March 27, 2011

The Wild Genius of Antonio Gaudí

I've long been aware of the unusual character of the works of the Spanish Catalan architect Antonio Gaudí (1852 -1926), having seen photos over the years. It was not until a few days ago, when I saw the 1984 film Antonio Gaudí by Hiroshi Teshigahara, the director of Woman in the Dunes, that I understood the full extent of his remarkable imagination and unique accomplishment. Matter of fact, I wondered "how in the world did this stuff get made??". The entire time I was watching the film I kept bursting out in exclamations a bit too racy to write here, from sheer astonishment and delight. The film is a visual feast, a nearly silent, but music filled, ode to Gaudí, less documentary than poetic essay. The filmmaker took us to rooftops and the pinnacles of towers where dark hooded sentinels stand watch above the city of Barcelona; these wackily decorative elements were some of my favorite aspects of the architecture.

Gaudí's forms are based in geometry and nature, and this powerful shape is atop a tall pillar of the still unfinished cathedral, Sagrada Familia. Its elaborate structure reminded me of a trip I made to the Prado in Madrid years ago, where I saw medieval paintings thick with baubles of shiny colored glass and surrounded by heavy gold. The Spanish character seemed to be far from the rational Italian one, and Gaudí's work celebrates an intuitive imagination.

This room feels like the inside of a body, with ribs arching softly overhead.

At times during the film, Teshigahara shows us influences on Gaudí, including Romanesque churches and the tall rock formations of Catalonia, that seem to be the inspiration for the tall pinnacles of the Sagrada Familia. His brickwork above acknowledges that past while doing wonderfully surprising things with arches and pillars.

Gaudí's most delightful project is the Park Güell in Barcelona. This pillared walkway has the feel of a path through the woods, the irregular stones giving the appearance of rough bark.

There is beautiful, randomly pieced tilework in the park, full of life and color, on the creatures living there and on the grand sinuous benches surrounded a large open square.

So much color and texture go into the tops of Gaudí's buildings, making them a sheer joy to see. These roof tiles are like something alive, flowing with movement. I began to think about Frank Lloyd Wright, the American early 20th century architect, because he was also inspired by nature in his designs; he was also a architectural genius. He had many followers, trained at Taliesen East and West, while I believe Gaudí was unique although he collaborated with a large number of architects and artisans. Wright's work now seems almost staid and conventional to me next to the extravagant and powerful inventions of Antonio Gaudí.

*To see more images from this film, go to this link for my photo album. (click on images to enlarge)


  1. Thanks for an interesting posts on one of my favorite architects. Like you, I only know Gaudi's work from photos...FYI: I have not been, but currently Milwaukee Art Museum has a show on FL Wright. FLW: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century

  2. I have been there. And as incredible as the work, is that this architecture actually exists in a real city and didn't remain in the realm of fantasy ... and not just one or two sites ... but kaleidoscopically around Barcelona. I'd like to know the back-story of how Gaudi achieved this.

  3. Julie, MoMA in NYC mounted a large Wright show several years ago, which included parts of structures and models; it was terrific.
    Emily, from reading the Wikipedia entry on Gaudí, I see he started small: designing lamp posts and kiosks, then got more important commissions. He had a great patron, Eusebi Güell, who commissioned many of his works.

  4. Excellent diversion to enter the genius of Gaudi in your absorbing post. Much needed diversion from snow and taxes; thanks!

  5. "Wright's work now seems almost staid and conventional to me next to the extravagant and powerful inventions of Antonio Gaudí." I agree! I agree!

  6. I was researching Sheila Hicks online and found your blog entries on that, which led me to this piece on Gaudi. I am excited to see the doc you mentioned (I loved Woman in the Dunes!). I had the chance to visit Barcelona in November, 2012, and was finally able to see the interiors of several of his buildings. The Sagrada Familia is simply spectacular on the inside. The Parc Guell steals my heart for the absolute whimsy of the place. It is also a popular spot for various musicians to gather--a marvelous steel guitar player for one whom I was told practices there frequently. Thanks for the tip on the film!