(By Jesse Rhodes/Smithsonian) The capital’s cityscape bears the unmistakable Modernist mark of the Catalan architect in its churches, buildings and parks.
During the late 19th century, Barcelona was Spain’s industrial center, a rapidly growing city whose municipal leaders sought to shape it into a modern, metropolitan capital.
Architectural advancements, such as the development of reinforced concrete and the increasing availability of water, electricity and gas in individual homes, gave rise to a building boom that highlighted the region’s cultural revitalization. This era of prosperity and artistic flowering is embodied by the inimitable architecture of Antoni Gaudí.
Between 1883 and 1926 Gaudí designed private residences, apartment buildings, public parks and worship spaces with fantastical, organic lines and lavish Art Nouveau embellishments. Growing up in the rocky, vineyard-strewn Catalonian countryside instilled in him a profound appreciation of the natural world that would infuse his work.
Gaudí also drew inspiration from Gothic forms, favoring pillars and buttresses over the modern method of constructing buildings around metal frames. He also had a bit of an ego. When Isabel Güell took up residence in the Palau Güell—Gaudí’s first major work—she complained that she couldn’t fit her piano into the odd-shaped rooms. Gaudí sarcastically replied, “Isabel, believe me, take up the violin.”
The building, whose support columns resemble slender trees that branch out to hold up the ceiling, is still under construction. The exterior sculpture depicting Christ’s nativity is one of the few elements built by Gaudí himself and is one of seven of his works declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After his work was the subject of a Museum of Modern Art exhibition in New York in the late 1950s, Gaudí drew increased interest and his buildings became major tourist destinations. Barcelona is home to the majority of Gaudí’s architectural works as well as the Gaudí Museum, located at his private residence within the Parc Güell, a municipal park he designed and built between 1900 and 1914.