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‘Nature in Architecture’; The voices of Antoni Gaudi

Gaston Bachelard’s exploration of language, distinguishing between the utilitarian “signification” and the creative “poetry,” provides a lens through which we can analyse the intersection of language and architecture. In Michael Graves’ “A Case for Figurative Architecture,” the analogy between everyday language and the internal structure of a building is drawn, emphasising the pragmatic and technical aspects as akin to language’s practical function. However, poetic form in architecture, according to Graves, involves the integration of societal myths and rituals, transcending the purely functional.

Antoni Gaudi’s architectural narrative exemplifies the fusion of practical and poetic elements. Gaudi’s buildings, described as three-dimensional texts, intertwine a constructive narrative with textural, chromatic, and decorative inferences. The syntagmatic relation of architectural elements, such as columns, windows, and walls, creates a semantic field rich in metaphor and symbol. Gaudi’s unique style, rooted in his Catalan origins, embraces both the utilitarian language of construction and the creative, poetic language of symbolism.

Umberto Eco’s assertion that any object, including architecture, can communicate a message aligns with Bachelard’s dual functions of language. Eco emphasises the arbitrary and conventional relationship between signifiers and signifieds by analysing the transmission of meaning in architecture through Ferdinand de Saussure’s theory of signs. Applying Saussure’s architectural analogy, an “architectural sign” becomes any part of a building that relates syntagmatically to other parts and associatively to various styles. 

Gaudi’s work, primarily exemplified in Park Güell, integrates nature as a significant element. The architectural signs draw inspiration from the Catalan landscape, reflecting the terrain, light effects, and natural forces. With their ornamentation and organic motifs, the syntagmatic relations of architectural units in Park Güell create a symbolic meaning that resonates with Art Nouveau and other styles. Through their interdependence, the architectural signs interweave signification with poetry, capturing the essence of nature and evoking emotional responses.

Sagrada Família-Detail of the ceiling in the nave. Gaudí designed the columns to resemble trees and branches./ wiki

Colour, as a signifier in Gaudi’s architecture, disrupts the automatism of language. Gaudi’s belief that ornamentation should be coloured manifests in Park Güell through trencadis, broken pieces of colourful ceramics adorning medallions and benches. The visual patterning created by colour, repetition, rhythm, texture, and form reinforces the poetic language in Gaudi’s work. The use of colour serves as a defamiliarising element, making the architecture strange and capturing the vivid hues of the Mediterranean.

As interpreted through Roland Barthes’ perspective, Gaudi’s architecture becomes a text constructed of codes and fragments that invite multiple interpretations. The trencadis, for instance, can be read as a vibrant expression capturing the sensual feeling of nature and associating with Art Nouveau. The incorporation of fragments of bottles and cups beyond the standard narrative system expands the architectural code, establishing new aesthetic meanings.

Gaudi, along with other Catalan architects, embraced the principles of Modernism, incorporating undulating lines, organic forms, and various materials such as iron, glass, marble, and ceramics. While Art Nouveau is often associated with surface decoration, Gaudi went beyond ornamentation to explore new structural systems and building methods, contributing to the movement’s evolution.

The construction of the chapel of Colonia Güell serves as a case study to illustrate Gaudi’s innovative structural solutions. Through unconventional methods, such as building an upside-down model to study forces and experimenting with volumes, Gaudi developed new architectural units, including hyperbolic parabolas and twisted forms, departing from traditional Gothic design. The architectural narrative of Colonia Güell reflects Gaudi’s emphasis on economy and efficiency in everyday language and the poetic expression embedded in new structural forms. The resulting space, with dissimilar columns, curved surfaces, and a mix of materials, creates a mysterious, primitive ambience, enhancing the ceremonial role of the building.

Casa Batlló by Antoni Gaudí / wiki

The concept of “Ecstatic Architecture” is introduced through the lens of Charles Jencks, highlighting Gaudi’s ability to evoke emotional reactions and a sense of euphoria. Whether in Park Güell or the crypt of Colonia Güell, Gaudi’s work captures nature’s forces, provoking delight, devotion, and even a mystical experience.

The significance of Gaudi’s architecture as metaphorical is explored, particularly in Casa Batlló. The building’s various surface metaphors, including references to the Mediterranean Sea, the carnival, and the legend of Saint George, contribute to its multivalent meaning. Antoni Gaudí’s magnum opus, the Sagrada Familia, is sensitive to the intricacies of his architectural genius, weaving a narrative of religious symbolism and spiritual ascent. The three planned facades of the cathedral, representing distinct phases of Christ’s life, unfold a sacred tale frozen in stone. Although construction was halted with Gaudí’s demise in 1926, existing elements like the Nativity facade resonate with profound Christian symbolism, orchestrating an overwhelming religious experience.

Gaudí’s architectural prowess lies in meticulous details, with features like spiral towers and organic forms serving as conduits for ecstasy and communion with the divine. The Sagrada Familia’s vertical thrust becomes a metaphor for the soul’s ascent toward the heavens, employing metonymy to intertwine physical structures with abstract concepts. This verticality is not merely a spatial dimension but a spiritual journey, echoing the transcendence of the human spirit. 

Beyond the Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s enchantment extends to Casa Milà, where the rooftop becomes a surreal canvas. Strange and fantastical shapes of chimneys and ventilation shafts create a troubling landscape, tapping into the recesses of the subconscious and evoking visions of monsters and phantoms. Here, Gaudí’s architectural language becomes a portal to the uncanny, inviting contemplation on the border between reality and imagination. 

Gaudí’s impact transcends the utilitarian; his architecture is an invitation to an immersive, poetic experience. It stimulates the senses, resonating with practical function and the ability to evoke powerful emotions. Casa Milà’s unsettling rooftop shapes prompt a subconscious response, revealing the depth of Gaudí’s connection with the human psyche. Like a carefully crafted poem, his work speaks to the soul, inspiring a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. 

Palau Güell by Antoni Gaudí / happyinspain.com

Gaudí’s creations communicate a language beyond form and signification. They become conduits for profound emotional responses, akin to the essence of poetry described by William Wordsworth. Gaudí’s architecture beckons viewers to actively engage with the built environment, transcending the boundaries of conventional design. It is an artistic expression that captivates the eyes and resonates with the soul, leaving an indelible mark on the imagination and emotions of those fortunate enough to witness its grandeur.

Antoni Gaudi Architecture

Famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí created the famed basilica La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. The basilica’s construction is still going strong, starting in 1882 and being one of the longest-running construction projects in history. Gaudí devoted the last years of his life to this project, giving it his distinct architectural style,  distinguished by complex facades, organic shapes, and lavish adornment drawn from nature. 

Located in the centre of Barcelona, Spain, Casa Batlló is another one of Antoni Gaudí’s masterpieces. This unusual residential structure is well-known for its original architectural style and creative design features. Initially built in 1877, Gaudí remodelled and refurbished the building between 1904 and 1906 for Josep Batlló i Casanovas, the property’s new owner. 

Casa Amatller by Antoni Gaudí

Gaudí’s inventive approach allowed him to include characteristics of Catalan Modernisme, transforming the structure into a whimsical and organic design. Maybe the most remarkable aspect of Casa Batlló is its front, which has sculptural elements that resemble a dragon’s back, bright mosaic tiles, and flowing lines. The building’s fanciful aspect is enhanced by the asymmetrical windows and balconies, which are fashioned to resemble skulls and bones.  

The Cathedral of Barcelona, called the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, is a magnificent example of Gothic architecture. The cathedral’s construction started in the thirteenth century and was finished in the fifteenth, though continuous alterations and additions persisted far into the twentieth. The crypt beneath the main altar has the relics of Saint Eulalia, the patron saint of Barcelona, to whom the cathedral is dedicated. Saints and biblical themes are among the elaborate stone carvings and sculptures adorn the cathedral’s exterior. Among the most remarkable aspects are the towering bell towers that provide expansive city vistas. 

The majestic Güell Palace, also known as Palau Güell in Catalan, is located in Barcelona, Spain’s El Raval district. The famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí created it for his wealthy businessman and art enthusiast client, Eusebi Güell. One of Gaudí’s early masterworks, the Güell Palace, was built between 1886 and 1890. It is regarded as a shining example of his distinct architectural style, which came to represent Catalan modernism in the following years. Gaudí’s inventive use of materials, creative design concepts, and meticulous attention to detail are all on display at the palace. 

La Pedrera-Casa Mila / barcelonaconnect.com

A remarkable Modernist structure in Barcelona, Spain’s renowned Passeig de Gràcia, is called Casa Amatller. Constructed between 1898 and 1900 for the chocolatier Antoni Amatller, the structure was designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, a Catalan architect. The structure is a magnificent illustration of Catalan Modernism, a period of art and architecture that peaked in Barcelona at the turn of the 20th century. With its blend of Flemish, Mudejar, and Catalan Gothic architectural elements, Casa Amatller has an unusual and eclectic aspect.  

An ancient home in Barcelona, Spain’s Gràcia neighbourhood, is called Casa Vicens. Architect Antoni Gaudí, a well-known Catalan, created what is regarded as one of his early masterworks. Manuel Vicens I Montaner, a wealthy tile maker, commissioned Casa Vicens to be built between 1883 and 1885 as a summer home. The architectural style of Casa Vicens is a fusion of Moorish, Gothic, and Catalan traditions, infused with Gaudí’s whimsical touch. The home’s exterior is embellished with ornate wrought ironwork, vibrant ceramic tiles, and naturalistic sculptures.  

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