The second structural element used by Gaudi as a source of inspiration was the skeleton, the structure on which the entire construction relied. It is a fact that Gaudi studied both shells and animals' skeletons before proceeding to build his own structure for the construction. The Casa Milla, for example, shows previous studies of shells and a significant resemblance with them.
Perhaps one of the best examples of how Gaudi used biological elements around him as sources of inspiration comes from one his own stories, the way he created the donkey, from the "Flight into Egypt" ensemble, "carved in stone at the entrance of the big portal." Everything, including Joseph and Mary, had been inspired from people that Gaudi had met in the streets of Barcelona. The donkey itself was a problem, so that the architect made an announcement seeking a donkey from which a plaster cast could be made and later used in the sculptural group.
No doubt the finest donkeys in Barcelona were brought, but they were not in line with what Gaudi was searching for, in his own words, a "poor, old and weary, and surely one which had something kindly in his face and understood what it was all about." So the respective donkey was finally found in the property of a woman selling scouring sand and was used in the work.
The story shows what Gaudi's naturalism is all about and, even more interesting, makes up part of his split personality. Here we have an artist that on one hand prefers to stylize almost everything, to use his imagination in order to bring life into shapes, forms and colors and to create new perceptions and, on the other hand, the same artist draws his very inspiration from everyday examples and elements from the world and city surrounding him. There is however nothing controversial here: Gaudi uses indeed naturalism and natural examples, forms or shapes, but he fits them in his own imagery and his own artistic vision.
Gaudi's decorative tastes draw their influences from many sources, including the Oriental art, with fantastic figures and shapes. It is however noticeable that Gaudi decorates and ornaments following a rigorous rationale. As he himself puts it, "the elements and their decorative motifs must contrast" and contrasting would include odd combinations and motifs.
It is important to make a point when referring to Gaudi's art as exuberant and without boundaries. His vision is indeed so, however, as the quotation previously mentioned shows, everything he works into his creations follows a rigorous plan and nothing is left to chance. Here we have an artist who studies structural elements in everyday life in order to use them later in his own work, who makes plans about where and how to decorate, but who, on the other hand, lets his imagination run wild and realizing the most unexpected forms.
Keeping in mind some of the general characteristics of Gaudi's works, among them naturalism, ornamentation and Oriental influences, it is appropriate to have a closer look at some of his most representative creations, the Sacrada Familia, the Pedrera (Casa Milla) and the Park Guell.
The Sacred Family - La Sacrada Familia
The cathedral was Gaudi's last and greatest project, for which he will be most remembered. Even if left unfinished and still being worked on today, the Sacrada Familia quickly became the most notable symbol in Barcelona, something with which its inhabitants most identify themselves. Even more so, the Sacrada Familia has become a symbol of the Catalan modernism.
Work began in 1882, coordinated and led by the architect Villar, who saw the new cathedral as a Neo-Gothic achievement. Gaudi took over in 1891 and his grandiose project included three different facades, which would delimitate three almost independent bodies. The three monumental facades included the Nativity, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The cathedral was planned to have eighteen towers in total: 12 representing the twelve apostles, a central, higher tower dedicated to Jesus Christ, 4 towers for the four evangelists and a final tower dedicated to the Virgin Mary, higher than all the others.
Gaudi succeeded to finish only one of the facades, dedicated to the Nativity. Interrupted in 1936, as the Spanish Civil War broke out, the work was resumed in the 50s and subsequently, the facade dedicated to the Death of Christ was finished in the 70s. Work is still carried on today, but proceeds just as difficulty. One of the explanations provided for this was that Gaudi had never actually left any plans for the entire cathedral and his vision remains partially a mystery.
Describing the significance of the cathedral for the city and for Gaudi's creation is a difficult task, but the best place to start is one of Gaudi's own thoughts on the Sacrada Familia: "it is not the last of cathedrals, but it will be, perhaps, the first of a new series." If we corroborate this with the idea of "modernizing the Gothic style," one of the general traits of Gaudi's works, we may get the sense of what the construction is all about.
First of all, it is a bridge in time, a structure meant to join the medieval Gothic with Neo-Gothic and the 20th century. At the same time, the bridge in time represents a connection with the strong religious feelings of the Middle Ages, a revival of ancient mysticism. In this sense, the symbolical work abounds. We should mention, for example, Durer's four-sided square, each figure on the horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines adding up to 33, the age Jesus Christ is supposed to have died.
Second of all, the Sacrada Familia is a complete summary of Gaudi's entire creation, a sum of both his artistic credo and his technological achievements. Everything, ranging from his taste for ornaments and decoration to the naturalism and observational characteristics I have previously discussed, from the construction innovations to shapes and forms and to geometric proportions, can be found here. Some have called it, in this sense, "The Book of Gaudi."
The keen examination of the Nativity facade is revelatory in this sense. Almost 100 plant species and the same amount of animal species can be found on it, in its vaults and archivolts. Every separate plant or animal is studied and copied from real life, with all the details necessary. The sculptures followed the observation routine I have already mentioned. Gaudi is said to have had two separate skeletons with which he studied the movements of the human body, in order to decide upon the most adequate positions for his statues. All the statues were replicas of people he met in the streets of Barcelona, molded in plaster and fit in his work.
Finally, the tree and its representations are seen here, especially in the upper levels of the Cathedral. As a structural solution, the tree, stylized or not, had been used ever since Antiquity, but Gaudi excelled at it and used every opportunity to place it in an important role. Columns and forms of sustaining the building, trees were the structural primordial element in his work and "the structure of the temple is formed, based on leaning columns, with abundant ramifications in the upper sections, whose branches hold up small fragments of hyperboloid vaults, which produce the effect of a forest."
Symbol of Barcelona and of Gaudi's creation, the Sacrada Familia, its magnificent bell towers and lean structure is the first thing you see when approaching Barcelona, whether by car or plane. Nowhere else is the intrinsic relation that Gaudi had with his city so present. The fact that the cathedral, called by the locals "the cathedral of the poor," was built from charity money alone comes to sustain this even further.
La Pedrera - Casa Mila
La Pedrera was Gaudi's last civil edifice built before dedicating himself exclusively to the construction of the Sacrada Familia. The name Casa Mila comes from the contractor and owner, Pere Mila Camps, who was inspired by Gaudi's achievement of Casa Battlo and wanted a similar building for himself. The architect's plan was a complete array of all the elements Gaudi had used in the past and which are a trademark for him. Catalan-style vaults come together with iron columns and metallic girders to complete a futuristic structure.
The facade, out of place and time, is the first that surprises, architecturally and aesthetically. Conceived as a large wave and placed on a corner, the first impression is that such a construction cannot stand, because it would be physically impossible. The technical explanation for this achieved is quite simple: "summers are built into the stone and are attached to girders of various lengths." Additional catenary arches were also used in order to support the exterior facade.
Gaudi's artistic vision suffered some extensive criticism from his contemporaries and trouble with the official institutions followed as soon as part of the construction had been finalized. First of all, governmental officials sustained that one of the base…