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Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (25 June 1852 – 10 June 1926) was a Catalan architect of the Modernisme (Art Nouveau) movement famous for his unique style and highly individualistic designs.
Birth and childhood
Gaudí was born in Baix Camp, in the province of Tarragona (Catalonia, Spain) in 1852. (While many believe his birthplace to be the town of Reus, others claim it was in fact Riudoms.) It is certain, however, that he was baptized in Reus a day after his birth. The artist's parents, Francesc Gaudí Serra and Antònia Cornet Bertran, both came from families of metalsmiths.
The youngest of five, Gaudí found himself unable to play with friends his age because of rheumatism. Because he was in considerable pain, he was rarely able to walk on foot and was forced to ride a donkey when he wanted to venture from his home. That he remained close to home allowed him substantial free time to inspect nature and its design. It has been hypothesized that it was this exposure to nature at an early age that began to hone two of his greatest qualities: observation and the analysis of nature.
Gaudí, as an architecture student at the Escola Tècnica Superior d'Arquitectura in Barcelona from 1873 to 1877, achieved only mediocre grades but did well in his "Trial drawings and projects" course. After five years of work, he was awarded the title of architect in 1878. As he signed Gaudí's title, Elies Rogent declared, "I have either found a lunatic or a genius."
The newly named architect immediately began to plan and design and would remain affiliated with the school his entire life.
Gaudí, throughout his life, was fascinated by nature. He studied nature's angles and curves and incorporated them into his designs. Instead of relying on geometric shapes, he mimicked the way trees and humans grow and stand upright. The hyperboloids and paraboloids he borrowed from nature were easily reinforced by steel rods and allowed his designs to resemble elements from the environment.
Because of his rheumatism, the artist observed a strict vegetarian diet, used homeopathic drug therapy, underwent water therapy, and hiked regularly. Long walks, besides suppressing his rheumatism, further allowed him to experience nature.
The Casa Milà, in the Eixample, Barcelona.
Gaudí was an ardent Catholic, to the point that in his later years, he abandoned secular work and devoted his life to Catholicism and his Sagrada Família. It is for this that Gaudí is known to many in Spain as "God's Architect". Soon after, his closest family and friends began to die. His works slowed to a halt, and his attitude changed. Perhaps one of his closest family members – his niece Rosa Egea – died in 1912, only to be followed by a "faithful collaborator, Francesc Berenguer Mestres" two years later. After both tragedies, Barcelona fell on hard times, economically. The construction of La Sagrada Família slowed; the construction of La Colonia Güell ceased altogether. Four years later, Eusebi Güell, his patron, died.
Perhaps it was because of this unfortunate sequence of events that Gaudí changed. He became reluctant to talk with reporters or have his picture taken and solely concentrated on his masterpiece, La Sagrada Família.
On June 8, 1926, Antoni Gaudí was run over by a tram. Because of his ragged attire and empty pockets, multiple cab drivers refused to pick him up for fear that he would be unable to pay the fare. He was eventually taken to a pauper's hospital in Barcelona. Nobody recognized the injured artist until his friends found him the next day. When they tried to move him into a nicer hospital, Gaudí refused, reportedly saying "I belong here among the poor." He died two days later on June 10th, 1926, half of Barcelona mourning his death. It was, perhaps, fitting that he was buried in the midst of his unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Família.
Gaudí's unfinished masterpiece, Sagrada Família
Gaudí's first works were designed in the style of gothic and traditional Spanish architectural modes, but he soon developed his own distinct sculptural style. French architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, who promoted an evolved form of gothic architecture, proved a major influence on Gaudí. But the student surpassed the master architect and contrived highly original designs – irregular and fantastically intricate. Some of his greatest works, most notably La Sagrada Família, have an almost hallucinatory power.
He integrated the parabolic arch and hyperboloid structures, nature's organic shapes, and the fluidity of water into his architecture. While designing buildings, he observed the forces of gravity and related catenary principles. (Gaudí designed many of his arches upside down by hanging various weights on interconnected strings, using gravity to calculate catenaries for a natural curved arch.)
Using the Aragonese trencadís technique, Gaudí often decorated surfaces with broken tiles.
The architect's work has been categorized as Art Nouveau architecture, a precursor to modern architecture. But his adoption of biomorphic shapes rather than orthogonal lines put him in a category unto himself (in Latin, sui generis). His style was later echoed by that of Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928–2000).
Though hailed as a genius, some hypothesize that Gaudí was color blind and that it was only in collaboration with Josep Maria Jujol – an architect twenty seven years his junior whom he acknowledged as a genius in his own right – that he produced his greatest works.
Gaudí's originality was at first ridiculed by his peers. Indeed, he was first only supported by the rich industrialist Eusebi Güell. His fellow citizens referred to the Casa Milà as La Pedrera ("the quarry"), and George Orwell, who stayed at Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, admittedly loathed his work. As time passed, though, his work became more famous, up to the point that he is now considered one of Spain's best and brightest.
Social and political influences
The opportunities afforded by Catalonia's socioeconomic and political environments were endless. Catalonians such as Antoni Gaudí often showcased the region's diverse art techniques in their works. By mimicking nature, such artists symbolically pushed back the province's ever-increasing industrial society. Gaudí, among others, promoted the Catalan nationalist movement by incorporating elements of Catalan culture in his designs.
Park Güell, El Carmel, Barcelona.
Casa Vicens (1878-1880)
Palau Güell (1885-1889)
College of the Teresianas (1888-1890)
Crypt of the Church of Colònia Güell (1898-1916)
Casa Calvet (1899-1904)
Casa Batlló (1905-1907)
Casa Milà (La Pedrera) (1905-1907)
Park Güell (1900-1914)
Sagrada Família (1884-1926)
Gaudí's abandoned plans for a New York skyscraper hotel influenced the redesign of the World Trade Center after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
In 1992, five artists founded La Asociación pro Beatificación de Antoni Gaudí. The secular association has since pushed for the Catholic church to declare Gaudí blessed.
Gaudí's life and work inspired The Alan Parsons Project to create the 1987 album Gaudí.
Gaudi's work recently inspired a shop owner in Muswell Hill London to build a shopfront in the style of Casa Batlló.
It has been suggested that the word "gaudy" (meaning cheap-looking, tawdry) derives from Gaudí, since some people find the architect's designs gaudy. However, this is incorrect, as the word "gaudy" in its current usage actually pre-dates the architect, and is derived from the Middle English gaude, meaning "ornament" or "trinket".