If you dropped by Google this morning you’ll have noticed that today’s Google Doodle celebrates the 161st birthday of the greatest of all Catalan architects, Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (1852-1926):
As he lived a very long, productive life, with a significant output of unique designs for both buildings and decorative art, a single blog post would not be sufficient for me to share all of the fascinating stories one could tell of this talented, deeply Catholic and proudly Catalan figure. Indeed, his cause for sainthood is presently being considered by the Church, and there are volumes and volumes of material on his life which are being poured over in the Vatican even as I write this.
I thought it might be helpful for those unfamiliar with Gaudí’s work to learn a little bit about the elements of the Google Doodle itself, for your own further research and reading. From left to right, the illustrations in the doodle represent the entrance to the Park Güell; the interior courtyard of the Casa Milà, more colloquially known as “La Pedrera”; part of tower decoration on the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia; one of the roof ventilators on the roof of La Pedrera; one of the roof ventilators from the Casa Batllo; and another roof ventilator from La Pedrera. All of these structures are located in the city of Barcelona, as indeed nearly all of the master’s work is as well. Let’s take each of these in turn, with an accompanying photograph so you can see where Google’s illustrator got his ideas.
The Park Güell was an urban development project which Gaudí undertook at the behest of his greatest patron, Count Eusebi Güell, who liked the then-new English concept of creating planned communities clustered around a common area containing a marketplace, gardens, and other amenities. Although the project was never fully realized, it is now a public park with sweeping views of the city, and features some highly influential examples of Gaudí’s designs. One element in particular, his serpentine bench covered in broken tiles, dishes, and glass, a technique known as “trencadis”, is still copied today by furniture designers, for example.
The next section of the Google Doodle, the interior courtyard of the Casa Milà, shows an apartment building on the Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona’s most fashionable street, designed by Gaudí for a wealthy widow. The exterior of the building, with its curved walls and balconies which resemble dried seaweed, was ridiculed at the time for looking like an abandoned stone quarry or “pedrera”, and the name stuck. There was originally supposed to be a giant bronze statue of Our Lady of the Rosary at the apex of the building, and a close observer will see the “Ave Maria” carved into the pinnacle where the sculpture was supposed to be placed, but for various reasons this was never completed. The interior courtyard was a remarkable innovation for the period, creating an open atrium space to allow light and fresh air to penetrate into the interior of the structure, rather than taking up the entire footprint of the lot.
The Google Doodle then shows a detail from the Basilica of the Holy Family, or “Sagrada Familia”, which was the great project of the last part of Gaudí’s life. It was dedicated by Pope Benedict XVI and raised to the level of a Minor Basilica in 2009, but construction on this massive structure is still ongoing and will likely take at least another couple of decades to complete. When it is finished it will be the tallest church in the world. The Sagrada Familia is such a complex structure with so many different elements, styles, etc., that it would be impossible to sum all of those components up here, but the section illustrated in the Doodle is part of the decoration on one of the lower bell towers, of which there are to be twelve representing the twelve Apostles; there are higher bell towers representing the Blessed Virgin, the Four Evangelists, and Jesus Christ to come. Each of these “Apostle towers” range between 100-115 meters (328-377 feet) tall:
The following segment of the Google Doodle takes us back to La Pedrera, this time to the roof, which features numerous chimneys and ventilation shafts with strange shapes, reminiscent of the Cubist period in Modern Art exemplified by the work of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. In fact, both this element and the last element of the Doodle represent just two of the many weird ventilation covers on the roof of the building, which in summer is now a popular venue for jazz concerts and cocktails:
Finally, the green-tiled part of the Google Doodle which appears between the illustrations of the two ventilator shafts from La Pedrera is one of the finials from the Casa Batlló, another apartment building designed by Gaudí for a wealthy client on the Passeig de Gràcia. This particular residential structure is probably my favorite of Gaudí’s secular works, for it is an embodiment in stone, concrete, tile, metal, and glass of the legend of St. George and the Dragon. Among other features the facade of the building is covered in tiles shaped like reptilian scales in a rainbow of colors, with a kind of blue-green predominating, and the roof looks like the back of a dragon which has been pierced by St. George’s lance. Whereas the roof ventilators of La Pedrera are very plain, those on the Casa Batlló are a collection of simple forms in really bright colors:
I hope these little snippets from the output of this unique architect make you want to learn more about him. He is certainly a polemic figure in the world of architecture, and many people do not care for his work. However if you approach these structures and designs with a combination of childlike wonder and an appreciation of how deeply Gaudí loved not only his Catholic faith, but also being a Catalan, and celebrating elements of Catalan history and Catholic culture in his work, you will at least be able to marvel at his innovations, even if it is not to your own taste.