Culture Clue: Barcelona had OTHER amazing architects!

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 I am surprisingly obsessed with Antoni Gaudi and his wonderful fanciful buildings, for someone who isn’t a big architecture buff and who’s never actually seen a Gaudi building. My Gaudi obsession is quite recent so, when Gordon and Joann Pitz’s (our Untourists of the Week last week) wonderful travel logs pointed out that he had contemporaries, nearly as fanciful and truly remarkable as he…. well….I am going to have to get myself to Barcelona.  I think someone must have invented the phrase “must be seen to be believed” specifically for Gaudi, and his astonishing contemporaries — Doménech and Puig.  Here are Gordon and Joann’s observations and wonderful pictures on the other Barcelona architects.  Even a Gaudi nut like myself can hardly classify them as ‘also-rans’!

Gaudí, Doménech, and Puig

In spite of his unusual style, Gaudí did not work in isolation. He was preceded in the Modernisme movement by Doménech i Montaner, who designed this building for the 1888 Universal Exposition. It shows the same delight in complex detail.

 Palau de la Mùsica CatalanaDoménech’s best known building is the Palau de la Mùsica Catalana, a wildly extravagant concert hall. At one corner is an elaborate sculpture that celebrates Catalan music. The pillars at the front of the building feature mosaic designs,and the balconies use glass railings , all of which adds to the drama of the building when it is illuminated after dark.

Doménech's amazing glass ceiling inside the Palau

A recent extension to the hall is built in a contemporary style, and includes a cafe where one can have a coffee prior to a concert . Dramatic as the exterior might be, the interior of the concert hall is even more so. Photos are not allowed inside the hall, but photos taken from the web show the glass ceiling, and the terra cotta muses at the rear of the stage. Some of the muses are said to be missing one or two fingers, the result of musicians using them as coat racks. Both photos show the elaborate proscenium arch with a statue of Beethoven. To fully appreciate the interior one must attend a concert. So we went to see “Versus – Un duelo de maestros”, a program of guitar master works including, as the program expressed it, “otras sorpresas”. The surprises included by-play with cell phones, battles between guitar, piano, and tenor, and Ravel’s Bolero for 8 hands on two guitars – at one point, in fact, 8 hands on one guitar. This unusual concert was a perfect match for the setting.

One of Doménech’s most interesting designs, and rather less well known, is the Hospital de la Santa Creu i San Pau. Until recently this was a functioning hospital for the poor of Barcelona. Now it is undergoing extensive renovation financed by the UN, and will become a historical center, a school, and a research institution. Because of the construction we had to wear hard hat and reflective vest for the guided tour. The style of the hospital is very much in the Modernisme traditio , with the same elaborate ornamentation one sees at the Palau de la Mùsica Catalana. It was intended as an answer to the bleak buildings typical of 19th century hospitals. Eight fairly small pavilions were set in an expansive garden. Each pavilion had a ward for 28 patients . At one end was a solarium where patients could take the sun and look out on the gardens. At the other end was a ward for the terminally ill . All of the labs, operating rooms, and utilities were kept out of sight in basement tunnels.

A third influential architect who work in the same style was Puig i Catafalch, represented by the Casa Ramona , a building for the display of contemporary art.Casa Ramona

The works of the three great Modernisme architects are contrasted in a single city block, the so-called “Manzana de la Discordia”. In Spanish this is a subtle pun, “manzana” meaning both “apple” and “city block”. The three architects built three closely spaced buildings. First, Doménech designed Casa Lleó Morera , a wedding cake of a building at one corner. Puig was the designer of Casa Amatller , two houses removed. Then next door Gaudí built the Casa Batlló .

Puig’s Casa Amatller has a rectangular style with a moorish flavor, quite unlike that of the other two. Gaudí’s Casa Batlló overwhelms one with its skull and bones theme. The contrasting styles of Puig and Gaudí are very evident when they are seen side by side .Puig on the right, Gaudi on the left

See lot’s more of the Pitz’s wonderful pictures of these buildings on their travelog here.  Thanks again, Gordon and Joann! (Joann is pictured below, all decked out in required hard hat to see Doménech’s exquisite hospital)

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