Surviving centuries worth of test of time and controversies faced by the famous Basílica de la Sagrada Família, or more commonly known as Sagrada Familia, we can wonder how a certain building can make a mark in architectural history and mankind. More than a century since Antoni Gaudí started working on the Basilica of the Holy Family, Sagrada Familia still remains unfinished and under construction. Sagrada Familia is a large Roman Catholic Minor Basilica in the Eixample district of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, and has been given UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“I will grow old but others will come after me. What must always be conserved is the spirit of the work, but its life has to depend on the generations it is handed down to and with whom it lives and is incarnated.”Antoni Gaudí
The construction of the Basilica that started in 1882 under the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar, and then undertaken by Antoni Gaudí, is now anticipated to be completed by 2026, the centenary of Gaudí’s death. Numerous architects, engineers, craftsmen, and skilled workers have referred to the remaining drawings and plaster models and have tried to follow Gaudí’s vision as closely as possible, making the completion of the building a collective work of generations.
Although Antoni Gaudí undertook the design and construction of Sagrada Familia in 1883, it was only in 1884 that he was officially appointed the Architect Director of the church. Until his unfortunate death in 1926, Gaudí devoted his entire life to this building. At the time of his death in 1926, only about 15-25%, i.e., only 1/4th of the project was complete.
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The first hurdle that was faced that is the construction of the building relied only on private donations. The Spanish government provided no funding was provided by the Spanish Government. The Basilica de la Sagrada Família was initially an idea of a bookseller, Josep Maria Bocabella, founder of Spiritual Association of Devotees of St. Joseph. The basilica at Loret also inspired him.
Antoni Gaudí maintained the original Latin cross plan designed by del Villar but moved away from the Gothic style in several significant ways. He introduced a system of hyperboloids, paraboloids, helicoids, and conoids to make it a thinner, finer structure and eliminate the need for flying buttresses. After the death of Gaudí, the Spanish Civil War in 1936 stopped the construction. Revolutionaries broke into the crypt and workshop and also set fire to the drawings and plaster models, partially damaging and destroying Gaudí’s plans.
After the end of the Spanish Civil War, in the 1950s the construction resumed. Architects and engineers had to piece together several years of work and take the design and construction forward. Since 1940, numerous architects such as Francesc Quintana, Isidre Puig Boada, Lluís Bonet I Gari, and Francesc Cardoner have also worked on the building reconstructing the versions of plans that were destroyed in the fire. Barcelona-born Jordi Fauli took over as chief architect in 2012.
In the last decade
In 2000, the central nave vaulting was completed. Then in 2006, the crossing and the supporting structure for the main steeple of Jesus Christ was completed. Jordi Fauli announced in October of 2015, that the basilica was almost 75% complete and she has estimated that the steeples and most of the Church’s structure will be complete in 2026. And this is excluding of the decorative elements of the building. In 2017, she announced that these decorative elements will take between 2030-2032 for the construction to complete.
It was only just recently in March of 2020, that the construction of the basilica stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first time the construction halted since the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Finally the work reopened and continued in July 2020 only for key workers of the project.
The church plan is that of a Latin cross which is maintained of del Villar’s design with five aisles. Also, the Central Nave Vault spans across 45m and the Side Nave Vault spans across 30m. The transept has 3 aisles.
Antoni Gaudí’s original design was of 18 spires in ascending order of height of the 12 Apostles, the Virgin Mary, the 4 Evangelists, and the tallest of all Jesus Christ. The design is predominantly based on religious symbolism in each and every aspect and visual representation of religious beliefs since Gaudí was also a devout Catholic.
The Church has three grand façades – the Nativity façade to the East, the Passion façade to the West, and the Glory façade to the South. The Glory façade is still incomplete. As of 2010, 8 spires out of the 18 spires are built – 4 Apostles at the Nativity Façade and 4 Apostles at the Passion Façade.
Antoni Gaudí also used the construction system of angled columns and hyperboloid structures in his designs, especially after 1914. Also, geometric-shaped tops crown the steeples that are on the Nativity façade. In addition, they are reminiscent of cubism and completed around 1930.
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Criticism and Appraisal
Amidst all of the discussions about Sagrada Familia, the basilica, as well as Antoni Gaudí, has received a mixture of positive and negative criticism and opinions from various architects, artists, and other design specialists. However, world-renowned architects Louis Sullivan, Walter Gropius, graciously praise the building calling it the greatest piece of creative architecture and a marvel of technical perfection; Also, other renowned author personalities like George Orwell, James A. Michener, and Gerald Brenan heavily criticize the building calling it most hideous and strangest looking.
“It was like learning a new language – we weren’t just learning the vocabulary, but the grammar as well.”Jordi Fauli
Most of Gaudí’s inspiration for the Church building is also based on nature. The interior columns of the nave resemble trees, with branch-like sections that support the tower and the vaults. The construction of the basilica is still not supported by the Government or official Church sources. Private patrons, private donations, and ticket money from tourists visiting Sagrada Familia cover the expenses of the construction. Thanks to this influx of funding, the famously unfinished church are on a schedule to be finished possibly in 2026, the 100th anniversary of the death of Antoni Gaudí.
“Gaudí left us a path. Sometimes, though, we’ve had to work hard to find it.”Jordi Fauli
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Legacy of Antoni Gaudi
As the building grapples with low rumblings and high praises it still completes piece by piece, there will finally be that one day when the last of the spire towers of Sagrada Familia will eventually be complete. Unfortunately, Antoni Gaudí who had just a few lampposts to his name when he landed the job for this church, have not lived to see the completion of his own iconic Barcelona structures. Once completed, the 18 towers of Sagrada Familia will also pose a unique view of the basilica from any single vantage point. In conclusion, it will also remake the skyline of Barcelona standing as a marvelous emblem for the city.
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Jones, R. (2013, October 16). AD Classics: La Sagrada Familia / Antoni Gaudí. Retrieved from ArchDaily: https://www.archdaily.com/438992/ad-classics-la-sagrada-familia-antoni-gaudi
Macabanti, V. A. (n.d.). Sagrada Familia Barcelona by Antoni Gaudi- The unfinished masterpiece. Retrieved from Rethinking the Future: https://www.re-thinkingthefuture.com/design-inspiration/a2080-sagrada-familia-barcelona-by-antoni-gaudi-the-unfinished-masterpiece/
Sagrada Familia. (n.d.). Retrieved from Casa Batllo: https://www.casabatllo.es/en/antoni-gaudi/sagrada-familia/
Sagrada Família. (2021, February 12). Retrieved from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagrada_Fam%C3%ADlia#searchInput
Sutton, B. (2018, November 21). The Tortured 136-Year History of Building Gaudí’s Sagrada Família. Retrieved from Artsy.net: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-tortured-136-year-history-building-gaudis-sagrada-familia
Hello, I am an Architect and an Urban Designer. I also have an avid interest in Architectural Journalism and am always looking for opportunities to cure my words into writing projects. I love urban sketching as well and always enthusiastic to explore my passion in the field.
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