Header image by Natalie Rapoport. Antoni Gaudi. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Casa Mila - La Pedrera. Antoni Gaudi. Barcelona. Part 5.

Extremely unusual, as everything Gaudi created, apartment building on Passeig de Gracia the size of entire block built for Mila family in 1906-1910  was the last residential work of Antoni Gaudi. After it was finished the architect committed himself completely to the most important project of his life Sagrada Familia cathedral.

Casa Mila was instantly dubbed as La Pedrera – The Quarry for some similarity and wasn’t accepted unanimously. In fact it was ridiculed for the futuristic wavy façade and balconies called seaweed mounds.
Notice the beautiful wrought iron lamp posts.
It looks fantastic  a hundred years later no doubt it’s undulating free shaped facade was a rather controversial creation at the time. The same happened a bit earlier with Eiffel Tower. The general public simply wasn’t ready to accept anything that much unconventional.

And though the architect made many alterations to comply with regulations even within the rules he was able to built an extraordinary edifice. With all it’s architectural and structural innovations, floating form, arches, steel and pillars it was so ahead of time. It had even an underground parking garage, an unheard of a luxury at the early 20-th century Barcelona.

Only a few apartments are open for visitors. Filled with occasional period pieces without any interior design concept  they are now far cry from what was envisioned by the architect who designed a whole collection of furniture, lighting and accessories including door knobs and hinges for unique rooms without straight walls. Just enough to give the slightest idea what it was like.

The inner light court, gothic attic and multileveled rooftop terrace with decorative chimneys are also open to the public.

An entire book could be filled just with the images of wrought iron elements, gates, screens, balconies and many small details created with 
unprecedented artistry by Badia brothers whom Gaudi trained since they were young.

The inner court with asymmetrical windows and in pastel colors let light in every apartment.

Gothic attic of La Pedrera the place for promenade in bad weather were now is a small expo of Gaudi's scaled models and furniture. The arches are fascinating and the light plays magic.

Hard to imagine but by 1960-s Casa Mila light and beautiful today was painted for decades in gloomy brown color fell in a prolonged disrepair and an extensive renovation was undertaken. Unfortunately it was more harmful than restorative. Much of unique  ceiling woodwork, decorative plaster, sculpting and cast iron of the main floor was removed and lost. Irreplaceable loss to much of our chagrin.

The chimneys on the steep rooftop terrace. Who are these futuristic creatures? 
View from the top on Passeig de Gracia.

By 1984 it was finally added to UNESCO Catalogue of World Heritage, an honorable status it certainly deserves.

La Pedrera today is one the main highlights of Barcelona beside Sagrada Familia where I’d be happy to invite you next time.

See you soon and have a wonderful weekend. It looks like spring is coming at last.

* All images copyright by Natalie Rapoport

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Antoni Gaudi. Casa Batllo. Barcelona. Part 4.

If any movie set designer would like to recreate the Sea Kingdom palace in all its fantastic splendor he probably could start with the famous Casa Batllo by Antoni Gaudi as an impulse to trigger an enormous imagination. Even if you’ve seen the images somewhere before you’ll be stunned: it’s ABSOLUTELY not what you’ve expected and certainly not like anything else you could imagine as a residential building. 

A rainbow mirage on Passeig de Gracia, not a single straight line or angle: wavy walls and rooftop, curved balconies looking like the sea shells or the white mascarade masks playing make believe with you.  The whole façade is laughing. Just looking at it makes me happy. Mosaic splashes of sparkling glass and ceramic inlays in blue-turquoise-purple-green colors are mesmerizing. I could stay there transfixed for hours. The beauty is hypnotic.  

As it might be hard to believe but this emblematic Modernista gem wasn’t built from scratch. There was a classical otherwise an unremarkable building which was destined to be demolished when Gaudi was commissioned by a textile tycoon Josep Batllo to create an exclusive and outstanding dwelling for his distinguished family.
An so be it. The architect decided against pulling down the building, which by coincidence was built by one of his teachers, instead he completely remodeled façade and refurbished it in 1904-1906 at the very pic of his professional glory. Even having to comply with strict regulations he set the sails of his untamed imagination to create this marina fairy tale, and a wavy back of a scaled sea dragon topped the roof of an unusual house, outstanding indeed. 


The rooftop terrace with ornamented chimneys.
The architect was meticulously serious about the tiniest detail. Not a color spec in wane. Not only every scale-tile was diamond shaped and individually colored with artistic precision, each and every is heavier at the bottom corner as if they’re melting.

Just wait till you get inside. Because of this unending fluidity you feel like floating not moving. I watched the visitors for a moment. With audio tours pressed to their ears they start to move funny in slow motion as this underwater kingdom embraces them. 

The dunes of the undulated ceiling centered with magnificent chandelier. 
The extraordinary interior design called for an extraordinary furnishings and light fixtures and Gaudi designed quite an impressive collection for his buildings. Not much survived though and some are displayed on the the upper floor. This hall on the main floor is empty and available for special events. One can only imagine what it was like originally.

The sea theme prevails.  Barcelona is a city on a seashore after all and it felt only natural for the architect to be inspired by the waves and fantastic underwater creatures.
An enclosed fireplace with cozy seating.
Every window hinge is custom made for this fantastic space. The stained glass geometric ornaments add more color to the inside. The Moderniste chandelier in cafeteria.

The sea motives and palette are everywhere in all possible variations, shapes and undertones. The culmination is an inner well court with a skylight , clad in shiny tiles blue as the sea, lighter at the bottom more intense to the top to increase the effect and to visually distribute the streaming light more evenly. 
 The Entrance and main staircase.
Free formed windows on various levels, transparent balconies, frosted glass on  landings and elaborated Art Nouveau lift (so busy that I hadn’t even a split second to take a picture). Looking up - you’re in the sky, looking down you’re in the open sea.
Climbing up and up, as apartments aren’t accessible for visitors, you’ll reach house service quarters in the snow white attic. Beautiful gallery, pure soft forms and light and it was just a passage between storage, laundry and servants rooms. Perfection of calming lines and peaceful whiteness before you’re coming out to blinding sun of rooftop terrace and unbelievable array of colorful chimneys and a sleeping dragon covered in melting scales. He is obviously a good Dragon, not a bad or dangerous one. Just guarding his kingdom. 


Attic. Household service area. Natural soft light. Mother of pearl pastels. Ornamental tiles.

A walk out to the roof terrace with a sand castle on the ceiling. 
Melting soft corners and mosaic clad columns.
Gaudi’s contemporaries mentioned about his hard temper, gloomy disposition and most of all the extreme obsession with architecture. But not much written left, letters, diaries or memoires.
Gaudi was completely preoccupied with his work and didn’t welcome any destruction or socializing. He was a lonely star, better to say volcano.
But look at this eruption of colors, images and forms: intriguing and light, cheerful and playful!   

*All images copyright by Natalie Rapoport

To be continued.
See you soon.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Barcelona. Part 3. Modernisme.

The most unique and unforgettable thing about Barcelona is undoubtedly the masterpieces of Antoni Gaudi and architecture of Modernisme.
The biggest and most significant part of the city the Eixample sprang out as an exotic flower. Compared to the city history dated back to pre-Roman times it happened almost overnight as if one day the whole city woke up to a glamorous new Barcelona, beautiful beyond the words.
Modernisme is a Barcelonan incarnation of a short-lived but so influential Art Nouveau movement born in Belgium and France  and raised as a tide throughout Europe, living behind wonderful examples of Sezessionstill in Austria, Jugendstill in Germany, Stile Liberty in Italy and Modern Art in England and Scotland of fin-de-siècle. It was gone with a wind by the WW1 to resurrect later in more rational and constructive way as Art Deco in 20-30-es.

Based at the beginning on the colorful and excessively ornamental Moorish/Spanish art Mudejar , Modernisme adopted all the common Art Nouveau motives derived from nature and later transformed to unimaginable extend by Gaudi’s genious vision.
He was million light years ahead of his time but there were quite a few talented architects who adapted Art Nouveau features to unique Catalan style.

Actually this movement started in Barcelona earlier and lasted longer than anywhere else. The architectural exuberance seemed to be a perfect way to express and proclaim the Catalan identity. The tide rolled back but left the magnificent city ashore.

Supported by wealth and official progressive policy Catalan architects created much more than was accomplished in other countries were Art Nouveau flourished brightly but short in architecture and predominantly in interior design, furniture, objets d’art, glassware, illustration, posters, fashion and jewelry. They built Barcelona we  can admire today. It was a true Renaissance period for Barcelona and it’s still cherished and celebrated.

As if architects and craftsmen were engaged in an Olympian competition: who can be more creative and inventive in a given city plan, height and street grid.

And believe it or not you won’t see the same ornamental pattern, architectural form, door, roofline, wrought iron balcony or bay window twice. Yet it is built in one style there are so many variations and possibilities to it. You’ll find Gothic and Rococo revivals, melting fluidity of lines, sea and flower motives, grotesque creatures and proportions, gables, masonry, carvings, lanterns, doors and gates of all kinds which never, ever ceased to surprise you. 

The only common features are bay windows, balconies and craftsmanship. The city built by artists who worshiped jois de vivre . The carnival of daring forms, color, calligraphic lines and glass reflections, asymmetry and fluidity. Exuberant celebration of life.
It’s not about less is more, it’s about more and more over the top.

All houses at intersections have cut edges and 5 sides which brings octagonal shape to every  crossroad, A simple solution to avoid strict and uniform geometry to obtain a sort of roundness, makes it airy, spacious and allows a nice perspective to take the beauty in.
And indeed! There’s so much to take in!
The Catalan architectural legacy in Barcelona is tremendous.

It would be well worth while to compile separate posts for every architectural detail like balconies or windows, gates, street lights and sculptures, stained glass, rooftops etc. I have numerous images of elaborate details. Maybe some day…

Stay tuned for the next series of posts: Antoni Gaudi.
See you soon.

* All images copyright Natalie Rapoport