Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Happy Birthday Antoni Gaudi

Google's doodle today is for the birthday of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. For the occasion, I offer an Amazon review I did years ago of Gaudi Of Barcelona:

Antoni Gaudi stayed out of pigeonholes in a big way. His work defies analogy, let alone description. Let's see: Ice cream castles? No. Victorian/Edwardian psychedelia? Maybe, kinda sorta. A Beaux-Arts H. R. Giger? His work does have that certain sinuosity to it, though it contains nothing of the macabre. It's like he was plunked down in 19th century Barcelona from some future era. One can only imagine what he could have done with modern building materials.

This book is a photodocumentary of his most notable work in Barcelona, although one building out in the countryside is included. The pictures are well composed and shot, and the text, an adaptation of a Spanish text, is interesting and clear.

Architectural surprises and oxymorons abound in these pictures. A classical caryatid is made out of small gray stones. The frame of a stained glass window turns out to be made out of knitting needles. The double doors of a courtyard open into a room, the entrance to which is obstructed by twin pink and yellow columns. Chimneys and ventilators are turned into colorful cones that wouldn't be out of place in the Hall of the Elves in Rock City, Tennessee. And the gateway to a park looks like nothing so much as a taffy-puller in action. And to think that all this expressiveness was built just one generation before the plague of Glass Boxes spread from northern Europe.

The appearance of Gaudi's buildings and decorative designs is striking enough for the casual viewer. But the details of how he came up with some of these designs is just as amazing. For one crypt, he dispensed with mathematical calculation altogether, instead working out the stress loads with a primitive, time-consuming system of ropes and sacks of buckshot. He was in fact so ferociously individualistic that it is amazing that he found enough patronage to keep him in work. Thanks to his open-minded patrons, most importantly Eusebi Guell, he was free to let his talents and imagination rip. Thanks also to his nationality--the English would have pegged him as an eccentric and consigned him to country houses. The French would have gone into ecstasies of theorizing, but would have been mindful of how little his work promoted "La Gloire". And as for Germany, who could imagine Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm living in ice cream palaces? But the Barcelona authorities were tractable enough to let him get away with flouting not only criticism but the very building codes. Perhaps they sensed that Gaudi was a manifestation of the revival the city was then enjoying.

This is an attractive book about a lone genius who put his stamp on his city; who followed his own drummer, sometimes right over the cliff, but always without hesitation.