La Sagrada Familia's passion facade. Image © Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Família

La Sagrada Familia's passion facade. Image © Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Família

When Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (25 June 1852 – 10 June 1926) graduated from the Barcelona Architecture School in 1878, the director of the school Elies Rogent reportedly declared: “Gentlemen, we are here today either in the presence of a genius or a madman!” [1] Well over a century later, this tension is still evident in Gaudí’s work; though he is widely regarded as a genius architect, his distinctive style stands as a singularity in architectural history—simultaneously awe-inspiring and bizarre, never fitting into any stylistic movement, and never adapted or emulated, except by those still working to complete his magnum opus, Barcelona’s famous Sagrada Família.


Gaudí in 1878. Public Domain image taken by Pau Audouard

Gaudí in 1878. Public Domain image taken by Pau Audouard

Born in the Catalan village of either Riudoms or Reus (the records conflict), from a young age Gaudí was fascinated by nature. Between 1875 and 1878, Gaudí was conscripted for compulsory military service, but due to ill health – which he struggled with all his life—he was able to spend much of his time studying at the Llotja School and the Barcelona Higher School of Architecture.


Casa Milà. Image © Samuel Ludwig

Casa Milà. Image © Samuel Ludwig

Guadí’s fantastical style was informed by a number of influences, and was very much a result of the context of late 19th century architecture, when the requirement to follow strict historical styles was beginning to fall out of favor. As such, Gaudí was able to take inspiration from Oriental styles, and was heavily influenced by the Revival Gothic architecture of the time, most notably encapsulated in the work of French architect Viollet-le-Duc. However, he believed that Gothic architecture was “imperfect,” and began to infuse his work with a variety of motifs drawn from nature.


Casa Batlló. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/srboisvert/306517767'>Flickr user srboisvert</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>

Casa Batlló. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/srboisvert/306517767'>Flickr user srboisvert</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>

However, as much as his works of architectural decoration are striking, Gaudí is equally notable for his advanced understanding of structures. Having studied geometry in his youth, Gaudí followed advances in engineering and his work regularly features catenary curves, hyperbolic paraboloids, hyperboloids and helicoids, shapes which he used to create efficient (but more importantly dynamic and organic) structures.


La Sagrada Familia interior. Image © Renate Dodell

La Sagrada Familia interior. Image © Renate Dodell

Gaudí gained recognition very early in his career with designs such as the Casa Vicens, and in 1883, aged just 31, he was appointed to the Sagrada Família project. Over the following three decades, the work of Gaudí became almost synonymous with Barcelona, as he changed the face of the city and its surrounding regions with projects such as the Parc GüellColònia Güell and Casa Milà.


Colònia Güell. Image © Samuel Ludwig

Colònia Güell. Image © Samuel Ludwig

However, in 1915 Gaudí ceased all other projects in order to focus exclusively on the Sagrada Família. He worked on the building for the next 11 years, until he was hit by a tram and died in 1926.

See all the works of Antoni Gaudí featured on ArchDaily via the thumbnails below, and further coverage below those:

A Gaudí Guide to Barcelona

Video: What the Sagrada Familia Will Look Like in 2026

Video: The Six Towers that will Crown the Sagrada Família

Gaudí’s Sagrada Família to Become Tallest Church in Europe by 2026

Trouble Hits the Final Stages of Gaudí’s La Sagrada Familia

Never Built New York: Projects From Gaudí, Gehry and Wright that Didn’t Make it in Manhattan

Chile to (Finally) Build Gaudí’s Only Project Outside of Spain

Gaudí’s First-Ever House to Open as a Museum Following Major Restoration

References:

  1. Jeremy Roe, “Antoni Gaudí” (Parkstone International, 2012) p.18