Today we are not going to focus solely on the work of Antoni Gaudí, for next door to his wonderful Casa Battló is another work of Modernismo catalán, or Art Nouveau work by one of his contemporaries, Casa Amattler, Puig i Cadafalch. Together with another Modernismo catalán work, which we did not visit, these three famous houses on the Passeig de Gràcia, in the heart of the Eixample district, are called the Manzana de la Discordia, or “a bone of contention.”
First off is Casa Battló, which was completed in 1906. This house is known for its polychrome façade decorated with ceramic and glass, and its undulating “dragon’s back” roof. When we were visiting, the façade was undergoing restoration, so we were able to get tickets which included a “construction hat” tour which gave us access to the scaffolding across the dragon’s back.
“The façade of Casa Batlló, one of the most famous in the world, is experiencing a historic moment, one that very seldom occurs. From February to May 2019, professionals from 7 different fields will be working on the façade to clean it, restore it and apply different conservation techniques. Ceramic, glass, wood, iron, stone… The façade of Casa Batlló is a festival of materials and creativity, making these tasks both a demanding and exciting challenge for all the professionals involved.”
There was an original structure here, built in 1877. “Mr Josep Batlló granted full creative freedom to Antoni Gaudí, putting him in charge of a project that initially entailed demolishing the building. However, thanks to the courage shown by Gaudí, the demolition of the house was ruled out, and it was fully reformed between 1904 and 1906. The architect completely changed the façade, redistributing the internal partitioning, expanding the patio of lights and converting the inside into a true work of art. Besides its artistic value, the building is also extremely functional, much more characteristic of modern times than of the past. Some even see elements that herald the architectural trends of the late 20th Century.” (from casabattlo.es)
“The inside of Casa Batlló is a marvel of design. Gaudí collaborated with the very best artisans of the time, working with wrought iron, wood, stained glass, ceramic tiles and stone ornaments, among others. When touring the house, its details never cease to amaze. Doors leading to the different apartments are identified by letters with modernist traits. Casa Batlló is a proclamation of joy, a canvas of marine inspiration, a dream world that evokes nature and fantasy.”
“The windows of each landing distort the tiles of the patio of lights, transforming them into beautiful ripples of water. The doorknobs and banisters have ergonomic shapes… It is a true work of art, in which the artist has been involved in each and every aspect: design, colour, shape, space and light.” (from casabattlo.es)
“Among other names, Casa Batlló is known as “the House of the Dragon” and the symbolism on its façade is related to the Legend of Saint George, the patron saint of Catalonia. The ceramic tiles that crown the building form a colourful and wavy mantle that resemble a dragon’s back. In turn, the four-armed cross symbolises the sword that Saint George thrust into the animal to kill it.” (from casabattlo.es)
The interior courtyard is one my favorite spaces in the house. It is skylit, and is meant to bring natural light into every space in the house. The tiles making up the walls of the courtyard are seafoam blue, and darken as they travel toward the sky. The courtyard was even designed to create passive solar cooling and heating, by regulating the airflow throughout and even into and out of it, with slits in the window openings which can be modulated to control the flow of air.
Now it is onto Casa Amattler, another masterwork of Modernismo catalán. “This amazing building, the Casa Amattler by Puig i Cadafalch, a contemporary of Gaudí, which combines the neo-Gothic style with a ridged façade inspired by houses in the Netherlands, is part of the block known as the “mansana de la discòrdia” of Barcelona. The architect worked with some of the finest artists and craftsmen in Barcelona of the modersnista times, headed by the sculptors Eusebi Arnau and Alfons Jujol.” (https://www.barcelonaturisme.com/wv3/en/page/540/casa-amatller.html)
My favorite space in this house was the dining room, with its amazing chandelier and giant, ornately-carved fireplace with built-in “inglenook” seating. The details in the house were amazing, employing the best craftspeople of the time – there were even humorous details.
Because the family were chocolatiers, there was a fantastic chocolate shop on the first floor. We were even given a special cup of thick cocoa as part of our tour.
Next, we went nearer to the center of the town, the La Rambla, to see one of Antoni Gaudí’s earlier works, the grand house for the family of Eusebi Güell, the Palau Güell, completed in 1888, while the architect was still quite young. “The building was to be Güell’s family residence as well as a social and cultural venue and a meeting place of the bourgeoisie.” (from http://www.portalgaudi.cat/)
This house was very heavy and ornate, unlike Antoni Gaudí’s later work, which was more naturistic and light. But the materials and craftsmanship were of exceptional quality. “The Palau Güell is of great interest for its suggestive conception of space and light. This may be seen in the organisation of the interior spaces pivoting around the central hall, which is three stories high and is covered by a parabolic dome of celestial reminiscences.
Around this hall, Gaudí distributed the rooms of the building in a completely functional way, creating plays of perspective that give the Palau Güell a sensation of great size although it actually stands on a relatively small plot.” (from http://www.portalgaudi.cat/)
“The basement contains one of the most unique spaces: the horse stable. The unusual pillars and vaults here create a remarkable landscape while forming an important (and trafficable) part of the building’s foundations. The stables were also reached by way of a spiral ramp, which was yet another example of the architect’s originality.” (from http://www.portalgaudi.cat/)
We spent a long time on the roof, because it was a magical and relaxing space. There are many fanciful chimneys and light catchers here – comprising Gaudí‘s first use of these elements, but which would become a trademark throughout his career.
“The roof terrace is an example of the unique language that Gaudí used at the Güell Palace. Its 481 sq.m. are distributed on four levels: the largest one is over the central body of the building and contains fourteen chimneys, four dormers in the shape of shells or parabolic arches, skylights and the lantern of the central dome. A few stairs up one comes to the second level, over the annexed body of the building, with another six chimneys built of facing brick. The third level is where the service stairway hut is located, while the fourth level is the site of the conical spire.
Here, for the first time, Gaudí transformed the cowls of conventional chimneys into sculptural elements clad with trencadís (glass tile) mosaic. In the middle there is a spire which is covered with sandstone from the walls of lime kilns and topped with a lightning rod bearing a wind rose, a bat and a Greek cross. Although the materials used throughout the building are quite traditional (stone, wood, ceramics, etc.), Gaudí‘s revolutionary use of them provides spectacular results.”