Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Modernisme Barcelona -- part II

In Glasgow, a late 19th and early 20th century Art Nouveau style called the "Glasgow School" had many worthy practitioners, but they all have been eclipsed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the preeminent architect in Scotland during that time period. The other members of the Glasgow School, including Mackintosh's artist wife, get lost in the background.

It is similar in Barcelona. The Modernisme style/movement had worthy practitioners who all get pushed to the background by Antoni Gaudí. That's somewhat unavoidable when many of the city's most famous landmarks -- including Casa Milà, Park Güell and the masterpiece Sagrada Familia basilica -- were created by Gaudí.

Casa Milà is one of Barcelona's landmarks.
But there is good stuff by folks other than Gaudí. One great Modernisme building we missed, the Palace of Catalan Music, had its interior designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Since you can visit it only via a prebooked hour-long tour, we decided it was too risky to inflict a potentially unwieldy toddler on the other patrons. For our next visit, it'll definitely be on our itinerary (and hopefully we can attend a concert, too).

Most of the Eixample district is not specifically Modernisme, though there are buildings sprinkled throughout. Rather, it's just a generally pleasing district of wider avenues, elegant buildings, and good charm. Some blocks reminded me a bit of Paris, perhaps a bit like the Art Nouveau 16th arrondissement (across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower).

A mini classical temple sits atop this Modernisme building.
Varying architectural styles down the Passeig de Gràcia.

Sometimes the Modernisme buildings, like this one with its wrought-iron railings and bay windows, are tucked against quite ugly brick buildings.

This building sits on one of the octagonal intersections so common in L'Eixample. Note that the octagonal intersections allow more parking than a usual square intersection since the cars can park perpendicular instead of parallel with the curb.
L'Eixample has a lot of flower markets.
Although the plan for L'Eixample was to have courtyards within each of the blocks, many of the blocks have converted the courtyard into other purposes (e.g., parking, more housing, etc.). But the city is working to restore some of the courtyards. We visited a courtyard with a water tower, pool, sand for lounging, and tree-shaded benches.

Sand gives a beach feel around this pool in a shaded courtyard.

The water tower was built in 1867.
Other blocks have dispensed with courtyards altogether to make way for private gardens and shortcut passageways.

It's a nice alley, but if I were living on this block I would prefer a private courtyard.
Not all of L'Eixample was newly constructed. In fact, a few churches from the old city were broken down, moved, and reassembled stone by stone in L'Eixample, such as the 13th century Gothic parish Church of the Holy Conception and Assumption of our Lady. Why move a church? Well, it freed up space in the clogged old city, and it's cheaper than quarrying and building a new church for the new district.

The church was moved in the 1870s. The bell tower was added from another church.
Interior of the Church of the Holy Conception.
The church's cloister was completed in the 15th century.
Isn't this post supposed to be about Modernisme architecture? Fine, if you insist.

Casa Milà was Gaudí's last major work; he devoted the rest of his life to supervising the ongoing construction of the Sagrada Familia basilica. Casa Milà was created as a family residence for an industrialist and a number of apartments to rent. The limestone exterior is supported by a steel skeleton. To my eye, its undulating curves give it a look of flowing waves, and the wrought-iron railings have seaweed motifs. Gaudí, of course, preferred to allow speculation and not declare a particular interpretation.

It's actually two buildings, with a single facade joining them. There are two interior courtyards, providing light and air to the apartments.

Curves and organic shapes.
It could use a powerwashing.
One of the two courtyards.
 Wrought-iron gate to the courtyard.
The rooftop is even stranger -- in a good way -- than the street-level facade. It rises and falls in little hills of staircases, topped with groupings of chimneys, ventilation shafts, and staircase exits. Some of the architectural elements are decorated with glass, stone, marble, and trencadís (i.e., mosaic created from broken tile shards). We spent a long time on the roof, partly marveling at the form/function of the various elements, and partly to allow giddy Jackson a chance to climb up and down, up and down, up and down. The rooftop is one of the best toddler playgrounds in the city.

Undulating rooftop of Casa Milà.
A stairwell shaft.
Looking down one of the courtyards.
Are these chimneys supposed to be aliens? I like the interpretation that they are helmeted guards protecting the courtyards.
As the story goes, these chimney tops are covered with shards of the champagne bottles that were drunk at the party when the building was first opened.
The rooftop provides good views of the L'Eixample district.
From the rooftop you descend to the attic, which originally housed the laundry facilities for the buildings. The attic is comprised of 270 catenary arches -- curves that are made when a chain droops from being suspended at either end -- which are taller/shorter and wider/narrower depending on the varying distances between the facade and the internal courtyards. The attic now holds a small museum dedicated to Gaudí's works.

The brick catenary arches are similar to parabolas in shape.
A model of Casa Milà.
After visiting the attic, you further descend into a sample apartment within the building. The furnishings are not original but show how the home might have been decorated shortly after construction was completed in 1912. Because of the design and the steel structure, none of the internal walls within the 20 or so apartments are load-bearing, so owners could feel free to rearrange walls as they wished.

I've seen modern homes that have bathrooms styled to look something like this.
Dining room.
The sentinels are watching.
Should I let these visitors enter my apartment, or slam the little doors in their faces? As it turns out, Jackson preferred the latter.
When the building was completed, neighbors of the owners of Casa Milà stopped speaking to them. The neighbors were angered because they were sure their property values would drop due to the odd building. They pejoratively called it "La Pedrera" (i.e., "The Quarry") because of its rough-hewn exterior, a name which has stuck; it's even on the building's brochure. Ahh, the joys of bourgeoisie living.

Like Casa Batlló, this is an unforgettable building. While I prefer Casa Batlló to Casa Milà, both buildings are unique, surprising, intricate, mysterious, and even funny. As I was writing this post, I scrolled down through the pictures for Jackson. When we passed the picture of the Casa Milà, he stopped me and said, "What's that, Daddy?" If your architectural creation can excite even a toddler, you've designed something truly arresting.

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