NOVEMBER 1, 2013

Casa Milà, Barcelona
Photograph by Gunnar Knechtel, laif/Redux

The fantastical roof of Casa Milà adds another dimension to the Antoni Gaudí-designed apartment block—now open to the public as an exhibition space—in Barcelona, Spain. The building, constructed from 1906 to 1912, is more commonly known as La Pedrera, “the quarry,” because of its rough facade.

Seven distinct properties built in and around Barcelona offer many different delights but represent the singular vision of one man—architect Antoni Gaudí.

Gaudí’s creative genius—and the curves, shapes, and ornamentations it produced—literally changed the face of architecture and building technology during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Gaudí recognized the formal order inherent in most architecture before his time—and deliberately turned it upside down. As a result his buildings seem strikingly unique and almost surreal even after a century.

Gaudí’s efforts included not only building design but also decorative style and overall settings; his touch was applied to everything from sculpture to gardens. As UNESCO noted in its criteria for listing the sites: “Gaudí’s work exhibits an important interchange of values closely associated with the cultural and artistic currents of his time, as represented in Catalonian Modernism (a contemporary movement akin to Art Nouveau). It anticipated and influenced many of the forms and techniques that were relevant to the development of modern construction in the 20th century.”

The Casa Batlló is a renovation, not an original construction, yet one accomplished with such style and skill that it has become one of Gaudí’s best known projects. Notable here is how the shapely, strange building was washed in color with an extensive facade of ceramics and mosaics.

The Parc Güell is not a building but a green oasis in the midst of the city. Yet Gaudí’s distinctive style is seen throughout, from the benches to the porticoes, and lends the entire space an almost magical air.

The Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera (The Quarry), is awash with balconies both on the exterior and surrounding the interior atrium. All have sensual curved lines, echoed throughout the building, that seem to mimic living structures—a theme seen in many Gaudí works.

Gaudí also left his mark on perhaps Barcelona’s most famous landmark: La Sagrada Familia Cathedral.

Gaudí wasn’t the building’s original architect—he took over from Francisco de Paula after his death in 1883. Nor was he its last; work on the building continues to this day. Nonetheless, Gaudí’s distinctive style can be seen in his completion of the chapel of San José, the crypt, and the door of El Nacimiento.

Visitors to the cathedral and other UNESCO-recognized Gaudí properties, whether they know the architect or not, instantly recognize a unique style that has come to characterize Modernist Barcelona and symbolize the city to the present day.