Constructed between 1883 and 1888, Casa Vicens is one of Antoni Gaudí’s first significant projects. Commissioned by an affluent ceramic manufacturer, the Moorish Revival residential design is aptly defined by its trencadis (a type of ceramic mosaic used in Catalan Modernism) facade. The overall structure is made up of undressed stone and red brick. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site ‘Works of Antoni Gaudí’ in 2005.
Created for cotton baron Josep Batlló, the eponymous residence is more sculpture than architecture. Inspired by the sea, its undulating facade flaunts animal shapes, reptilian textures and subtle religious symbols, all in glazed ceramic and glass work. The Catalan Art Nouveau structure is a restoration project (1904) – a traditional late-1800s house. At the time of construction, the radical design, which broke city bylaws, received much criticism. However, in 1906 the Barcelona City Council recognized it as one of the three best buildings of the year. A visit to Casa Batlló includes a stopover at the legendary Noble Floor (the erstwhile home of the Batlló family), and the rooftops and chimneys from where the spine of the multicoloured dragon, slain by St Georges, is best witnessed. It was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2005.
Count Eusebi Güell originally visualised Parc Güell as a stylish park for Barcelona’s aristocrats, replete with a housing development. Unfortunately only two show houses were completed, one of which was inhabited by Gaudí and designed by architect Francesc Berenguer in 1904. Besides the residence (now a museum), the park is best known its terrace overlooking the city, and its entrance that’s flanked by two Gaudí buildings. The project employs a similar structural system and material palette to the incomplete Colònia Güell church: Curved stone columns, indigenous brick and stone, all in the architect’s flamboyant yet contextual design style.
A former workers’ colony, Colònia Güell is situated in the town of Santa Coloma de Cervelló, 20km outside Barcelona. The area was a manufacturing suburb that grew rapidly around the turn of the 20th century. In 1898, Count Eusebi de Güell appointed Gaudi to build a church for the residents of the rapidly developing suburb. Work came to a halt in 1915 due to economic hardships. However, the crypt, the only complete section, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The construction techniques paved the way for those of La Sagrada Familia. Its 2002 restoration, by architect Antonio González Moreno, received much criticism as it allegedly mistreated Gaudi’s work.
One of the most popular examples of Catalan Modernisme architecture, La Sagrada Familia draws over three million visitors annually. A work in progress, its construction commenced in 1882 with completion due around 2030. After disagreements between the temple’s promoters and the original architect, Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano, Gaudi took over the project in 1883. The basilica illustrates the relationship between man, nature and religion through its architecture and the sculptural façades: Glory, Nativity and Passion. Tip: Skip the long queue for the guided tour and take the audio one instead. It’s just as informative and lets you move at your own pace.
Passeig de Gràcia
Although not a building in the typical sense, this wide avenue created for and by the well-heeled locals, is worthy of a leisurely stroll. Home to high-end fashion and design boutiques and the city’s financial centre, Passeig de Gràcia’s beauty lies in its finer architectural details such as Gaudí’s pavement tiles, Modernist lampposts and several impressive buildings including the architect’s Casa Batlló and Casa Milà (La Pedrera).