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Gaudí, Antoni

Category: Genius

Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (25 June 1852 – 10 June 1926) was a Spanish architect and designer - interior designer and designer of house and street furniture; sculptor and an all-round artist. 

Gaudí stood out as an interior decorator, for example, decorating most of his buildings personally, from the furnishings to the smallest feature -  doorknobs, or a simple corner cupboard for books.

In each case, he personalised the decoration according to the owner's taste and its purpose and place in the surroundings—whether urban or natural, secular or religious. He did the interior design of the Vicens, Calvet, Batlló and Milà houses, for example, the Güell Palace, the Bellesguard Tower, and the liturgical furnishing of the Sagrada Família.

Probably no other artist on our site was inspired as much as Gaudi was, by that heady combination of Nature and religion.  Nature to Gaudi was God’s work, as such he celebrated God as supreme power and creator, as well as the creations of God.  Gaudi’s masterpiece, the Sagrada Família, is the most-visited monument in Spain – it is a cathedral - a house of God. 

Gaudí's Roman Catholic faith intensified during his life and his architecture is entirely directed by natural forms, symbols and religious images, so much so he has even been called "God's Architect".

Gaudí was a member of the Cercle Artístic de Sant Lluc (Saint Luke artistic circle), a Catholic artistic society founded in 1893. He was also a member of the Lliga Espiritual de la Mare de Déu de Montserrat (spiritual league of Our lady of Montserrat), another Catholic Catalan organisation.

The architecture he espoused was given the name Catalan Modernism, but why we shall never know, as although art nouveau clearly benefited from this style, Gaudi was unique as an artist and architect.  Between 1984 and 2005, seven of his works were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO - the Park Güell, the Palau Güell and the Casa Milà; the Nativity facade, the crypt and the apse of the Sagrada Família, the Casa Vicens and the Casa Batlló in Barcelona, together with the crypt of the Colònia Güell in Santa Coloma de Cervelló.


The work of Antoni Gaudí represents an exceptional and outstanding creative contribution to the development of architecture and building technology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. … residential as well as public, to the development of which he made a significant and creative contribution.

Most of his buildings are located in Barcelona, Spain including his main work, the church of the Sagrada Família.

Utopian socialism

Gaudí devoted his entire life to his profession, remaining single. He is known to have been attracted to only one woman—Josefa Moreu, a teacher—but this was not reciprocated.  Thereafter Gaudí took refuge in the profound spiritual peace his Catholic faith offered him.  But Gaudí was interested in utopian socialism as well.

Ironically, Utopian socialism is the opposite of most other kinds of socialism - for example Marxism, [and some say it is misnamed as a consequence] in that it seeks to bring about change NOT by revolution, control, power, domination, chaos or anarchy, force or violence, but by peaceful ‘bottom up’ change. Those who believe in the idea, implement it.

It aims to encourage change by first presenting alternative imaginary or futuristic ‘ideal’ societies for discussion in response to stated problems; and then when one model emerges as a possible option, by encouraging change to that model at the grass roots level.

“utopian socialists generally do not believe any form of class struggle or political revolution is necessary, but that people of all classes can voluntarily adopt their plan for society if it is presented convincingly.” 

In effect, a number of like-minded people within the existing society, actually put their ideas into practise – a feasibility study on a manageable scale.  Then whoever is inspired by their success [if successful it is] to think the idea may work for them can form their own mini utopias, modelled on the same lines, or join the existing one. 

This model incidentally is very close to the concept of ‘diversity in unity’, as any number of different solutions can co-exist and those in each utopia have a motive for making it work.  Furthermore, the more there are, the better, as long as they are united in their ethical aims and are able to communicate with each other, as society does not stand entirely or fall entirely on one imposed system – at the moment globalisation.  Oddly it is somewhat like the evolutionists' ideas of 'survival of the fittest', applied to social systems.  The only thing needed in addition to each utopian group is a defender of the overall approach - a defender of utopian socialism as an approach.  Perhaps an army or police force formed from people from each group wishing to be defended.

This roll out of a vision needs no leaders, control, violence or revolution, all it needs are committed people, who, in a sense, recruit by demonstration.  Many small monastic communities of old were ‘utopias’ as defined here and the Shakers, Hutterites, Bruderhof and Amish are ‘utopias’ with a spiritual underpinning.  One might argue that most mystic movements are also utopias – the Incas, the Mayans, the Sufis, the Quakers, the Methodists ……………. And so on.  Sadly, many of the mystic movements, however, lacked defenders.

Gaudi, together with his fellow students Eduard Toda i Güell and Josep Ribera i Sans, planned a restoration of the Poblet Monastery that would have transformed it into a Utopian phalanstère. [A phalanstère was a type of building designed for a self-contained utopian community]. 

In the end, the idea was actioned in a different development with Eduard Toda i Güell and the Güell development. 

It is also found an early incarnation in Gaudi’s work for  The Cooperativa Obrera Mataronense (Mataró Workers' Cooperative).  It was his first big project, lasting from 1878 to 1882, paid for by Salvador Pagès i Anglada.

The project, for the cooperative's head office in Mataró, comprised a factory, a worker's housing estate, a social centre and a services building, though only the factory and the services building were completed [see right] . Gaudí included landscaped areas and even designed the Cooperative's banner, with the figure of a bee.

Many of these projects, however, failed because in the end they were still being imposed on a group of people.  The users and workers didn’t design their houses or their workspace, Gaudi did, as such the utopian ideal was not strictly speaking being enacted.  But although these imposed systems may not have worked, one utopia did.

Very few seem to realise that in his own way Gaudí created a utopia for craftsmen.  His architectural  visions required the collaboration of a very large number of assistants, artists, architects and craftsmen. Gaudí always led the way, but allowed expression of the individual abilities of all of his collaborators. He worked with other architects, sculptors, painters, builders, many different sorts of craftsmen from blacksmiths to carpenters, cabinet makers, plasterers, mosaic artists and ceramicists.  And as such for them a utopia existed – a place to be creative in a supportive environment.


Nature’s designs - Nature does not use straight lines, it does not use endless boring repetition of a feature in its designs, even each of the feathers of birds or the scales on a snake are different in shape and colour.  Nature uses vibrant colours, curves, sensuous swirling patterns, contrasting shapes, asymmetry, surprise, novelty.  And so did Gaudi.  In many cases he borrowed directly from Nature and copied the designs, in other cases he imitated the approach.

The Third Ray: Our Relationships To Nature – Gaudi’s Architecture  Posted by Joe Zammit-Lucia on 26 April 2011

Nature has inspired humans in many ways over many centuries. But maybe none match the completeness of Antoni Gaudi’s relationship with nature – Nature as structural, functional, spiritual and decorative inspiration.  Gaudi was a spiritual man with a great regard for nature as God’s creation. The Sagrada Familia “strives to compress all of earth and heaven into its structure – endless saints, biblical scenes, symbols, inscriptions, seashells, reptiles, birds, flowers and fruit.” according to Rowan Moore in The Observer. Gaudi even included in his … sculptural details, images of the animals that were going to be displaced by the building of the huge church on the then outskirts of Barcelona. Neither are sculptural details reproducing nature limited to the Sagrada Familia – they are widespread across Gaudi’s full range of art-in-building.
But Gaudi also realized that nature provided more than mere decoration. His structural forms mimicked those found in nature thereby providing him with both aesthetic and functional benefits.  Columns mirroring trees or human bones, roof structures mirroring leaves, arches mirroring rib cages; all these allowed him to reduce the materials needed to build strong structures because of the supreme functionality gained from reproducing nature’s designs.
Gaudi transformed Barcelona into an art gallery with a celebration of life on every street. His designs were sometimes outrageous – as outrageous as the plants and creatures inhabiting a tropical rain forest. In using natural forms, Gaudi was, maybe, one of the first in what would be today called a sustainable architect. He understood that nature gives us not only beauty, recreation and joie de vivre but also wisdom – something that maybe we could all learn a bit more of today.

A human scale - Everything Gaudi designed was on a human scale, its intent was not to belittle a person [as for example sky scrapers do] but to enclose them in an environment not dissimilar to a womb.  Even the interior designs had a feeling of womblike nurturing using tiles and warm colours to suggest living cells. 

Building as mother protector. 

His aim was to create a comfortable, intimate, interior atmosphere. For this purpose, Gaudí would divide the space into sections, adapted to their specific use, by means of low walls, dropped ceilings, sliding doors and wall closets.

Atmosphere and harmony - His windows were designed to maximise light, but he also used shadow to provide contrast, mystery and magic.  So, no walls of glass, instead pierced walls, skylights, shutters and blinds to create interest and minimise the overwhelming heat created by the Spanish sun. 

With regard to light, Gaudí stated:

Light achieves maximum harmony at an inclination of 45°, since it resides on objects in a way that is neither horizontal nor vertical. This can be considered medium light, and it offers the most perfect vision of objects and their most exquisite nuances. It is the Mediterranean light.

The designs were very environmentally friendly as there is little need for air conditioners with windows like these.  He used stained glass to suggest a surrounding of forests and nature when any building was likely to be hemmed in by other buildings.  He integrated every part of his creations into one whole, so that even doorknobs, light shades, chairs, tables and window frames were all part of the design. 

Diverse and unusual materials - Gaudi used materials – all sorts of materials - to create interest - ceramics, stained glass, tiles, wrought ironwork and wood. He also introduced new techniques in the treatment of materials, such as ‘trencadís’ which used waste ceramic pieces to create a lovely patchwork of colour. For the restoration of Mallorca Cathedral he invented a new technique to produce stained glass, which consisted of juxtaposing three glass panes of primary colours, and sometimes a neutral one, varying the thickness of the glass in order to graduate the light's intensity.

The user customer as king - And he thought of the customer, the person or people who were to live and work there, what would bring them peace and a sense of spirit and oneness with each other and the world they lived in. 

Architecture today is driven by the architect’s ego, bigger, taller, dominating, aggressive, a machine for making money and turning men and women into worker ants.  Architecture creates cultures, as such the architecture of today – inhuman, repetitive, unimaginative, depressing is both a reflection of our culture but also affects it.  Architects have designed for worker ants and they have made worker ants, many indeed who are crushed by the system, are stressed, depressed and spiritually empty and aching for relief.

The contrast between Gaudi and today’s self publicising architects can best be summed up by the fact that Gaudí was baptised in the church of Sant Pere Apòstol with the name "Antoni Plàcid Guillem Gaudí i Cornet".  And placid he became.  In contrast, architects of today fight nature, have no faith or religion and are generally bombastic and aggressive.  And their architecture reflects it.  We create what we are.

Engineering Designs

Left : Sebastian Pether-Moonlit Landscape with a Gothic Ruin

Gaudi took it as obvious that Nature had been designed [Intelligent Design] and he believed Nature’s designs to be the optimum – the very pinnacle of achievement and the goal towards which one should aim.  He didn’t copy styles of man-made design, he looked at them to find out their flaws in comparison with Nature:

Gothic art is imperfect,  only half resolved; it is a style created by compasses, a formulaic industrial repetition. Its stability depends on constant propping up by buttresses: it is a defective body held up on crutches. (...) The proof that Gothic works are of deficient plasticity is that they produce their greatest emotional effect when they are mutilated, covered in ivy and lit by the moon.

His study of nature translated into his use of hyperbolic paraboloids, the hyperboloid, the helicoid and the cone, forms Gaudí all found in nature. 

Ruled surfaces are forms generated by a straight line known as the generatrix, as it moves over one or several lines known as directrices. Gaudí found abundant examples of them in nature, for instance in rushes, reeds and bones; he used to say that there is no better structure than the trunk of a tree or a human skeleton. These forms are at the same time functional and aesthetic, and Gaudí discovered how to adapt the language of nature to the structural forms of architecture. He used to equate the helicoid form to movement and the hyperboloid to light. He knew about the Matrix.  Concerning ruled surfaces, he said:

“Paraboloids, hyperboloids and helicoids, constantly varying the incidence of the light, are rich in matrices themselves, which make ornamentation and even modelling unnecessary. “

Another element widely used by Gaudí was the catenary arch. Gaudí was the first to use this in architecture.

Gaudí evolved from plane to spatial geometry, to ruled geometry.   This quest for new structural solutions culminated between 1910 and 1920, when he exploited his research and experience in his masterpiece, the Sagrada Família. Gaudí conceived the interior of the church as if it were a forest, with a set of tree-like columns divided into various branches to support a structure of intertwined hyperboloid vaults. He inclined the columns so they could better resist the perpendicular pressure on their section. He also gave them a double-turn helicoidal shape (right turn and left turn), as in the branches and trunks of trees. This created a structure that is now known as fractal.  Gaudí thus developed a  new architectural style that was original, simple, practical and aesthetic.


Left:  Fountain in Plaça Catalunya (1877)
Antoni Gaudi was born in 1852 in Riudoms or Reus, to a coppersmith. He was the youngest of five children, of whom three survived to adulthood.  Gaudí's mother died at the age of 57 in 1876, when he was in his twenties, as did his 25-year-old brother Francesc, who had just graduated as a physician. Gaudí's family originated in the Auvergne region in southern France, but one of his ancestors, Joan Gaudí, moved to Catalonia in the 17th century. 

Gaudí attended a nursery school run by Francesc Berenguer, whose son, also called Francesc, was later one of Gaudí's main assistants. He enrolled in the Piarists school in Reus where he displayed his artistic talent.  During this time he worked as an apprentice in the "Vapor Nou" textile mill in Reus. In 1868 he moved to Barcelona to study teaching in the Convent del Carme.

From 1876, Gaudí studied architecture at the Llotja School and the Barcelona Higher School of Architecture, graduating in 1878. To finance his studies, Gaudí worked as a draughtsman for various architects and constructors such as Leandre Serrallach, Joan Martorell, Emili Sala Cortés, Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano and Josep Fontserè getting a lot of very practical experience.   In addition to his architecture classes, he studied French, history, economics, philosophy and aesthetics. Academically [by the standards others set] he was regarded as mediocre or average and when handing him his degree, Elies Rogent, director of Barcelona Architecture School, said: "We have given this academic title either to a fool or a genius. Time will show."

His family spent a great deal of time outdoors, and Gaudí's enjoyment of the natural world led him to join the Centre Excursionista de Catalunya in 1879 at the age of 27. The organisation arranged expeditions to explore Catalonia and southern France, often riding on horseback or walking.

Gaudi believed Mediterranean people – with their outdoor life, spiritual heritage going back to the Celts and Greeks, simple existence living with nature and their innate appreciation of beauty – were gifted with a natural sense of art and design. He once said, "Fantasy comes from the ghosts. Fantasy is what people in the North own."  Gaudí's personal appearance when he was young —Nordic features, blond hair and blue eyes—tended to place this ‘North’ in the realm of the Nordic races,  however, his appearance changed over the course of time and he became more aligned with his Mediterranean heritage.   But he certainly had a keen appreciation of Nordic myths and symbols.

Josep Miquel Sobrer – Catalonia, a Self Portrait

Gaudi as a young man had light hair with overtones the colour of clay, and became with the years intensely white haired, after having gone through a red colour that turned grey.  Maragall mentions his reddish beard. … His eyes caused the greatest impression.  They were blue… All who met Gaudi remember his eyes as the impressive fascinating element of the image they keep of him.  He seemed to transport things and people with his eyes, his eyes gave him a constant presence.  [He was] at once tender, dreamy, floating on a vast inner life, full of sensitivity and a clear, precise intelligence.

Although the photo we have of him above is the one most often used in articles, there is reason to believe that many of these photos have been reversed to show a right sided parting, whereas the photos used in the better researched biographies show him with a left sided parting.  The sign of a left hander.  The drawing of him on his death bed also show a left sided parting [see below left].

Furthermore the Bust of Gaudi [see below right] by Joan Matamala in the Gaudi House Museum in Barcelona,  Spain, also shows him with the parting of a left hander. 

On sickness and inspiration

Gaudí suffered from poor health, including rheumatism, his entire life, in other words he achieved all that he did, in great pain.  He gained a reputation for being reticent and reserved, but then those in pain often are, they keep quiet in case they lose their temper as a consequence.  His friends, however, described him as friendly and polite, pleasant to talk to and faithful - loyal.  But his poor health did have its positive benefits.  Between 1875 and 1878, Gaudí completed his compulsory military service in the infantry regiment in Barcelona as a Military Administrator. Most of his service, however, was spent on sick leave, enabling him to continue his studies. His poor health also kept him from having to fight in the Third Carlist War, which lasted from 1872 to 1876.

In 1911, Gaudi found himself residing as a convalescent in Puigcerdà while suffering from tuberculosis. But during this time he conceived the idea for the facade of the Passion of the Sagrada Família.  As such his really inspired moments appear to have come from times of great adversity.

These health concerns and the hygienist theories of Dr. Kneipp contributed to Gaudí's decision to adopt vegetarianism early in his life. His religious faith and strict vegetarianism led him to undertake several lengthy and severe fasts.   Fasting for long periods does not generally have a positive effect health-wise, but it undoubtedly affects one’s ability to be spiritually open, as such left handedness, faith and fasting may have been major aids to his creativity.


Gaudi’s hair and beard turned completely white as he grew older and he became less concerned about material things such as his clothes.  Joan Llimona (church of Sant Felip Neri (Barcelona) used  Gaudí as his model for Saint Philip Neri's face in the painting Saint Philip Neri celebrating the Holy Mass  [see right]. 

On 7 June 1926, Gaudí was taking his daily walk to the Sant Felip Neri church for his habitual prayer and confession, when as he was walking along the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, he was hit by a passing number 30 tram. Assumed to be a beggar because of his lack of identity documents and shabby clothing, the unconscious Gaudí did not receive immediate aid. Eventually some passers-by transported him in a taxi to the Santa Creu Hospital, where he received rudimentary care.

It was only after the chaplain of the Sagrada Família, Mosén Gil Parés, recognised him on the following day, that he was given treatment, but Gaudí's condition had deteriorated too severely, he died on 10 June 1926 at the age of 73 and was buried two days later in the chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the crypt of the Sagrada Família.

After his death, Gaudí's works suffered a period of neglect.  At this point, of course, the critics suddenly took over, even calling his work [for heaven’s sake]  ‘excessively imaginative’. In 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, Gaudí's workshop in the Sagrada Família was ransacked, and a great number of his documents, plans and scale models were destroyed.

Left:   Atavistic Ruins after the Rain, 1934 by Salvador Dali, notice the naturalistic forms and the use of a crutch.

But Gaudí's reputation and work was championed not only by Salvador Dalí but also by architect Josep Lluís Sert and by 1957, a Gaudí Chair at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia had been created with the purpose of deepening the study of Gaudí's works, and deepening understanding and respect followed.  A Gaudí international exhibition was held, for example, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Gaudí's position in the history of architecture is that of a creative genius who, inspired by nature, developed a style of his own that attained technical perfection as well as aesthetic beauty, and bore the mark of his character.

Gaudí did not follow the other architectural movements of the 20th century - those derived from the Bauhaus school, indeed Gaudi could be said to have pursued an entirely antithetical direction. 

Among other factors that led to the initial neglect of the Catalan architect's work was that despite having numerous assistants and helpers, Gaudí created no school of his own and never taught, nor did he leave written documents.

Nevertheless, Gaudí left a deep mark on 20th-century architecture: masters like Le Corbusier declared themselves admirers, and the works of other architects were inspired by Gaudí each man encouraged to follow their own destinies.

Unity in diversity


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