Royal Gaudí Chair
History of the Gaudí Chair
The 3rd of March, 1.956, by Order of the National Ministry of Education, was created the Special Chair Antonio Gaudí. The teacher and professor of history of architecture Josep Francesc Ráfols i Fontanals ( 1.965), the first biographer of Gaudí in 1.929, was appointed the director of the Chair by the Staff of the School of Architecture.
Somewhat before, in 1.950, the University of Barcelona purchased an important amount of terrain destined for the creation of the future University City, among them there are the entrance pavilions to the Finca Güell (a former property of Mr. Eusebi Güell, the friend, protector and maecenas of Antonio Gaudí).
Built by the latter, in a very personal style, with certain influences from the Far Eastern architecture, between 1.883 and 1.887; they comprise the stables, riding school, warden house and the dragon gate. The Committee of Works of the University of Barcelona approved the restoration project of the pavilions submitted by the architect Joan Bassegoda i Nonell -the present Director of the Chair- in 1966. Works were started the following year which, after three consecutive restoration campaigns, were benefited by the declaring of historical-artistic monument that in 1969 was pronounced in favour of several gaudinian works with the consequent furnishing of funds by the Ministry of Education of that time. In October 1977, the Gaudí Chair was housed in the Finca Güell, where it still remains.
It is the reading room of the library and it is located in the former stables. In the "Rotunda" (the former riding school),houses the assembly hall, archive, library and museum. The library, although private (it is the property of the director of the Chair), is integrated in the library network of the Generalitat de Catalunya and is also registered in the one of the Ministry of Culture, and it can be consulted by all scholars who wish so: it has round 14.000 volumes, among them books on architecture, urbanism, gardening and history of gardens, construction, monuments restoration and, of course, about Modernism and its most outstanding architect, Antonio Gaudí.
The Museum of Architecture houses since 1981, works by Gaudí and also from other modernist architects, like Puig i Cadafalch and Domenech i Montaner; there can be admired pieces of furniture designed by Gaudí, forged iron, ceramic pieces from Park Güell and Casa Batlló, models and stained glass, such as the Catedral of Mallorca ones. The Museum is adhered to the I I.C.A.M. (International Council of Architectural Museums).
Plans and drawings of great meaning and importance, among them there are some of the few originals by Gaudí (because of the burning of his archive in the Sagrada Familia), are kept in the archive, and a collection of more than 75.000 slides, old glass negatives and photographic collections.
The Chair, with its heading director and the joint professors, and also the scholarship holders, develop a frantic activity (inexplicably little known, and recognised, in Catalonia and in Spain). Not so in other places in the world, as being witnessed by the numerous exhibitions which have been organised by the Chair (and still keeps organising) -in which have been displayed artistic objects being described in the Museum- along Europe, America and Asia (especially, and since 1978, in Japan), a country with a high interest towards Modernism and Gaudí, to the extent of arranging charter flights to Barcelona, and is rare the week in which the Chair is not visited -It is not necessary to say that the rest of modernist monuments are visited too- by native people of the Rising Sun country.
Also, are imparted courses on humanities and lectures throughout the world, and have been published (and are yet published) plenty of monographs -to remark the ones of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Barcelona- and circa twenty titles, and hundreds of articles in journals and magazines, all this by the hand of the director of the Chair and the joint professors appointed to it.
On the other hand, the Chair keeps a tight collaboration with other institutions of the gaudinian entourage and/or proprietors of the buildings, such as ; Caixa de Catalunya, Caja de León, "El Museo de los Caminos de Astorga" (León), the Cathedral Chapter of Mallorca, the Casa-Museo Gaudí in the Park Güell and the Sagrada Familia Temple Building Committee, and also other institutions; like, for instance. -and precisely- with the Agreement Spanish Army-Generalitat de Catalunya-Other Institutions, for the Rapprochement Routes to the Cultural Heritage of Catalonia, Aragón and Navarra.
As an anecdote -but being meaningful altogether- is to say that four " bulky volumes", witness the numerous people who visit the/Chair, and also the fact that in it took place the investing of the great Josep LLuís Sert as a Dr. Honoris Causa.
What concerns to the future of the Chair, with in accordance with the School of Architecture, a statutes have been redacted with the aim of transforming it into a Public University Foundation with a Patronage headed by the two Royal Academies, the Social Works of the Saving Banks of Catalonia and the Universities of Barcelona and Politechnical of Catalonia.
The entrance to the Chair is presided by an iron gate -that act also as the entrance to the garden- in which the dragon "Ladón" is outstanding, a personage of the mythological legend of Hesiodus and Apollodore who tell it as follows: Eurysteus, King of Mycennae, imposed Hercules a series of works among them, the eleventh one consisted in to plant in Spain the Garden of the "Hesperids" after robbing the fruits of the authentic garden. The garden or vegetable garden of the "Hesperids" had a mighty warden, the dragon "Ladon" -which was defeated and chained by the Greek Hero and converted into a constellation- and three maids, the "Hesperids"; Eglé, Arethusa and Hyperethusa.
The three were punished by the gods for consenting the robbery of the "golden apples", converting them in trees; a willow, an elm tree and a poplar. This legend is shown in the gate and the garden of the Finca Güell, given that the poet Jacinto Verdaguer in his epic poem, "Atlantis", tells the eleventh work of Hercules incorporating the creation of the new Hesperidan garden in Spain which, with the help of Gaudí -who designed forged iron gate with the famous dragon-, is placed in the Finca Güell forming part of the homage of the poet Verdaguer with "Atlantis", and from the own Gaudí, who paid tribute to the Marquis of Comillas (the father in law of D. Eusebio Güell).
Part of the garden -after several partitions- became what now is the present Gaudí Chair, and is destined to botanical garden accomplishing functions related with teaching what concerns to some of the disciplines given in the Chair.
The garden, houses several buildings and architectural wealth of a certain interest; a slab by Jujol, a railing coming from the "Casa Botines" (in León), and so on.. And, among the different kinds of trees such as eucalyptus, holm oaks, carob trees, cork trees, it must be remarked the palm tree for being a tree very dear for Gaudí (he was inspired by its leaves for some of his decorative compositions, like the gate of "Casa Vicens"). There is also, a circular tempietto offered to the Solar god Apollo, beside, three cypresses which -evidently- "don't answer ... "to the names of Melcior, Gaspar and Balthasar, but are known by the names of the Magi Kings. The arboreal sample is completed by pines, elms and palm-trees.
It is widely known that many architects of Modernism (and even, out of it) used profusely the catenary arches and thus, during the period comprised between 1883-1930, in Catalonia were built numerous works having brick equilibrated arches; wine co-operatives in the Campo of Tarragona such as the Rocafort de Queralt, Pira, Barberá, Cornudella, Falset, Vilarodona, Pinell del Brai, Gandesa, Nulles, Aiguamurcia, Santes Creus, and so on., ones, without forgetting the highly interesting cellars at Raimat, in the Leridan region of Segriá, the work of the great architect Joan Rubió i Bellver. He also used them in his works of the Students' Residence of the Industrial School of Barcelona, in the Balmesiana and in the Asylum of Igualada. In general lines, after the impulse of Gaudí -It is unnecessary to say that he used them in many of his works- many architects applied to construction the equilibrated arches technique. The catenary arch is, basically, the curve that a rope, metallic chain, and so on., adopts, that is completely flexible and with an homogeneous distributed loading -equilibrated- trough all its length, fixed by its edges and being freely hung. The architects were based it to make the calculation of the brick equilibrated arches.
All this, comes on purpose of a project attributed to Gaudí in which, having it being carried out, the employ of equilibrated arches would have had a formidable application. In 1956, there is a resurgence of the worldly interest around the phenomenon Gaudí and towards his work. In such a context, Juan Matamala Flotats, a collaborator of Gaudí, published a monograph -which whole text was first published in the"Great Gaudí" (1.989) an original by Joan Bassegoda i Nonell. The monograph bears the title "When the new world called on Gaudí", and the original manuscript (together with the drawings) are kept in the Gaudí Chair- about the "Hotel Attraction", a work presumptively commissioned to Gaudí by two North American businessmen in 1908. No other biographer of Gaudí mentions the theme, in the USA, by the moment, any clue to get closer neither to the entourage of the two pretended "hotel managers" nor his descendants, only Matamala seems to be aware of the affair so that, at first, it is a problem to be able to authenticate the project.
In fact, and according to him, there are sketches by Gaudí and other own ones, which are interpreting the presumptive project. To Gaudí are attributed the sketches of the Ground Plan, the "America" Hall, the longitudinal Section and another longitudinal section. From Juan Matamala, who made thirteen drawings, it was first though to be the author of all them, either his own ones or the one attributed to Gaudí. But, here it is that in the Doctorate program of the Gaudí Chair from 1989-1990 on the origin of the gaudinian architecture, an architect from the University of Toluca (Mexico), professor Marcos Mejía López in his work, "Skyscraper for New York attributed to Gaudí: A study of its form and composition" (in the archive of the Gaudí Chair), made a huge and detailed study of the drawings and text by Matamala reaching to an interesting final result in which it can be ascertained, without any doubt, that by comparing the drawings attributed to Gaudí with the ones by Matamala, it can be appreciated that they cannot be credited to the very authorship. What means that -even though it doesn't imply Gaudí's authorship- that Matamala had some previous drawings that enabled him the heading of the suggesting hypothesis of the "Hotel Attraction" of New York. Besides, the architect Mejía López, with the help of the building of a small chain hanging model, he checked that the sketches attributed to Gaudí fit perfectly to the catenary forms and have an utmost exact asymmetry.
All this permits to assert, as he tells it -and in the line of the conclusions by Mejía- professor Joan Bassegoda i Nonell in his work, "An approach to Gaudí" (1.992); "Matamala wasn't who invented such a project rather, by means of some sketches of fitting proportions he dared to establish the form and decoration of the hotel. Being it so it is not hazardous to believe that the initial sketches were the work of Gaudí, as they are composed according to his personal way of understanding the structural forms".
The research by Mejía López means a brand new and important contribution in the entourage of the Gaudi's work. And, anyway, what looks certain is that the aforesaid Matamala -who was not an architect, but a sculptor- was not able to invent on his own, talking in cinema words, all the "plot", indeed, in his interpretation of the sketches he owned he did capital mistakes and gave them a more fantastic character.
Really, if we believe in the reality of the commission by the North American promoters, what is true is that the Project by Gaudí did not go beyond a preliminary step and it was never built, just like the "Office Building" (an office building in New York) a project that in 1919 and following the lines of the "Attraction Hotel" by Gaudí, designed the architect Ignacio Bruguera Llobet, and a drawing of it is kept in the Centro de Lectura in Reus.
The technical survey, impeccable, by the architect Mejía should cheer the scholars of Gaudí up and its world to complement the research with any kind of work pointing in the symbolic, aesthetic world, of the gaudinian universe, casting perhaps more light and managing to establish, without any doubt, the Gaudí's authorship. Personally, the author of this essay points -possibly, also, leaving me to be drawn by fantasy, (or may be not so much...)- some suggestions; pay attention to the drawing of the hotel, ¿doesn't it remind, in an association idea/ image, to the liberty statue site in the Manhattan Island, New York?. It is not hard at all to establish a connection with the central zone of one of the façades in the Sagrada Familia, namely the most portrayed one (but the truth is that Gaudí took charge of the Sagrada Familia in 1.914, and the pretended commission of the Hotel in New York was in 1.908 ... ). ¿Did Gaudí pretend to establish -through the synthesis of the Liberty Statue in New York (America) and the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (Europe)- any kind of symbolic nexus between the old and new world?. In any case, like the very "Attraction Hotel Project", it by no means not less suggesting... .
This Article was formerly published in the "Diario del Alto Aragón", 08/09/1996