Catalan Modernism in Barcelona

Catalan ModernismAt the turn of the 20th Century, Catalan Modernism was the art movement that dominated Barcelona. Its greatest achievements were in architecture, design and decorative arts. Although the movement introduced some revolutionary designs it is essentially a traditional style. Modernist buildings are mainly two dimensional, with exceptional decoration dominating function: shapes are dynamic, motifs are organic and asymmetry is everywhere. Special attention is given to details and to colours and materials.

Internationally the movement was known as Art Nouveau, though that name is attributed to France and Belgium. In Austria-Hungary it was called Sezession, in Germany Jugendstil, in The Netherlands Nieuwe Kunst, in Italy Floreale. All these movements shared the above mentioned decorative principles but each was inspired by its own cultural influences. The architecture of Catalan Modernism was especially influenced by Gothic and Moorish architecture.

In Catalonia the style was promoted by the bourgeoisie who wanted to display their wealth through lavishly decorated architectural masterpieces. Additionally, the style gave them a sense of modernity while expressing their national identity. Modernism spread all over Catalonia and even further into Spain, but it was in Barcelona that it reached its peak. Hundreds of modernist buildings were erected all over the city, with most in key locations inside Barcelona’s largest district l’Eixample, which was flourishing at that time. The most famous modernist architects were Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch.

These are our favourite Modernist buildings:
1. Palau Güell Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 3 – 5

Architect: Antoni Gaudí

The Palace was built as a mansion for the industrial magnate Güell. Gaudí’s first completely modernist building features typical elements such as coloured chimneys and iron ornaments.  The building was organized so that important guests could come in inside with their horse carriages. From the main entrance horses would be taken to the underground stable, while guests will enter the richly decorated receiving room.

2. Palau de la Música Catalana Carrer Palau de la Música, 4 – 6

Architect: Lluís Domènech i Montaner

Built for the prominent choral society Orfeó Català it was partially financed by the wealthy Barcelonans. Unlike most modernist buildings its style is functional, without omitting the importance of decorations. The centrepiece of the Palace is the majestic Concert Hall covered by an impressive stained glass dome. The numerous sculptures that decorate the hall were inspired by ancient mythology, and classical and folk music elements.

3. Casa Batlló Passeig de Gràcia, 43

Architect: Antoni Gaudí

When the Batlló family bought the building in 1900 they commissioned Gaudí to redesign it. The original building on the site was built by Gaudí too, but in a more conservative classical style. Amongst several innovations three stand out: the openness of the ground floor and the first floor, the colourful façade with characteristic balconies and the arched roof with a strange spire resembling a dragon like creature. It’s Gaudí’s first project without any straight line.

4. Casa Sayrach Avinguda Diagonal, 423 – 425

Architect: Manuel Sayrach i Carreras

Casa Sayrach was one of the last built according to the modernist style. Heavily influenced by Gaudí it maintains a pretty reserved anatomy, with the absence of colours and a limited use of materials. A tall spire dominates the exterior, a continuous first floor and a curved roof. On the other side the interior is lavishly decorated with elements like sea animals, shells and bones.

5. Casa Milà / La Pedrera Passeig de Gràcia, 92

Architect: Antoni Gaudí

The last great residential work of Gaudí, Casa Milà was considered revolutionary because of its exaggerated curves expressed in the marble façade and steel iron balconies. Unlike the two dimensional Batlló, here the curves occupy all dimensions, there is no rectangular line, and all of the apartments have an irregular shape. Originally Gaudí proposed giant sculptures of the Virgin Mary and of two archangels on the top of the building. Such an idea was rejected as the house was built during a strong anticlerical moment.

6. Casa Comalat Avinguda Diagonal, 442 – Carrer Còrsega 316

Architect: Salvador Valeri i Pupurull

Another Gaudí influenced building is Casa Comalat, an interesting modernist experiment with two distinct façades. The main stone façade on Av. Diagonal is more conservative, symmetrical with a regular shape. The rear façade on the other side combines different materials and displays a festival of colours. A massive Gaudian ground floor with windows, wooden galleries and polychrome ceramics dominate the house.

7. Casa Torrades / de les Punxes Avinguda Diagonal 416 – 420

Architect: Josep Puig i Cadafalch

Sisters Torrades wanted to unify their three properties, so in 1905 they commissioned the famous modernist architect to build a monumental building occupying the entire block. The modernist building resembles a gothic structure with a brick façade, gothic like decorations and six spires. But upon taking a closer look, you will notice that all the ornaments are actually modernist with flower motifs all around.

8. Sagrada Família Carrer de Mallorca, 401

Architect: Antoni Gaudí

Gaudí’s most spectacular work Sagrada Familía is famous for many reasons. It is the only unfinished World Heritage Site on Unesco’s list. The original plan included three façades, 12 spires representing 12 apostles, 1 for the Virgin Mary, 4 for the 4 evangelists and one for Jesus Christ. Only the Nativity façade with four apostles was built according to Gaudi’s original design. The Passion façade and the 4 apostles bear designs of his students. The Glory façade together with the other towers is yet to be built. Though deeply modernist, the original design was influenced by Gothic art. The impressive decoration even forms part of the structure.

9. Hospital de Sant Pau Carrer de Sant Antoni Maria Claret, 167

Architect: Lluís Domènech i Montaner

One of the largest modernist complexes in the world the ex Hospital de Sant Pau occupies a lot of 300m x 300m. Of the 27 pavilions, 13 where designed by the famous architect. The main administrative pavilion is orientated towards the Sagrada Família breaking the orthogonal matrix of the Eixample’s district. Behind the building, there is a long plaza surrounded by 8 almost identical pavilions. All buildings have brick façades with flower ornaments and roofs decorated with colourful ceramic tiles.

10. Park Güell Carrer d’Olot

Architect: Antoni Gaudí

Park Güell is Gaudí’s masterpiece displaying a perfect relationship between architecture and nature. Envisaged as a housing estate with 40 buildings surrounding a park it was converted into a public park with only two buildings executed. Gaudí’s obsession with organic forms is visible everywhere: in arches supporting the pedestrian paths, arcades, pillars under the great gallery, viaducts, etc. Some elements of the park were designed by his partners but according to his style.

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2 Responses

  1. […] 10:00 | If you are looking for to check out the city’s architecture but don’t want to fight off the crowds at Sagrada Familia, check out the beautiful architecture at Hospital de Sant Pau. If you are looking for other examples of Catalan Modernism in the city, make sure to take a look at local hero Milos’ list. […]

    • happyfrogtravels
      | Reply

      Thanks guys for mentioning me in your itinerary! Great tips!

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