Sunday, May 9, 2010

Inside an Obra Maestra

Karen came and visited me last weekend and, with her urging, I finally entered one of my favorite—and most well-known—landmarks of Barcelona: la Sagrada Família. I had always been told that, because it’s currently a “work in progress” until we don’t really know when (current prediction is 15 years, but it looks like it will take longer, just like all architecture projects…), it wasn’t worth the 10 euros to enter. I even had heard a few “It’s just like any other church”-es. But I can definitely say, without a doubt, that all of those people are quite wrong

La Sagrada Família is an absolutely astounding architectural marvel inside, even though it is under construction, and you learn all about the historical and physical process of creating this obra maestra when you go inside. Yes, the fact that there is scaffolding everywhere inside and the noise and dust of construction is bothersome, but, a) I have yet to see a church in Europe that’s not currently en obras, and b) that in no way detracts from the masterful architecture that is to be seen inside the church. In fact, seeing what has already been done, what parts of Gaudí’s dream temple have already been completed, almost made me excited to see the scaffolding because I cannot wait to see what will come in the future years as they continue the work.

The thing I find the most interesting about the continual construction of la Sagrada Família is that now any architect who takes up the mantle of continuing to direct the project must be brave enough to attempt to insert himself or herself in Gaudí’s mind and try and understand the way this architectural genius worked. It is, in part, because of this that the project is continuing at such a slow rate, even though we do have so many more advanced architecture techniques than during Gaudí’s time. Many of Gaudí’s plans and maquetas for la Sagrada Família were burned or destroyed during the Spanish Civil War when the anarchists broke into his study on the grounds of la Sagrada Família. Fortunately they didn’t attempt to destroy la Sagrada Família itself because, as the story goes, one of them realized that Gaudí had died poor like them and therefore his church shouldn’t be destroyed. Because Gaudí was such an experimentalist with his architecture, he tried every technique that he used in la Sagrada Família in smaller forms in his other works. He often said he never would have dared to do the things he did in la Sagrada Família on such a large scale if he hadn’t first attempted them in various aspects of his buildings. We don’t know what other experiments he may have done if he hadn’t been struck down by a streetcar. La Sagrada Família could have a very different structure than the one we know today. It could be exactly the same. He could have completely new ideas for how to construct the remaining façades. Since la Sagrada Família was his grand masterpiece, the culmination of all of his work, he used his best and most inventive techniques in it. But, no architect today can say that he or she has the mind and exact thinking pattern as Gaudí to be able to recreate his ideas and extrapolate from there to form new ones to reshape the plans for today’s Sagrada Família. No one dares put their name and stamp on Gaudí’s masterpiece, and I doubt that if I were an architect I would have the guts to do it either! Working on the temple so changed one master sculptor that he became an extremely devout Catholic, just as Gaudí was.

When we went inside la Sagrada Família we got to not only see a little bit about the process of the construction and walk inside the spectacular forest-like congregation, but were able to go up the main towers to look out over Barcelona. Because of the construction, you can only go up the towers in elevator (and pay 2 euros more, but oh well, it means that I’ll get to see the finished Sagrada Família 2 euros faster!), but we were able to descend them by foot, exploring the connecting spiral towers along the way. It was absolutely magnificent, looking out over Barcelona from the birds’-eye view behind the dove-studded tree on the old façade. Knowing that I was inside one of those iconic towers and seeing how high I was, comparing that to how much even higher the central tower will be, looking down upon the continuing construction project, examining up close and personal the parts of the church that I had only ever seen from the ground, far away with my neck craned and eyes squinted to focus it better, was all astounding. In total we spent almost 4 spectacular hours exploring all the nooks and crannies we could of la Sagrada Família, and I would call them four very well spent hours with 12 well-spent euros to attempt to get inside the head of this masterful architect and come to a more personal understanding of his most personally valued project.

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