- On June 1, 2023
- In A day like today
Did you know? Geometry revealed
By Ferran Garcés
Antoni Gaudí is considered one of the most influential architects in the history of architecture, not only in the modernist but also in the modern movement. Among his main contributions, we remember his ability to play with the geometric forms of architecture. Today we inaugurate a series of articles to recall some of these innovations and their embodiment in Bellesguard. We will start with one of the most well-known, Gaudí’s preference for curved lines, but also his respect for traditional forms from other periods.
The rounding of forms
Unlike traditional architecture, which is based on straight lines and precise angles, Gaudí opted for smooth curves and undulating profiles in his desire to develop a language closer to nature. To achieve these forms, it is necessary to emphasize the importance of a generally undervalued material: plaster.
We can see this very clearly on the third floor of Torre Bellesguard, where we can compare the two rooms that make up this floor. One is finished, that is, plastered, and the other is unfinished, without plaster. The first one is the Smoking Room. Let’s look at the ceiling. We see that, thanks to the plaster, the rounded shapes simulate the veins of a leaf, with undulating profiles, like the attached pillars on which the ceiling rests, following Gaudí’s naturalistic taste. In contrast, we don’t see any curves in the adjacent room, the Masons’ or Music Room. This is due to the fact that this room remains unfinished due to a lack of budget. According to experts, it was supposed to be plastered. If it had been finished, we would see the same undulating profiles as in the Smoking Room and the rest of the house (1). In no other work of Gaudí can we compare the before and after of the architect’s construction process in the same place.
An exceptional case with history
That being said, the appearance of the Bellesguard façades, full of straight lines, following the characteristic aspect of a Gothic building with its battlements, pointed arches, and gargoyles, may come as a surprise. To understand this aspect, it is important to remember the historical significance of the property. Five centuries ago, on this land stood the palace of King Martí I the Humane. For this reason, Gaudí gave it a medieval appearance as a tribute. However, once inside, Gaudí recovers his characteristic style of curved forms. On the other hand, it should be noted that Gaudí also made other Gothic-inspired buildings, such as the Episcopal Palace of Astorga, the Casa de los Botines in León, and in Barcelona, the College of the Teresianas and the Sagrada Familia. Therefore, it is not a trend alien to Gaudí’s work.
However, the external appearance of Torre Bellesguard is not as Gothic as it seems at first glance. Upon closer inspection, we can appreciate how Gaudí mocked its apparent linearity. Firstly, he covered the original brick structure with slate typical of the area. The stone gives it a medieval aesthetic, but if we observe more closely, we will see that the pieces are arranged in different sizes and shades, so the house changes its appearance depending on the light and the different reliefs around the windows and balconies. In reality, the façade of Torre Bellesguard follows the same principles as one of Gaudí’s most well-known techniques, the trencadís. Only here, instead of using ceramics, he uses stone with dark gray, green, light yellow, and brown tones, giving the building a subtle polychromy.
Secondly, Gaudí combined Gothic elements such as pointed arches with completely original geometric patterns, such as the ventilation pieces below the windows and the decorations of the main door.
In this way, the statement made by Domènec Sugrañes, one of Gaudí’s brightest disciples, about this work is confirmed: “The Bellesguard House is as deeply Gothic as it is contemporary” (2). Coincidentally, while Gaudí was building Bellesguard, he also renovated the cathedral of Mallorca. There, he achieved a similar balance between Gothic and his own style. When questioned about the innovations, the architect responded:
“We make architecture without archaeology: above all, there are the relationships between things, in a predisposed situation; that’s why we don’t have to copy the forms, but rather be able to produce them within a specific character, possessing their spirit” (3).
(1) However, not all scholars agree. Some believe that Gaudí deliberately left this room as we see it today. “The Moorish inspiration becomes evident with the structure of the arches and the use of exposed brick, and it may not be gratuitous because workers of Muslim origin who lived in the Catalan-Aragonese territories used to work in the palaces of King Martí.” Vall i Composada, Josep M .: Bellesguard. From the residence of Martí the Humane to Gaudí’s Tower, Barcelona, Duxelm editorial, 2014, p. 122.
(2) Vall i Composada, op. cit., p. 105
(3) González Moerno-Navarro, Antoni: “La restauració objectiva (Mètode SCCM de restauració monumental),” in: Memòria SPAL 1993-1998, Diputació de Barcelona, p. 63.