Modernism in urban architecture is not all about straight lines, clean planes, and the celebration of functionality. If you need a reminder of modernist paths not taken -- or not taken enough -- enjoy this short film about Catalonian architect Antoni Gaudí's Casa Batlló.
Think of it as the anti-Bauhaus.
The Bauhaus movement sprang from a German academic milieu in 1919, and stood for, in Mies van der Rohe's words, the "spatial implementation of intellectual decisions." What this meant in practice was buildings as machines, comfortable in displaying their own functionality, and largely devoid of ornamentation.
Barcelona's modernisme, which slightly predates the Bauhaus, produced supremely livable houses and apartment buildings, but never ceased to express aesthetic and cultural ideals beyond basic utility. To some sensibilities, the result is fantastic and cluttered. More positively, it might be taken to suggest -- and enact -- ways in which urban living can be an extension of natural ways of life, rather than a reflection of the urban machine.
In Gaudí's hands, modernisme is an expression of the organic. In the Casa Milà apartments (also known as La Pedrera -- "the rockpile"), there's hardly a straight line to be found, from the ground-floor grotto-like entrance to the mushroom-like chimneys on the roof. La Pedrera has been open to the public for years, and I've repeatedly visited, marveling at how Gaudí's craftsmanlike moulding of curved surfaces makes private apartments -- as well as common areas -- seem so homely and welcoming.
Casa Batlló, on the broad stretch of Passeig de Gracia, which runs parallel to the extension of the Ramblas above the Plaza Catalunya, has only been open to the public since 2002. It was built as a private home for one family, and its current appearance dates from Gaudí's radical 1904 refurbishment of the original building.
It would be quite wrong to idealize Gaudí as a progressive urban artist. His art and architecture expresses deeply held religious views. Casa Batlló, indeed, is at one level an allegorical representation of Barcelona's patron saint, Saint George, slaying the dragon -- from the almost sinister, bone-like structure front windows to the dragon's spine which centers the roof terrace.
But there are still messages to be learned, especially at this curious juncture in the history of urban planning where a universal understanding of the city as a node of technologies is taking hold. Our sense of the organic need not necessarily be sacrificed to our sense of the urban environment as a seamlessly connected digital machine.
Created by Estudio Nueveojos, this movie, "Love Casa Batlló," just won the grand prize at the Riga international tourist film festival, and it brings the organic aspects of the building vividly -- and literally -- to life. Enjoy.
Special thanks to our Barcelona correspondent, Pablo Valerio, for bringing the movie to my attention.
Re: Architectural digest/appetite Terry, you are right, i should correct myself and say the clients have no vision...only want to save a buck or three. As I have said before, they are building buildings that are just rectangles with windows and a helo pad on top. Thats it...nothing amazing, its just there...and will be for at least 50 years or more.
Re: Architectural digest/appetite Kim, if i'm ever in NYC I'll be sure to check those building out. I'm living in Los Angeles, when I see buildings going up today, they are unpleaseing to the eyes. Not like what is outlined in the article or what you tell me about NYC. Houses are a different matter, I see a lot of mini mansions going up all over the city of Burbank and Glendale CA. People buy a home, referb it to resemble a million dollor or more home. outside they look nice but the surrounding homes then need to be upgraded as well. Some look great others not so much. I know architech's follow their clients wants/needs but man, some of these buildings/homes going up are just plain boring. Nothing pleasing to look at really.
Re: Architectural digest/appetite I think it's a bit off the mark to blame the architects. Clients, especially clients funding commercial spaces, are notoriously conservative and cheap. You don't go to Frank Gehry or Santiago Calatrava for conservative; their commissions are dear. And often there's a building committee to satisfy, so it's not a single decisionmaker, and the finished product tends to reflect that (Exhibit A: 1 World Trade Center in lower Manhattan).
Even back in the day, Gaudi's buildings couldn't have been cheap to build. But somebody somewhere got behind this visionary and made sure his ideas were brought to life.
Re: Missed this one The double "l" in Catalan is really puzzling to non-native speakers. This is a different example, but I really struggle with the double pronunication required by "Paral·lel"--as in the Avenida or the subway stop!
Of course, in Finnish they pronounce both "k"s in words with double "k"s. Try "tupakka" (tobacco).
Re: Architectural digest/appetite Thanks, Terry. I went on a walking tour yesterday led by Margaret Watson of New York's Municipal Arts Society, and her theme was very much the role of architecture in defining public space and its utility. More about that later.
As for Gaudi, he was a deeply pious man, whose last years involved an almost monastic devotion to building the Sagrada Familia. The construction of the church was literally an act of expiation for him (more about that online, I'm sure). But I agree, a lot of his Catholic contemporaries must have scratched their heads looking at what he fervently took to be religious art.
Parc Guell still looks like a dry run for Disneyland to most eyes.
We dont see very many of these types of buildings anymore, especially in the big cities of America. When large skyscrapers go up they are mostly a Rectangle with windows, nothing really stands out anymore.
We see gothic cathedrials of yesteryear and they were amazing and beautiful, today a moden catherdrial goes up and its all straight lines and very boring looking.
Do they teach how to design bland buildings in Architech schools?
In defense of Mies van de Rohe Thanks, Kim, for highlighting one of the most intriguing buildings in Barcelona. I have visited Casa Battló twice but somehow never caught up with its allegorical message.
In defense of Mies van de Rohe, although I'm not a huge fan, there is a beautiful Pavilion designed by him from the 1929 International Exhibition in Barcelona, that has a rare tranquility about it despite the rigid lines. It brings in nature through two reflecting pools filled with pebbles and walls of incredible marble and travertine. Not cosy like Gaudí, for sure, but there's a serenity about the place.
Re: Missed this one Thank you Terry. The Catalan pronounciation is "βəʎˈʎo" (by IPA standards). I don't think there is the ʎˈ sound in the English language, but it is something between a "ts" and a "y".
Catalan pronpunciation also changes in different areas of Catalonia. Barcelona's Catalan has a greater influence from Spanish and other languages, whereas the Catalan spoken in Lleida and Girona is closer to the original.
Re: Missed this one You're a great cultural ambassador, Pablo! For those of us who struggle with the beauty and complexity of the Catalon language, please tell us how to pronounce properly "Batllo." (sorry... can't get the accented 'o' to come up on my keyboard!)
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