Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Antoni Gaudi: Housing

Of course I love Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. He worked in a style that was highly decorated and drew on historical traditions, but was not merely a copy of something centuries old.

This is not to say that I like all of his buildings. I think some of them are very ugly, especially the famous Sagrada Familia (above). But that is a risk that any innovative artist takes, and I say it is better to create one masterpiece and one monstrosity than two mediocrities.

For this first post I focus on two of Gaudi's residential buildings, both in Barcelona. Top and above is the apartment house known as Casa Mila (1905-1910). Technologically this was a state-of-the-art building, with a steel frame, underground parking, separate service elevators, and other refinements. Gaudi broke away from boxy rectangularity by copying the rounded forms of natural rock. He wrote, "The architect of the future will be based on the imitation of nature, because it is the most rational, sustainable and economical of all methods." (Sadly, he was wrong, and we got Bauhaus instead.)

The wonderful wrought-iron balconies were crafted by Josep Maria Jujol; in most of his projects Gaudi worked closely with other artists and craftsmen, giving his buildings a richness no single man could manage.

These ventilators are my favorite detail from Casa Mila, and they show what Gaudi had that the world desperately needs more of. I hate it that America is full of buildings that would be reasonably attractive if someone had not stuck big air conditioning units or cell phone antennae on their roofs. The building should be designed as a unit from top to bottom, as Casa Mila was.

And it should give attention to its purpose, which in this case was to be a pleasant place to live. Above, the atrium.

This is Casa Batll├│, a house built in 1877 and remodeled by Gaudi and Jujol in 1904-1906.

Gaudi reshaped the lower facade to avoid straight lines almost entirely.

Chimneys and the roof.

Sadly, instead of following the path sketched out by Gaudi and the Art Nouveau, modernism went toward the sterility of the glass and concrete rectangle. But at least Gaudi showed that there is a way to be new without being brutally plain.

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