The Restoration of the Sala Hipóstila and the bench of Parc Güell

Restorative Criteria

Enthusiasm and respect

A Work of Craftsmanship

Sala Hipóstila and Greek Theatre

Phases of implementation

The Restoration of Parc Güell (November 1987- June 1994)

Restorative Criteria

Following the order of implementation of the different phases into which the project was divided, the "trencadís" had to be replaced first in the Sala Hipóstila. The structural repair of the lintels required the removal of the lower part of these elements, which is where the metal strips were located. Thus, a considerable portion of the "trencadís" had to be removed. The objective was to affect the smallest area possible, and to substitute the removed "trencadís" with a new one with the same characteristics as the original. The baked clay, engalba and lead enamel was manufactured in Valencia, by a company called Adex. This procedure was performed with absolute respect of the original, but it faced two important problems: the great difficulty of achieving continuity between new and old "trencadís", and the fact that an inadequate material was still being used for its placement.

This solution was reconsidered when the restoration of the bench was initiated. Its critically deteriorated condition required the replacement of many more pieces and so it was considerably difficult to achieve the adequate continuity. On the other hand, the exposure to which this area is submitted would have necessitated constant replacements, along with the associated high maintenance costs. The alternative to the use of baked clay ceramic was earthware. This material is much more resistant to external aggressions. With earthware it was possible to obtain white or single-toned tiles identical to the originals but, on the other hand, it was very difficult to reproduce the colored pieces with geometric designs. Reproduction on the half-beams used to finish the back of the bench and act as lower-back support was difficult with both materials. In order to achieve a balance between historical rigor and maintenance costs, a decision was made, after numerous consultations, to choose different options according to the diverse types of existing pieces. The white baked clay tiles were totally replaced with earthware. Basically, this refers to the lower part of the bench, and corresponds with the most worn area. Twenty-two different tones of white were made, and mixed as an alloy, just as had been done in the original. Also, during the disassembly, the different types of "trencadís" were reproduced, larger in flat areas and progressively smaller nearer to the curves.

The tiles with single tones or serial designs were kept as long as they conserved a certain amount of enamel in good condition. Original tiles were kept, and so were tiles from consolidated previous restoration projects which were well integrated with the whole. Replacement tiles proceeding from buildings of the same era, or new pieces created with the same techniques as the originals, were used to replace those that did not fulfill these conditions. The designs, colors and characteristics of the varnishes were reproduced based on fragments of existing pieces. In some cases original perforated patterns from the era were used, and in others they were reproduced. All of these tiles were also provided by Adex.

The pieces in the form of half-beams, which function as a finish and lower-back support on the back of the bench, caused one of the most complex problems of the project. These pieces have an important original design, probably by Jujol, with engravings above and below the engalba, inscriptions, symbols, and diversely colored varnish stains. Since these pieces are in a very exposed site, the number of original tiles that remained was limited to approximately 20 percent. The pieces replaced in previous restorations altered the coloring and general composition of the bench. It was thus necessary to find a way to replace these pieces with new ones, which would help to recover the monument's original characteristics and unitary appearance. New tiles were manufactured for this purpose, following the pattern of the originals that had been preserved. The engravings and generic color stains were reproduced, and the most unique elements-such as inscriptions or symbols-were left out. These tiles were created in ceramic earthware to guarantee their durability, and they bear a small engraving with the mark "92" which identifies them and prevents their confusion with the originals.

All the pieces of earthware were produced by ceramist Toni Cumella in his shop in Granollers. Finally, the author's pieces and added objects (porcelain plates, among many others) have been completely preserved. Any decision in such a complex subject may be disputed, but the rigor and coherence of these decisions cannot be denied. The most delicate aspect-the replacement of baked clay with earthware-is justified when maintenance of the restored monument-an important aspect which is not always counted on-is considered. Also, the option of maintaining the original material would have had important arguments in its favor: faithfulness to the original, maintenance of the character and qualities typical in baked earth . . . But it is important to point out that, at this moment, the difference between the earthware on the bench and the baked clay in the Sala is, at least for us, absolutely impossible to determine. Doubts remain about how the current bench will age, created from both materials, and if, with time, the difference in wear will bother us.

We need to remember that restoration implies a transformation and, therefore, a loss. Ruskin said that monuments had, like people, life and death, that it was important to let time perform its labor and that the ochers of old age would soften the inevitable decay. The monument transformed in ruins would thus acquire the romantic aura of memory. With the restoration of Parc Güell, we have probable lost part of this aura but, on the other hand, we have recovered the burst of light and optimism which it originally had. If we think about the difficulty of the process of restoration, the low cost of the project is truly surprising. In total, the set of four completed projects, including revision, does not reach 375 million pesetas. A comparison of these numbers with any advertising promotional campaign which diverse administrations have us accustomed to can make us reflect on the money which is really dedicated to saving our heritage.

Architectural analysis: Joan Sabaté
Economic research: Aumedes/Peña

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