Power to dream
The almost impossible structures of Antonio Gaudi, in the Sagrada Familia Cathedral and other projects he undertook, are inspired by nature.
PHOTO: USHA KRIS
INSPIRED STRUCTURES: The Sagrada Familia Cathedral
WITH four sharp steeples piercing the sky, the Sagrada Familia, a church built by Antonio Gaudi, is an arresting sight, visible from different parts of Barcelona.
Our introduction to Antonio Gaudi, the famous architect of the turn of the last century, was made. Forever breaking new ground in modernism, in architecture, he had stretched the imagination beyond all boundaries. It almost seems as if there is nowhere further to go, but then, with the coming of inspired genius, new styles emerge, giving way to newer ideas. Living in the post-modern world of art and architecture, we see fascinating developments that we need not necessarily always understand. That was Antonio Gaudi's style.
From our balcony on the top floor of Hotel Gaudi, we had a clear view of the top of the famous terrace with a special showing of the work in progress of industrialist Paula Guell who commissioned many of Gaudi's work. We even got a private viewing of the main hall as we were now friends of the people in the building. While the whole place was closed for renovation, craftsmen on the terrace waved to us as we watched them work. We had a grand view of the city's skyline, the Mediterranean with its cruise ships in the distance, and the Gaudi figures creating a fashionable foreground. It was the right place to be.
With the perspective of skyscrapers built in New York in the 1930s, and then moving my gaze to the imposing Sagrada Familia, I was entranced. I realised that architecture is not about great buildings but great designs. This church built by Gaudi was a skyscraper that seemed to trespass into the realms of the sky, tearing into it with a tapering plunge. It is an example of awe-inspiring modernity. Yet Antonio Gaudi was gone by the late 1920s. Though incomplete, the concept of towering pinnacles is homage to the Almighty. That is, after all, the point of a place of worship. That is the reason we stand astounded at the sight of the vimanam of the our Big Temple in Thanjavur built in 1014, or the temples in Luxor built 5,000 years ago, amazed at the conceptualisation and execution of an idea that seems impossible.
Detail from the Park Guell
Yet, it was when we went to Montserrat that I realised that Gaudi was inspired by nature. Whereas the mountains in the vicinity appeared as mountains should, we drove toward a strange contour of hills that marked Montserrat. Literally meaning serrated mountain or shaped like the serrated knife's edge, the jagged peaks stand defiantly against the blue sky; thick fingers of a giant sticking out, large round rocks protruding in gigantic proportions for miles on end. The wispy fog hugged the tops of these so-called peaks that dared even the toughest to climb. Like a nest perched on the far reaches of a tree, a cathedral and monastery nestled in the hills. Yet the eyes only looked upward into the mountain tops to fascinating secrets hidden in the folds.
When and how did this happen? Why are the contours so different just at this place and no other? When the cathedral was built here, it was in the traditional style, rather predictable rectangular blocks. But then I am sure Gaudi's artistic bent must have seen the dissonance. He echoed the movement of Montserrat in the cathedral Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
The strong contrast of Gaudi's vision and that of the present architect is apparent. Whether they should continue in the great adventurous master's style or break out and do what they deem fit is questionable. Huge cranes are hovering over the cathedral as it is being completed. The main spire for Jesus himself has to be built. The Gaudi stamp on the cathedral, in the complexity of the number of spires as well as the soft moulding of cement to create the natural flowing contours of Montserrat, is stunning. The front was a disputed image of Jesus on the cross, with other figures of the holy family around him. Being an angular figure of the one revered, it is looked upon critically; but to my eyes, it was in keeping with the style of Gaudi. The new architect, out of depth with the Gaudi movements in the building is doing his own design. It seemed to clash, but as he said, he could never be Gaudi! So why not be he himself and complete it in his own style? It was not even half done in Gaudi's lifetime. With each steeple representing an apostle, there would have to be 12 in all, not counting Judas. The main one for Christ would have to be the tallest at the Sagrada Familia.
The Gaudi Building.
The Park Guell, it was yet another dramatic visual experience. Gaudi translated the bend of tree avenues, the mixed colours of a bed of annuals, with the contours that he built in concrete, embedding broken glistening tiles which bore his signature, echoed in the park bench curves, and the pathways. The houses, with no sharp edges, seemed like Hansel and Gretel's candy house. I almost reached out to pick a cookie, and an interesting face looked out of the window and was gone as I took the picture.
Play of imagination
Every detail was an echo of nature. Pillars resembled knurled tree bark, stalactites appeared on walls, and we walked through passages that had a cave-like effect. The theme of broken ceramic tiles on many built-up surfaces mark Gaudi's style. Shiny and colourful, they twinkled in the sunlight. Myriad shades of blue, green, red, yellow and white, all in jewel tones winking in the sunlight and vying for attention with their gleaming colours. Every now and then an animal, lizard or insect would be gazing at us, also Gaudi style.
Yes, Antonio Gaudi dared to dream. His imagination used materials at hand to achieve impossible structures that pierced the azure blue sky. Stretching imagination to the limits, he built when there was no funding, and he translated his dreams into reality in the various buildings that we stand around and look on with wonderment. Many of his creations are jocularly called gaudy, but they are certainly not run of the mill. Would anyone, a century later, be able to complete these dreams?
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