada Familia

Sr. Director de LA VANGUARDIA

Muy señor nuestro:

Le rogamos que dé cabida en las páginas del periódico de su digna dirección la siguiente carta, por lo cual le expresamos nuestra gratitud anticipada.

El templo de la Sagrada Familia fue iniciado 19 de marzo de 1882, y desde hace muchos años permanece inacabado, con una obra a un ritmo lentísimo, prácticamente interrumpido. Periódicamente alguien nos recuerda el deber que tenemos de colaborar a su terminación y un sector importante de público considera la Sagrada Familia como una empresa en la que estamos comprometidos todos y cuyo abandono es una vergüenza colectiva. Se ha dedicado un día especial a recordárnoslo y a recaudar fondos para la continuación de las obras. Este día está próximo y como muchas personas participarán en la colecta convencidos de colaborar en una obra religiosa, ciudadana y artística, y como nosotros estamos, convencidos de que esta labor no sólo no es positiva, sino que es contraproducente, creemos un deber exponer nuestros puntos de vista.

1.- La catedral tenía como uno de sus fines agrupar a todos los habitantes da la ciudad en las grandes celebraciones religiosas; en las ciudades de hoy un enorme templo monumental no tiene sentido.

No m trata ya de construir un gran templo para toda la ciudad, que debería tener cabida para casi dos millones de habitantes, sino de construir múltiples parroquias. El urbanismo tiende en todos los campos a esta descentralización en barrios y la Iglesia que, por razones pastorales, se esfuerza en apoyarse precisamente en las entidades urbanas reales, tiende a vitalizar las parroquias como núcleos de evangelización.

Tampoco para las grandes concentraciones religiosas —como lo fue el Congreso Eucarístico— tendría utilidad un templo como la Sagrada Familia; se requeriría un espacio abierto o un vastísimo espacio cubierto de características muy distintas a las del templo ideado por Gaudí. Creemos, por tanto, que la continuación de un templo dentro de esta línea es un error social y urbanístico.

2.- Puede considerarse a la Sagrada Familia, desde el punto de vista de un monumento expiatorio. En este caso el templo vendría a centrar y a simbolizar el fervor expiatorio de todo un pueblo. Pero no creemos que exista este sentimiento popular, ni que nadie se sienta vinculado de veras a esta empresa colectiva de expiación. La generación de hoy no comprende que una necesidad de expiación tenga que concretarse precisamente en la construcción de un templo que costaría millones.

3.- Aunque no hubiera justificaciones sociales ni urbanísticas ni pastorales para terminar el templo, podría haber otra razón. La Sagrada Familia es obra de Gaudí y tiene un valor artístico. Olvidemos por un momento que el valor artístico de un edificio no puede desvincularse de su justificación social. Es una obra de Gaudí, es una obra de arte, y hay quien quiere verla terminada. Ahora bien, ¿es posible terminar un edificio? A nadie se le ocurriría terminar un cuadro o una escultura, pero un edificio ¿se puede terminar sin el arquitecto que lo concibió? Quizá sería posible si existieran planos detalladísimos, si el edificio estuviese resuelto sobre el papel en todos sus puntos. Pero Gaudí tenía de la arquitectura un concepto tan vivo que creaba su obra diariamente a impulsos desordenados, con unos planos previos que servían apenas de pauta. En Gaudí hay un aspecto pictórico y escultórico que es esencial y este aspecto sólo él lo podía realizar. Sin él, la obra queda falseada y disminuida. Pero, además, no disponemos de ningún proyecto, de ningún plano auténtico de Gaudí. Esta razón es concluyente y todas las anteriores parecen innecesarias. No se puede continuar la Sagrada Familia de Gaudí porque no existen planos; todo lo que se haga son improvisaciones. Nadie que respete de veras la obra gaudiniana puede colaborar a esta mixtificación.

Estas son nuestras razones. Urbanística y socialmente el gran templo es inoperante; para la acción pastoral en la ciudad se necesitan parroquias y no grandes templos; un gran templo expiatorio de todo un pueblo es una idea fuera de época —hoy el fervor de un pueblo se expresa en otras formas, y de no ser así, el templo estaría ya terminado—; terminar un edificio sin el arquitecto que lo ideó es muy difícil; pero sí se quiere terminar según su mismo proyecto y de este proyecto no quedan planos, es ya un intento lleno de vaguedades.

¿Qué hay que hacer, pues, con lo que tenemos construido? Esto se presta a una larga discusión. Las soluciones son muchas y muy diversas. Habría que estudiarlas y elegir la mejor. Lo único seguro es que lo que ahora se está haciendo es un error, y lo único urgente es terminar cuanto antes con este error. Tiempo habrá luego para estudiar soluciones, desde convertir la actual explanada en un templo al aire libre, dejando la fachada y el ábside como un monumental retablo, hasta continuar la construcción adaptando los principios gaudinistas a las técnicas y necesidades modernas.

Reciba un atento saludo de

Antoni de Moragas, decano del Colegio de Arquitectos.

Alfons Serrahima, presidente del FAD.

Roberto Terradas, director de la Escuela de Arquitectura.

Estudiantes de la E.T.S. de Arquitectura.

Nikolaus Pevsner, director de “Architectural Review”

Gio Ponti, director de “Domus”.

Bruno Zevi, director de “L’architettura”,

Ernesto N. Rogers, director de “Casabella”.

Vittorio Gregotti, director de “Edilizia Moderna”.

Capelladas, O. P., director de “Art Sacré”.

Carlos de Miguel, director de “Arquitectura”.

Asís Viladevall, director de “Cuadernos de Arquitectura”.

Le Corbusier, Ludovica Quaroni, Paolo Portoghesi, Ludovico Belgiolso, J. A. Coderch, Manuel Valls, N. Rubio Tudurí, Antoni Bonet, Oriol Bohigas, J. M. Martorell, David Mackay, Federico Correa, Alfonso Milá, Joaquim Gili, Francesc Bassó, Vicens Bonet, Ricardo Bofill, Enric Tous, J. M. Fargas, Xavier Subías, J. M. Sostres, Josep Pratmarsó, A. Fernández Alba, R. V. Molewin, J. A. Corrales, Jesús Bosch, Javier Feduchi, J. L. Pico, C. Ortíz Echagüe, Ignacio Araujo, arquitectos.

Pere M. Busquets, O.SB.; Miguel Estradé, O. S. B.; Evangelista Vilanova, O.S.B.: A. Borras, Ricard Pedrals, presbítero; Frederic Bassó, presbítero; Joan E. Jarque, presbítero; J. Alemany, presbítero; Joan Ferrando, presbítero; Casimir Martí, presbítero; Josep Bigordá, presbítero; M. Prats, presbítero; Jordi Bertrán, presbítero; Josep Hortet, presbítero; Pere Tena, presbítero.

Joan Miró, Antoni Tapies, J. Llorens Artigas, A. Rafols Casamada, Todó, Marcel Martí, Hernández Pijuan, Subirachs, Antoni Cumella, Cesc, Oriol Maspons, Julio Ubiña, Leopold Pomés, Xavier Miserachs, André Ricard, Rafael Marquina, Jordi Fornas, Miguel Milá, Joan Gaspar, Miquel Gaspar, Manuel Dicenta, Román Gubern, Joan Prats, Oriol Martorell, J. M. Mestres Quadreny.

Roberto Pane, Gillo Dorfles, Giullo Carlo Argan, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, Alexandre Cirici, Camilo J. Cela, R. Santos Torroella, J. M. Valverde, A. Badia Margarit, Joan Teixidor, Joan Oliver, Joan Perucho, Salvador Espriu, Caries Soldevila, Carlos Barral, J. Gil de Biedma, J. M. Espinas, Joan Brossa, María Martinell, Lluisa Calvet, Pere Vegué, J. Gich.

Recordamos que la sección de “Cartas a LA VANGUARDIA” es una tribuna abierta a la opinión de nuestros lectores, la cual puede no coincidir con la del periódico, que tiene ras secciones específicas de manifestación.

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Topics: Architecture and Design, Arts and Culture, Historic Preservation, Urban Culture
Cities: Barcelona

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Bye, Bye, Barcelona

City Lab pointed me at this documentary called “Bye, Bye, Barcelona” that describes that city’s increasingly love-hate relationship with tourists as it starts to choke on the sheer volume of visitors, which increased from around 1.7M/yr in 1990 to about 8M in 2013. The city is now the most popular cruise ship destination in the Mediterranean, and up to seven huge ships can dock there simultaneously, disgorging their passengers into Las Ramblas or Sagrada Familia. This video must have struck a nerve as it’s been watched over 200,000 times. It if doesn’t display for you, watch on You Tube.

Here’s a bonus bridge construction time lapse. It’s from Southern Indiana where the bridge across the Ohio River at Madison was replaced by building a new span on temporary piers, demolishing the old span, then sliding the new span onto the old piers. Here’s a time lapse of the slide operation. If it doesn’t display, watch on You Tube.

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Barcelona Timelapse

This week’s video feature is a time lapse of Barcelona, an amazing city, by Alexandr Kravtsov. As always with these, I suggest full screen, high definition. If the video doesn’t display for you, click here.

h/t Likecool

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Cities: Barcelona
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Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

God’s Architect: 60 Minutes on Sagrada Família

The stunning architectural masterwork that is Sagrada Família in Barcelona got a nice feature on 60 Minutes called “God’s Architect: Antoni Gaudí’s Glorious Vision.” If the video doesn’t display in your reader or email, please click here.

If you ever visit Barcelona, Sagrada Família is the number one must visit. However, there’s a lot of other Gaudí buildings that are also stunning. And Barcelona has a lot of great contemporary architecture too. If you went to Sagrada Família like I did the first time when it was a still a huge construction zone in the interior, you’ll absolutely want to go back now that the interior is finished and it’s actually a functioning basilica. The exterior, including the gigantic central spire, won’t be wrapped up for a several years yet.

See also: Will Sagrada Família Be Mankind’s Last Ever Great Artistic Statement for God?

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Summer Barcelona

Your city video of the week is this nice tilt shift look at this summer in Barcelona. It’s a great city that deserves a nice profile like this. Best viewed in full screen high def. If the video doesn’t display for you, click here.

h/t Likecool

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Topics: Civic Branding, Urban Culture
Cities: Barcelona
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Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Back From Barcelona

We just got back from spending a week in Barcelona. It’s a great city, the weather was perfect, and the crowds weren’t too bad. A very enjoyable trip all around. As usual, I have a few observations that struck me while there.

Urban Culture

I used to have a team I supervised in Madrid, so I had been to that city many times, but never made it to Barcelona apart from one brief in and out trip. I was eager to compare and contrast the two.

One thing that struck me was an analogy to the Midwest. Spain was once a mighty empire, but became a sort of backwater for quite a while. Madrid was always a sort of provincial capital not as important in world affairs as say London, New York, or Paris. And within Spain, Barcelona is a regional capital, one looking to assert its own cultural identity, such as by emphasizing the Catalan language. Some even want Catalonia to be independent from Spain. I definitely noticed that the Catalonian flag is ubiquitous while you need to look closely to see Spain’s national flag.

This is somewhat similar to the Midwest. Chicago is the provincial capital, and other cities in the region want to assert themselves on the national stage. Of course, we’ve got to be careful about analogies, particularly with foreign countries. No city in the Midwest is a rival to Chicago in the way Barcelona fancies itself a rival to Madrid. And Chicago itself is in some ways a second city like Barcelona. But I’ll try to tease out some provocations anyway.

The thing I found most interesting was actually a lack of distinct regional culture in Barcelona vs. Madrid. To me, Barcelona just seemed generically “European”. Sure, you knew where you were, but it was a similar experience to many other European cities. But when you go to Madrid, it is very clear you are in Spain, in a Spanish city. There’s the weight of all the history, the culture, and above all a notable lack of English speakers. Barcelona is much more cosmopolitan. In pretty much every establishment I visited, someone spoke good English, which is definitely not the case in Madrid.

Possibly the language matter is due to Barcelona’s embrace of Catalan. I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect that any Westerner should know at least a few words in Spanish and French, but clearly almost nobody is going to learn Catalan. Hence, if you want to embrace that language, you must be willing to engage in English with foreigners.

Consider also the artists. The artists that are the backbone of the Prado collection – Goya, Velazquez, El Greco – are ones that immediately conjure up Spain in the mind. But Barcelona’s native sons Picasso and Miró were modern artists whose names bring to mind place like Paris and MoMA above all. So too with architecture, as Barcelona has clearly more embraced the modern than Madrid. There are even more modern furniture outlets there.

If I were to draw a surmise from this, it would be that: when a regional provincial capital tries to assert its identity, the result is a sort of generic cosmopolitanism.

If you look at the Midwest, you see this in action. It is Chicago (like Madrid), not the other regional cities, that has the most unique identity. And most of the efforts smaller cities are putting into asserting themselves is through self-consciously embracing a sort of generic cosmopolitan style, by implementing standard urban items like sports stadiums, starchitect buildings, and transit systems that are as much about signaling as they are about actual results.

Beyond this, it seemed to me that Madrid was much more a business center. Barcelona didn’t give off that vibe at all. I’m not even sure what its main industries are. Also, Madrid seemed to have much more recent construction than Barcelona. Tons of new apartment blocks and office towers had sprung up there. And there was an orgy of freeway construction (including several underground tunnels) and transit system expansions, including many new tram lines that reach even suburban office parks. I didn’t notice nearly as much of that in Barcelona.

Density and Transportation

As with Madrid, Barcelona is an exceptionally dense city by the standards of the west. The core is about 40-50,000 per square mile, greater than any US core other than Manhattan. But as is often the case in Europe, this is in the form of 6-8 story buildings, not skyscrapers, refuting the notion that height equates to density. There are almost no vacant lots or surface parking anywhere in the city, though the interior of blocks often features courtyards or lower rise structures that make them look hollow. Here’s a view of the city taken from one of the bell towers of Sagrada Familia:

Naturally this enables a robust transit system, and Barcelona has an excellent, high frequency subway network that, as with many European cities but unlike in the US, is a mesh-like structure that serves most of the city, enabling you to get almost anywhere with a simple transfer. It is not a core-centric radial system. Headways are excellent. I never waited even one minute for a train and something like eight times in a row the train pulled into the station just as we arrived at the platform. There is also an extensive and well-patronized bus system with a modern rolling stock.

The streets themselves are largely a grid outside of the gothic-era core. Avinguda Diagonal cuts through the grid at an angle like Market St. in San Francisco. Many of the streets are very wide. I often hear people in places like Indianapolis bemoan their wide streets. I take exactly the opposite view. In most cases, the street ROW is actually too narrow. There are many Barcelona streets wider than the right of way of Washington St., Indy’s widest. The big difference is that in the US we give most of the ROW to cars, with only tiny sidewalks. In Barcelona and throughout Europe they accommodate plenty of cars, but give large amounts of the street to general sidewalks, wide medians, landscaping, and such, creating a much better pedestrian experience. Barcelona also has a plethora of one way streets, which seems not to have hurt it.

Speaking of pedestrians, there is a high density of them throughout the city. I did see some bike lanes, but most of these appeared to be carved out of previously pedestrian space, not auto traffic. There is also a bike share program, which accounted for about 80% of all the bikes I actually saw on the street. Barcelona’s biking culture far lags that of many US cities. The preferred mode of transit is instead the scooter, which is ubiquitous. It appears to be legal to park them on the sidewalk.

Unlike in the US, all of the sidewalks I saw were either flagstones or modular pavers. It also appears that they run most of their utilities under the sidewalk, not under the street pavement. I saw very few projects tearing up streets, but several on the sidewalk, though generally not disruptive. It’s a great solution. To access utilities, you simply pull up the pavers, shovel away the sand, and get at it. Replace the sand and pavers when you are done. Looks better than concrete and functions better than cobblestones. Also, they use granite curbs and wheelchair ramps. Very nice.

Architecture

Barcelona is known for its architecture, particular that of the so-called modernista movement (related to Art Nouveau). The best known exponent of this, and certainly the most original, was Antoni Gaudí. His works are heavily influenced by nature and come across as sort of a fairy tale setting.

His most famous work is the Sagrada Familia church.

Here’s a closer look at the bell towers. These are actually mosaics.

This project was started in the 19th century and is still under construction. It is estimated to be completed in 2030, making it like a modern day equivalent of the gothic cathedral projects.

Another well known Gaudí building is Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera.

Facade detail showing the intricate ironwork railings:

Chimneys (aka Imperial stormtroopers) on the roof:

One last example is Park Güell:

Gaudí was fortunate to work at a time when he had access to modern construction techniques such as steel frame construction, but also to craftsman who could create his unique works.

When you think of all this old architecture that even today enchants visitors, it makes you think. There was a great era of architecture from say 1850-1914 in Europe and from 1875 to the end of the art deco era in the early 1930’s in the United States. It was actually a great era in many other ways. The French called it the Belle Époque. And it wasn’t just the modernista and Art Nouveau in Europe. Most of the core civic structures of the Midwest were built in this era as well. Virtually none were built after them.

I think of Indianapolis, where the Indiana State House, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, Union Station, the movie palaces, and the Indiana World War Memorial (started 1926) all date to this era. Has there been a truly great building constructed in Indianapolis since the Scottish Rite Cathedral in 1929? A similar story could be told in most places. For much of the US, this is the era that defined the architecture that creates the civic sacred space. Europe obviously has a longer architectural history, but this era saw most of the last of the entries. If many of these were simply vernacular pieces, at least they were good ones, especially compared to what came later.

The mid-century period and beyond produced plenty of architecture that is critically acclaimed, but for the public at large even the best of these buildings inspire more respect than affection. And unlike previous eras, the vast bulk of the copies of the masterworks were severely lacking. Many of them blight our cities to this very day.

What went wrong? In the Great War and the Great Depression something in the human spirit was grievously wounded.

But today we see signs of recovery. While I have my quibbles with starchitecture, there’s little doubt many of these structures are beloved by the public in the way a Miesian monolith never will be. These architects remembered that aesthetics is the answer to the great question of “What is Beauty?”, a question too seldom asked in the modern world. While it is too early to judge, perhaps we are the start of another age of good design. I don’t think it is any accident that like the previous one, today’s design age takes place against a backdrop of economic revolution and all that comes with it. Will the Great Recession kill the baby in its crib? We’ll see.

Here are a few more shots from Barcelona. First, Casa Batlló by Gaudí

The Mercat de Santa Caterina

The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

The Palau de Musica Catalana

Dining and Entertainment

I won’t say much on this, other than that Barcelona is a famously hard partying town. Alas, I’m past the age for such things, but I did notice quite a crowd of people still carousing on the streets at 6:30am as we were in the cab on the way to the airport to leave. Reputedly there are over 20,000 bars in Barcelona.

The food is also quite good. I didn’t go hungry, that’s for sure. Very heavy on seafood, as one might expect being so close to the coast.

I’ll leave you with one of those strangely named restaurants that always gives one pause in a foreign country.

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