THE MAN BEHIND THE ARCHITECTURE
Antoni Gaudí i Cornet was born on 25 June 1852 in the town of Reus to the south of Catalonia and died on 10 June 1926 in Barcelona. More often than not, Gaudí is overshadowed by his own spectacular architecture. But who was the man behind the buildings? What was his life like and what inspired him?
FROM SICKLY CHILD
TO ELEGANT DANDY
Antoni was the youngest of five siblings. His father was a coppersmith like his father and grandfather before him. He taught his son how to form volume and shapes and how to transform two dimensions into three. It’s almost certain that being surrounded by that level of craftsmanship influenced Gaudí’s architectural style later down the line.
Young Gaudí suffered from rheumatism, which meant he missed a lot of school and instead spent hour upon hour at the family’s cottage in Riudoms, where he would stare intently at the flora and fauna. This period of his life had such an impact on him, leading him to incorporate nature in his designs like no other architect.
When Gaudí was a teenager, his whole family moved to Barcelona with their sights set on better prospects for the children’s education. He soon got into the swing of city life, mixing with high society in bars and theatres and dressing like a dandy with his expensive clothes, hats and gloves. What a contrast to his final years! But we’ll come back to that later…
A HEADSTRONG STUDENT
WITH MANY INTERESTS
Gaudí had his heart set on becoming an architect. But he had to wait three whole years before he was accepted into the school of architecture. He was never a very good student and he found it hard to concentrate on the subjects he needed to pass to be eligible for a place.
Even as a student, Gaudí stood out with his own unique style. He was more interested in curved lines, natural shapes and pretty much impossible structures and less worried about what we would call the overall project management. When handing Gaudí his degree, the school director famously said: “We have given this academic title either to a fool or a genius. Only time will tell.”
Gaudí also studied German, French, History and Economics and he showed an interest in African and Eastern culture, contemporary poetry and literature.
A LOYAL FRIEND
We often think of Gaudí as an unsociable, unpleasant man who was gruff and arrogant. And yet the people closest to him always described him as a friendly, polite and honest person they could have a good conversation with. Having lived in several apartments in Barcelona’s old town and later in Eixample, he moved into what is now the Gaudí House Museum in Park Güell. He lived there with his father and sick niece, who he looked after until she sadly passed away.
THE SAGRADA FAMÍLIA
When he was only 31 years old, he was contracted to build the Sagrada Família. And he dedicated 42 years of his life to his signature masterpiece, working on nothing else for the last 12 of those years. He was so fascinated by the church being built that he decided to move into the workshop there amongst a sea of plans and models. By this point, his parents and siblings were all dead and he became even more withdrawn than ever. He just worked tirelessly on his building!
A DULL LIFE
FOR ETERNAL FAME
In reality, Antoni Gaudí’s life was exceptionally dull. He never married and he had no children. It was almost as though he needed to sacrifice everything and live a modest life in order to create such innovative works of architecture and bring all those highly decorative elements to life.
When he was living at the Sagrada Família, he was more of a loner than ever before. He lived a modest life in silence and ate a vegetarian diet. He wore the same clothes day in, day out until they resembled the scruffy rags of a pauper. Long gone were his days as a dandy!
In fact, he looked so much like a beggar that the driver of the tram that hit him by accident on 7 June 1926 didn’t stop and left Gaudí lying in the street. He was seriously injured and died three days later after he refused treatment at a private clinic, instead choosing to remain in a hospital for the poor.
Large crowds gathered for his funeral, which just goes to show that he was highly regarded as an architect and person even during his lifetime. He was buried in the Sagrada Família crypt, one of the few parts of the church that he saw finished. At least there was a happy ending of sorts after so much tragedy!
LIST OF BUILDINGS
of Gaudí IN BARCELONA
Text rights: © Céline Mülich, 2019 – 2023
With the support of Jacqueline Glaner
Image rights: Gaudi images Wikipedia, creative commons