Gaudi’s masterpiece

I have been interested in the work of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi for most of my life.  His free organic forms and their unconventional decoration always seemed to me delightfully iconoclastic, and they appealed to the young hippy rebel buried in me.

But when I finally managed to see his work up close, in situ, and no longer just in books, I was sad to find that I was mostly disappointed.  Barcelona was blessed with other architects who played with organic forms, and who created interesting buildings far less conventional than those in other European cities, so Gaudi was not quite as dramatically innovative as he seems when you look at his work out of its nurturing visual context.  And his innovative ideas didn’t always work.  Sometimes they were just crass and inappropriate, poorly conceived and poorly executed.

With one outstanding, extraordinary, fabulous exception.

The interior of Gaudi’s Basilica de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona makes it the most astonishingly beautiful modern building in the world.  A big call, I know, but I’ll stand by it.  And not the exterior, the interior.  I’ll show you the far more familiar and less exciting exterior another day, but for now, let me just give you a small taste of the wonderful interior of this greatest of modern churches, which has been under construction for decades and only recently opened up to the general public.

The forest of columns that support the roof over the nave and side aisles don’t have conventional bases, they seem to sprout directly out of the marble floor, dark and deeply fluted like the buttresses of tropical forest trees growing on shallow soil.

The forest of columns inside Gaudi's Basilica de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

The forest of columns inside Gaudi’s Basilica de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

As they rise, the flutes double, then double again and again, transforming themselves gently from a sombre wavy form at ground level to a much lighter and perfectly cylindrical form where they stretch up to capitals carrying illuminated decorative lozenges like giant fruits.

As the columns rise inside Gaudi's masterpiece church, they become smoother and reach knobby decorated capitals, branching out like trees above them

As the columns rise inside Gaudi’s masterpiece church, they become smoother and reach knobby decorated capitals, branching out like trees above them

And the columns don’t stop there as if they were merely supports for something else to rest on, they become lighter, almost bleached, and keep going past their knobby capitals, branching and re-branching again and again, thrusting upwards to support, not a roof, but a canopy like an albino rainforest, filtering and shading you from, but also giving you glimpses of the intense celestial light above all.

Instead of a vaulted roof, the Basilic de la Sagrada Familia has a canopy like a tropical rainforest, both concealing and revealing fragments of the heavens above.

Instead of a vaulted roof, the Basilic de la Sagrada Familia has a canopy like a tropical rainforest, both concealing and revealing fragments of the heavens above.

This vast enclosure has been beautifully realised. It strongly echoes the best of traditional gothic architecture while remaining utterly unique and breathtakingly idiosyncratic.

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  1. Gaudi’s organic inspiration | Enthusiastical

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