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Stephen w. Coffin
It is interesting to note that Ruskin's most important
writings on architecture, The Seven Lamps (1849) and The Stones of
Venice (1851-53) were not available until much later and even then Gaudí would
have had to rely on a French translation. Ruskin's influence on Gaudí was
primarily from his political, social writing and his
love and understanding of nature. Ruskin elevated a personal
and sentimental response to art into a statement against modernity. Like the
poet Wordsworth (1770-1850), whom he greatly admired, Ruskin found in nature
the stimulus to an untapped repository of emotion. He admired art that reflected
organic forms and displayed artisan-style craftsmanship rather than academic
technique. Through his many writings Ruskin turned the tide of public taste towards
the Gothic Revival, the Pre-Raphaelites and other movements. The Pre-Raphaelite
Brotherhood (P.R.B.) was founded by three young artists, Dante Gabriel Rossetti
(1828-82), Sir John Everett Millais (1829-96) and William Holman Hunt (1827-1910)
because they felt stifled by the rigidity of the Royal Academy's idea of what
tasteful, beautiful art should be. The P.R.B. held the belief that the only true
great art came from before the sixteenth-century Italian painter, Raphael (hence
the society's name).
The P.R.B. led the way to produce works based on real landscapes and real models,
and intense attention to accuracy of detail and colour. Ruskin's interest in
the Gothic made him a natural ally of the Pre-Raphaelites, who were coming under
attack in the 1850s for their anti-academic art. This group aimed to paint from
nature in a direct, almost naive manner, while depicting topics of deep moral
or religious feeling and Ruskin championed its simplicity and naturalism.
Ruskin was able
to experience an ‘awakening of the senses' during a trip to
Italy where the light, colours and the architecture were like an exhilarating
vision. On his return home from this trip he took up full-time art criticism
and his first entrée into public debate was his defence of J.M.W.Turner
(1775-1851) in the first volume of Modern Painters (1843). Critics had
condemned Turner's landscapes because of their blurry
abstractness. For Ruskin, however, Turner's vast skies
and hazy, sunlit seas epitomised a truth to nature. The nature that they were
true to was the luminous, soft-edged but grandiose version that appealed to Ruskin's
sentiments. Artists such as Turner were of the Romantic period and as such were
deemed to show an affinity with nature. Given that Güell was a painter of water-colours himself and both he and
Gaudí were readers of Ruskin it is impossible to believe that Turner was
not known to them and was appreciated for his romantic and naturalistic art.
During his later works Turner became almost entirely concerned with atmospheric
effects of light and colour, mixing clouds, mist, snow and sea into a vortex
in which all distinct objects are dissolved. Gaudí's designs such as Can
Artigas garden can be described as Romantic when the
word is associated with the emerging taste for wild scenery,
sublime prospects and ruins, a tendency reflected in the increasing emphasis
in aesthetic theory on the sublime as opposed to the beautiful.
The Passage of the St. Gothard, 1804.
Fig. 4 John Ruskin,
Lake of Annecy from the Talloires
writer Edmund Burke (1729-1797) identified beauty with delicacy and harmony
and the sublime with vastness, obscurity and a capacity to inspire terror.
nature very intensively and he tried
to mimic nature in his constructions and in his gardens naturalism and the
Mediterranean character come to the fore; the naturalism of these gardens is
brought out as their very architecture is blended into the landscape.
Both Ruskin and
a passion for mountains and it was during the
reign of Victoria that all across Europe mountaineering societies had flourished.
Ruskin had promoted the mountain-peak aesthetic but its pedigree went back
much further. Its roots were in romanticism and a new pantheistic regard for
nature, especially mountains. He continued to say that whenever his journeys
brought him close to hills and mountain scenery he experienced infinite pleasure
greater than any which he had thought possible and described mountains as full
of expression, passion and strength:
plains and lower hills are the repose and the effortless motion of the frame,
when its muscles lie dormant and concealed beneath the lines of its beauty
, yet ruling those lines in their every undulation. This, then, is the first
grand principle of the truth of the earth. The spirit of the hills is
action, that of the lowlands repose; and between these
there is to be found every variety of motion and of rest,
from the inactive plain, sleeping like the firmament,
with cities for stars, to the fiery peaks, which, with
heaving bosoms and exulting limbs, with clouds drifting
like hair from their bright foreheads, lift up their
Titan hands to heaven, saying, “I live for ever!” 1
Fig.5 John Ruskin,
A study of Alpine peaks, 1846.
Gaudí had belonged to an excursionist society, the Associació Catalanista
d' Excursions Cientifiques (Catalan scientific Excursionist Society), which was
an effective vehicle for the popular interest in Catalan tradition and organised
trips to seek out unusual caves, mountain peaks and rustic villages. This society
served two purposes for Gaudí: the participation in the revival of Catalan
culture and tradition and also his love of all that was
naturalistic, especially his beloved hills, mountains
and caves or grottoes.
A second trip to
Italy made Ruskin a convert of the Medieval style. He appreciated the naturalism
both of the architectural forms (cathedral columns rising like trees) and of
the ornamentation (simple representations of animals and people). Gaudí also appreciated the forms of nature and his columns in Park Güell
were fashioned in the shape of trees. Moreover, the cathedrals
and monasteries of the Medieval world appealed to his
morbidly Romantic understanding of religion.
He became a proponent of the so-called Gothic revival that was the sweeping
England, and his book “ The Seven Lamps of Architecture ” lent
moralistic weight to his views.
Pavellons Güell (1884-1887), also referred to as Finca Güell, and
the Garden of the Hesperides was to be the first commission that Gaudí was
to undertake for Güell and the beginning of a long partnership. The interest
of this commission is in the gate design and the Garden of the Hesperides.
The gate consists of an extraordinary wrought iron dragon which guards the
main entrance and the garden. This dragon itself could refer to the legends
of St. George but is more likely to symbolise the mythological Garden of Hesperides
where the singing nymphs are watched over by a dragon. The garden contains
pine trees, holm oaks, and fruit trees, in accordance with the garden from
The iconographic apple tree is a particularly outstanding feature
as is the mythical garden where golden apples grew on a golden apple tree.
the legend of the Garden
of Hesperides there is
a dragon who watches
over the garden with an elm (Ulmus), a willow
and a poplar (Populus), which represent the Hesperides, doomed
to become trees for having
lost the golden apples.
The fruit is represented
at the top of the pillar that holds the gate in place. Ruskin most elaborately
applies his mythological theories to art criticism when he explains Turner's Garden
of the Hesperides (1806)
in the fifth volume of Modern Painters . He begins by explaining the
significance of the Hesperid nymphs and the dragon,
then comments upon the Goddess of Discord and
the gloomy atmosphere of the picture and finally
draws his conclusions. First, he explicates the moral ideas embodied in the
nymphs and that they were perfectly fitted to guard the golden fruit which
the earth gave to Juno at her marriage. Ruskin goes on to say that:
Fig. 7 The
head of the dragon
on the gate of Pavellons Güell
The wealth of the earth, as the source of household peace and plenty, is watched
by the singing nymphs-the Hesperides. But, as the source of household sorrow and
desolation, it is watched by the Dragon. 2
dragon, to whom Ruskin devotes the largest part
of this explication, embodies covetousness and the fraud, rage, gloom, melancholy,
cunning and destructiveness associated with it. Thus, whereas “Geryon is the evil spirit of wealth, as arising
from commerce...the Hesperian dragon is the evil spirit of wealth as possessed
in households; and associated, therefore, with the true household guardians,
or singing nymphs.” 3
The last volume of Modern Painters discusses the Garden
of the Hesperides as a painting that signals the approaching change in
Turner's art and it is possible that Ruskin anticipated Turner's allegorical
works , reading into earlier ones themes and methods of those painted later.
Although Ruskin may have read too deeply into this painting there can be little
doubt that he well understood Turner's aims and methods, and that Turner found
in Ruskin a better interpreter and defender than any other artist had the good
fortune to encounter.
was , there can be little doubt, greatly respected as a peer by Gaudí and
there are many similarities in their love of
nature and beliefs regarding the state of humanity
and religious feelings.
Garden Cities and Parks
is impossible to look at Gaudí's most impressive and largest
garden design, Park Güell, without an understanding of what was happening
not only in Spain but in America and
Europe, especially England.
The man behind the birth of the Garden City movement, Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928),
was born in London with no advantage of class or special education. He emigrated
to the United States and before long made his way to the city of Chicago and
arrived at a time when the city was recovering from the great fire of 1871 which
had destroyed most of the central business district. Howard witnessed the regeneration
of the central business district and the development of the city's rapidly growing
suburbs. The American landscape artist Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) had
prepared a master plan for a suburban community where the layout was informal
with spacious plots for houses with landscaped parkway roads. Olmstead had visited
Birkenhead Park twice, in 1850 and in 1859, and wrote vividly of the features
that he found there. He was so inspired by what he had seen at Birkenhead that
he developed many of the ideas when he came to design Central Park.
design for Central Park,
New York was to be for the first urban landscaped park in the United
States. It was originally conceived in the early 1851 but construction
did not begin until 1857 and was completed in 1876. The purpose of the
park was to refute the European view that Americans lacked a sense of
civic duty and appreciation for cultural refinement and instead possessed
an unhealthy and individualistic materialism that precluded interest
in the common good. Central Park was envisaged as a sweeping pastoral
landscape, among which the wealthy could parade in their carriages, socialise,
and ‘be seen', and in
which the poor could benefit from clean
air and uplifting recreation
without the curse of alcohol.
ideals was not very far removed from the ideals of Gaudí and
Güell and the concept of Park Güell.
1876 Howard returned
to England and became frustrated by how difficult parliament found it
to find solutions to the problems of housing and labour. Howard noticed
that all parties were united by one issue, the continued migration from
country districts to the already overcrowded cities. He witnessed the
various attempts being made by industrialists to set up healthy, well-planned
model communities for their employees, the most notable
by W.H. Lever (1851-1925)
and George Cadbury (1839-1922). A novel by the American novelist Edward
Bellamy titled Looking
Forward was to be the trigger to inspire Howard to create his own plan for
a Utopian dream. He published his own master plan in 1898 called Tomorrow
a Peaceful Path to Real Reform and described his concept in great detail
using diagrams and economic argument but made it clear that the plan was to be
adjusted to suit the site of the city . Howard revised and republished
his book as Garden Cities of Tomorrow , as it is known today. A suitable
site for the proposed garden city was
found in 1903 and the estate was declared
open on October 9 1903 and in 1904 the architects were appointed to oversee
the project. The attempt to create a community blending the advantages of
both town and country with pleasant environment, plentiful local employment,
inhabited in Howard's own words “by a happy people” began and consequently so did Letchworth- ‘The
First Garden City'.
The growth of cities as a result of the Industrial Revolution meant that urban
planners had to seek new concepts. The proposal of garden cities that included
the social organisation of communities also dealt with issues related to the
landscape and architecture. Examples in Europe that led to considerable debate
on the future of towns and cities included not only Letchworth but Le Vessinet
(1856) and Saurupt (1901) in France, Hellerau (1906) in Germany and Milanino
(1909) in Italy.
are obvious similarities
with Park Güell. It is different in terms
of the approaches taken with regard to
its structure, construction
and above all the forms.
that Gaudí was influenced by Joseph Paxton (1803-65) because
of the drainage system he employed at Park Güell. The great plaza above the
market hall was perfectly level and was drained, not by runoff, but by filtering
the rain water through successively coarser layers of grit and stone. Eventually
the water drains down through the hollow core of one of the market hall columns,
a system first employed by Paxton at London's Crystal Palace and later adapted
by Josep Fonserè (1829-97) for the Mercat del Born (1873-76), a vast market
hall in iron erected near the Ciutadella Park. Fonserè came from the Riudoms
and was an acquaintance of the Gaudí family subsequently helping the young
architect on his move to Barcelona. Gaudí worked extensively for Fonserè.
It was from this collaboration and the
work carried out in the Citadel Park
that Gaudi's eclectic taste and personal style evolved.
other major influence
by Paxton upon Gaudí would have been the designs
and concept of Princes (1842) and Birkenhead Park (1842-47). The earlier Princes
Park in Liverpool was closer to the concept of Park Güell inasmuch that
Paxton's design combined housing and the park was intended for use by residents
only. Princes park of forty-four acres was a classic Victorian example of ‘a
serpentine park in an urban setting'
complete with a serpentine lake and a
circular carriage drive.
Across the River Mersey a private bill was being promoted to raise funds for the
creation of a park with housing around it. Birkenhead was the first town to apply
to Parliament for powers to use public funds to create a municipal park and for
this reason Birkenhead Park is given the credit for being the first municipal park.
The park opened to the public in 1847. The plan shows the proposed terraces of
housing and some formal planting around the edge of the park, while the interior
offers expanses of open grass, with vistas across the whole park.
Footpaths wind around the park offering a variety of views as Paxton wished
to create a variety of landscapes and to achieve this on the flat site he created
raised mounds and rocky outcrops where he planted trees. Birkenhead Park had
a very sophisticated circulation system and near the boundary is a serpentine
route for carriages. There was a separate system of paths for pedestrians.
concept of Princes Park
and the design features of Birkenhead Park are clearly reflected in Gaudí's Park Güell.
Còlonia Güell is interesting as it reflected what was happening
socially and in the building of planned industrial garden towns in Europe and
especially in England. This Güell Colony was to protect the workers from
the violence and disease that was prevalent just twenty kilometres away in Barcelona
but it was the curse of alcohol on the working class that most exercised the
industrial magnates. It was also an obsession of Gaudí's to separate
the worker from the curse of alcohol
(the struggle to keep his niece Rosa sober was to mark his
R. Collins (1917-93),
the American Gaudí scholar, wrote:
the Còlonia Güell also holds interest as a paternalistic
but utopian experiment in industrial
laid out with broad, regular streets, included a school and various
social amenities. Its tone was strongly religious, and was commended
by the Pope for its benefits to the working class. 4
was also a social symbolism latent in the fictional paradise
of the Còlonia
Güell, because, in return for their ownership of a tiny plot of land
and their miniature casa pairal (paradise house), the worker's freedom was
absorbed wholesale into the hierarchical Catholic whole.
worker's colonies were
to be attractive garden villages with housing built for the factory workers.
Gaudí was commissioned by Eusebio
Güell to design a worker's colony and prepared a master plan for a development
in the municipality of Santa Coloma de Cervelló, near the Llobergat
river outside Barcelona.
8 General plan of Còlonia Güell, 1910
Gaudí, whilst primarily responsible for the design of the church, worked
with his disciples Francesc Berenguer (1866-1914) and Joan Rubió i Bellver
(1871-1952) on the colony houses and gardens, the worker's co-operative and a school.
The textile colony was one of the earliest Catalan attempts to re-create the contemporary
European model of worker's colonies set far away from the corrupting influence
of the city. The site had been purchased in 1860 by Güell's father and from
1882 onwards it was quickly transformed into a worker's
colony which was just twenty kilometres from Barcelona.
Fig. 9 Diagrammatic
plan of Còlonia Güell showing buildings of interest
In Fig. 12 and
on the general plan of 1910 (Fig 11) the main buildings of interest can be
identified; the textile factory and outbuildings (1), the worker's houses and
gardens (6), Doctor's house (7), the school (9), the theatre (10), Church hall
(11), Convent (12), co-operative building (14), shops (15), the Còlonia
Güell Crypt (16) and the Rectory (17) are all contained in this worker's
The Güell Colony boasted all the requisites for its operation to be called
first-class. It had associations with religion, sport, culture and a well stocked
library that completed the picture. In order to serve the religious needs of
the workers the chapel situated near an old country house on the Can Sol estate
was restored and refurbished by Güell but the rapid development and growth
of the worker's colony meant that the small chapel was not adequate and thus
Güell commissioned Gaudí with the project of a church for the colony.
Gaudí decided that the best location for the future church was on a hill
where there was a wood of pines ( Pinus spp. ).
footpath from the Colony entrance to the church was plotted by Gaudí following
a route such that, due to the serpentine bends
and gradients of the footpath, it is possible
for the walker to see the summit of the hill, the wood and the edifice from
the widest variety of viewpoints.
crypt was to be the only part
of the church that was actually completed as work on the project came to
a halt in 1917. The crypt does portray Gaudí's
naturalistic thoughts as he designed structures and the way he would integrate
these structure into their natural environment. The naturalistic forms of the
landscape are revealed in the exterior walls of the crypt. Scrap material from
iron smelting and hard burned or scorched bricks were used and the mixed colour
of black and brown copy the colours of the forest floor and the trunks of the
pine trees. Around the windows there is a green ceramic veneer which is approximately
the height of the treetops. Above this are mosaics of blue and white tiles, like
the clouds and the sky, and on the pinnacle of the towers there would have been
golden figures to rival the beams of the sun. In front of the crypt door is a
portico where, underneath the staircase, is found a small space with the form
of a natural cavern which adds to the sense given of an environment not of architecture,
but of geology. The interior of the crypt also has the aspect of a natural cave
and this, once again, reiterates Gaudí's love of grottoes and caves.
This garden-cave in the crypt was gently bathed
in the coloured light that filtered through the glass windows giving an extremely
relaxing, noiseless space that was also a little mysterious.
worker's colony at Santa Coloma
de Cervelló was most likely designed
along the lines of such developments in England
such as Copley, built between
1849-1853 near Halifax, by the mill owner Col. Edward Ackroyd (1810-1887)
and the more notable Port Sunlight in Chesire and Saltaire near Bradford
in Yorkshire. Saltaire was built between 1851 and 1876 and was conceived
by the textile magnate, Sir Titus Salt (1803-1876).
gardens for the worker's houses, churches, hospital, school, a park
and an institute complete with library, meeting rooms and a gymnasium.
He built the factory and a village to house his workforce and described
it as a paradise on the sylvan banks of the Aire, far from the stench
and vice of the industrial city. Salt, like Güell and Gaudí,
was a staunch advocate of abstinence from alcohol.
1845 Titus Salt made some observations
about Bradford but equally the could have been said by Güell
the course of
last week I have visited some of the most filthy and wretched
abodes that the mind of man can conceive in which misery
of the lowest description was personified. In a portion of
this town called the Leys, there are scores of wretched hovels,
unfurnished and unventilated, damp, filthy in the extreme,
and surrounded by stagnant pools, human excrement and everything
offensive and disgusting to ‘sight and smell'. No sewers,
no drainage, no ventilation. Nothing can be seen
but squalid wretchedness
on every side, and the features of the inmates show a perfect
and unmistakable index of their condition: all this to
be seen in the centre of this wealthy emporium of the worsted
Fig. 10 Port Sunlight Village in Cheshire
Lever (1851-1925) founded Port Sunlight Village in 1885 on the Wirral peninsula.
Lever had many similarities with Güell as they were
both very successful business men. Both had a dream to provide a healthy and
pleasant environment for their workers, both used different architects to design
the housing, the streets were wide and lined with trees, both were religious
and provided a church and social amenities. Port Sunlight was built along organic
lines following the meandering creeks and inlets of the River Mersey. There was,
in common with other garden suburbs that included Gaudí's design, a deliberately
sinuous road system that broke with the grid of the industrial
development and attempted to follow the contours and
natural features of the land.
The squalor of the slums where the workers lived appalled both men and the
guiding philosophy was that all men could improve themselves given a fair chance,
in decent conditions. Housing was provided at reasonable rents along with schools,
library, institutes and public buildings which the workers could use to improve
themselves. In return, the workers would follow a life of sobriety, thrift and
the desire for self-improvement.
During a speech at the banquet following the ceremony of cutting the first sod
for the construction of Port Sunlight village, Lever said:
....it is my hope, and my brother's hope...to build houses in which our work-people
will be able to live and be comfortable. Semi-detached
houses, with gardens back and front, in which they will
be able to know more about the science of life than they
can in a back slum, and in which they will learn that
there is more enjoyment in life than in mere going to
and returning work, and looking forward to Saturday night
to draw their wages. 6
Fig. 11 Worker's
houses and gardens in Còlonia Güell.
The houses on
the Còlonia Güell were never more than two storeys
high and inventively built. Intricate patterns and textures, based on Moorish
models, were developed through the herringbone design of the brickwork: an entire
village neatly laid out in a similar style yet fascinatingly different protecting
the workers from the violence and disease prevalent just twenty kilometres away
in Barcelona. The plan of Còlonia Güell (Fig. 12) clearly shows rows
terraced workers' houses with gardens, large open areas
for leisure and recreational purposes, wide tree-lined
avenues, formal and informal planting of pine trees and an area called a pinar ,
a grove of pine trees. The plan also shows the site for the proposed church at
the top of the hill in the wood, but only the crypt was built. Còlonia Güell was a comfortable place to live
and had been described as “an industrial Eden.” 7
- Peter Fuller, Theoria : Art , and the Absence of Grace ,
- John Ruskin, Modern Painters , Vol.5; p.396.
- John Ruskin, Modern Painters , Vol.5; p.403.
- George R. Collins, Antonio
Gaudí , (1960), p.128.
- The Bradford Observer , 16 October1845.
- Part of Lever's speech at ceremony for the cutting of the first sod
for Port Sunlight Village, 1885.
- Gigs van Hensbergen, Gaudí , (2001), p.137.