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Gaudí: a hard worker

The last stage, the old Gaudí and his death

Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926)

Gaudí: a hard worker

Turn-of-the-century Barcelona flourished, thanks to the textile industry; the wealthy liked to be surrounded by artists, intellectuals and famous people, and the bourgeoisie enjoyed great prestige. This was a good atmosphere for the young architect, who saw how numerous doors were opened for him to carry out his projects. Anyway, Gaudí never renounced contact with the less-favored working classes from which he came. It is not surprising that his first large project was workers' housing in a factory, the Cooperativa Mataronense ("Mataró Cooperative"). The project was intended to improve the workers' quality of life, but Gaudí's project was ahead of its time (which was more conservative), and only one section of the factory and a kiosk were built. The architect was slightly disappointed, but the presentation of his project at the Paris World Fair in 1878 meant the beginning of his fame. There, he also presented a showcase for pret-a-portier gloves from the shop of Esteban Comella, thanks to which he met the man who would become one of his best friends and patrons, Eusebi Güell.

After the World Fair, he decorated the Gibert pharmacy in Barcelona, collaborated with the architect Martorell on various jobs, and designed a shooting box for Eusebio Güell, although it was never built. His relationship with Martorell allowed him to take over management of what would become his monumental work: the Sagrada Familia. This project was initially managed by Francisco de Paula del Villar, Gaudí's former professor, who volunteered to carry out the ideas of Josep Bocabella, founder of the "Association of Devotees of San José". Martorell was part of the Temple Council. He disagreed with del Villar about the materials that should be used to make the pillars and, when they couldn't reach an agreement, del Villar stepped down. Bocabella offered the position to Martorell, who, because of the situation, did not accept, but proposed his young assistant, Gaudí, who was immediately accepted.

In 1883, Gaudí officially took control of the project, and dedicated 43 years of his life to them.

That same year, he was asked by ceramic manufacturer Manuel Vicens to build a house on Carrer de San Gervasi (now Carrer de les Carolines), where the use of ceramics was unlimited, and details reminiscent of autochthonous plants could be seen. He was also asked to build the villa, "El Capricho," for the brother-in-law of the Marquee of Comillas. Gaudí didn't directly oversee this project, delegating his work to Cristofol Cascante, his colleague from the university, who followed the plans and models provided him by Gaudí.

His next major projects were the Palau Güell (Güell Palace) and the Palacio de Astorga (Astorga Palace). In the first, located on Carrer Nou de la Rambla, in Barcelona, Güell trusted completely in Gaudí's daring and innovative ideas, and was in awe of his friend's genius. The second was an assignment by his friend, the Bishop of Astorga, consisting of the construction of the Episcopal Palace that had burned down. Gaudí enthusiastically requested photographs and books to get acquainted with the site, and adapt his project to its characteristics.

Some of Eusebi Güell's clients took advantage of Gaudí's presence in Astorga to ask him to build a house on a central square in Leon. The edifice, which was often criticized during construction for appearing unstable, has a monumental and medieval appearance; it is called the "Casa de los Botines."

While managing construction of the palaces, he built the Transatlantic pavilion for the Barcelona World Fair in 1888, and received another of his many religious projects, the School of the Theresians.

In 1898, the cornerstone was laid for the church of the Colonia Güell (Güell Colony, a factory-town project), in Santa Coloma de Cervelló. Only the crypt was built. This edifice stands out for its original construction and the method used by Gaudí to design it: the catenary model, consisting of a series of cords and small sacks weighted in proportion to the arches and the weight they would have to Gaudí never felt recognized by official organizations; the City of Barcelona only assigned him to design the lampposts in the Plaça Reial and the Plaça de Palau, and only once did he receive the award to the Building of the Year, in 1900, for his least extravagant building, the Casa Calvet. That same year he started a project at the Figueras home, in Bellesguard, where Gaudí carried out another project for a businessman, making it a homage to the kings of the Middle Ages. He also began Park Güell (Güell Park), which was first intended to be a garden-city, with sixty homes for the upper middle-class, with various common services. Park Güell could be considered an environmentally sensitive development. Changes in the natural shape of the land were avoided when laying out the streets; remains of broken pieces from ceramic factories were used in the spectacular mosaics; and felling of trees was absolutely forbidden.

En 1905, he moved with his father and niece to the park's model home, built by Berenguer, his assistant. A few months later, his father died. Then he put his niece in a boarding school, where she died on January 11, 1912.

Between 1900 and 1914, Gaudí and his collaborators also worked on the reforms of the Cathedral in Palma de Mallorca. This project was focused on the Choir (to be moved to the presbytery), some stained-glass windows, some side altars and the new location of the high altar, among other things. Gaudí was removed from management of the project before finishing, because the people considered his work a betrayal of the church's original style.

But the most outstanding work initiated by Gaudí in 1904 was assigned to him by Josep Batlló, for a house he owned on the Passeig de Gràcia (an important avenue in Barcelona). It was to be an almost total reformation of the building, in which the architect surprised everybody with those balconies that seem to move, that large cross that crowns the undulating roof, a fantastic interior patio and original chimneys.

The one he surprised the most was Pere Milá, the member of the Cortes (Spanish Parliament) who had recommended the brilliant architect to Batlló. Along with his wife, from Reus, he decided to commend him the construction of a new building on the same Paseo, on the corner with Carrer de Provença, which would become "La Pedrera." The City tried to stop this project on various occasions because many of its constructed parts exceeded the legal limits; Gaudí ignored them and continued with his work, finishing the edifice in 1910.

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