As I’m sure you’re all aware, Barcelona is bristling with Gaudi. You can’t miss the bugger, he’s everywhere. As an earnest Must-See-All-The-Famous-Buildings type (as I can be on occasion) plus something of a fan of Modernism, I’d already whipped through most of the hit parade. La Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell, Casa Batllo, Palau Güell… all had been duly appreciated and ticked off the list. The only remaining one was La Pedrera, and it would have been a scandal if I hadn’t toddled along to see it.
La Pedrera (or Casa Milà, to give it its proper name) was designed by Antoni Gaudi as a residential block for the developer Pere Milà and his wife. After years falling into disrepair it (as well as six of Gaudi’s other notable buildings) was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 and restored to its former glory. These days it’s owned by one of the Catalan banks – Catalunya Caixa – and is taken up mainly with their offices, a few other offices, the public museum-y bit and – apparently – some residential flats.
Residential flats, eh? I’m not at all sure how I would feel about living in something like La Pedrera. It is constantly, constantly surrounded by tourists snapping pics, has a mile-long queue outside from 10am and the kind of place where you regularly encounter the kind of Americans who say stuff like ‘Oh my Gaaaaahd, it’s so wacky!‘ Christ. On the other hand, you would be living somewhere that looks like this:
So, you know, rough with the smooth and all that.
I won’t babble on about how the roof is all wibbly-wobbly and the façade is pitted and all that. You probably know all this already. I’ll pop a few more pics in here and then talk about the couple of things I found really interesting from my visit.
Catenary arches feature pretty heavily in the slightly creepily-enunciated audioguide which I of course got for the visit (touristy I know, but I like being lectured sometimes). It seems that old Gaudi was quite fond of a catenary arch or two. Put simply (or rather, put in the way I can remember the audioguide telling me) a catenary arch is the ideal curve that a thread or chain takes on when supported at each end, inverted to form an arch. Gaudi was a fan because the arch formed doesn’t need buttresses to support it – it has a natural strength, and frequently occurs in nature in the form of fines, creepers and whatnot.
Gaudi planned many of his buildings by drawing a floorplan for them, then suspending it from the ceiling and attaching hanging chains to show how the arches needed should be formed. The building’s shape could be seen by placing a mirror underneath the chain/floorplan combo.
I thought this was ace – a really interesting demonstration of a very practical architectural method.
La Pedrera’s exhibition space was well set-out. There was the roof to wander round, then the attic (given over to demonstrations of how Gaudi’s most famous buildings were constructed) and then a flat in the building was set aside as an example of how it might have looked in the 1920s.
All in all it’s a very interesting exhibition, taking in not only Gaudi’s artistic vision but also his design and building methods and everyday life in the 20s. The audioguide was also pretty good, and didn’t have the weird, slightly frenzied adoration that you get in the Casa Batllo guide (this sentence was sponsored by the Society for the Appreciation of Excellent Audioguides about Gaudi).
While I prefer the actual buildings of La Sagrada Familia and Casa Batllo because… well, they’re fancier (and I’m a pleb like that) I think La Pedrera is the building you walk away from having learnt the most interesting stuff.