December 24, 2012 1:35 PM   Subscribe

The Church of La Sagrada Familia is perhaps the most famous under-construction Catholic church in the world. Started in 1882 under the direction of Francisco de Paula del Villar, Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi took over construction in 1883, after which it became his life's work. La Sagrada Familia was dedicated in 2010, after the installation of the roof, and is scheduled to be complete in 2028 Let's look around:

The site has a virtual tour as well as lots of information.

The church is in the shape of a Latin cross, with the columns, arches, vaults and domes of complex geometric shapes like hyperboloids and ruled surfaces. The entire structure is related by rigorous proportions, which has allowed the current generation of builders to continue Gaudi's work. His use of models, especially the famous string models, allowed him to develop new ways of arranging the columns and support structures. Gaudi was part of the Modernisme movement, a uniquely Catalan end-of-the-century movement.

Gaudi wanted to move beyond Gothic construction, with its fragile buttresses and planned a tree-like system of columns to take advantage of the compressive strength of stone and the new material of reinforced concrete. The cloister will enclose the church, protecting it from the noise of the street, a unique development. The interior has many different spaces inside, both to provide quiet spaces for private worship and large spaces.

Designed by Francesc de Paula de Vilar in a neo-Gothic style, the crypt was completed before Gaudi was taken on to re-design the church.

The only facade completed during Gaudi's life, the stone is filled with scenes from Jesus' life and various creatures, people and objects, both biblical and mundane. There are three doorways, dedicated to Faith and Mary, Hope and Joseph, Charity and Jesus. The entire facade is topped with the cypress, an evergreen.

It was recently completed, and tells the story of the Passion, with the figures carved by Josep Maria Suribachs. The Via Crucis is told in serpentine along the facade, topped with the sculpture of the crucifixion, and the entire portico supported by what might be enormous bones.

This will be the main entrance when completed, and will be truly monumental in scale.

The work of Joan Vila Grau (Flash), the stained glass adds color and lightness to the already-light structure.

From the outside, the church rises above the surrounding neighborhood. The eight completed spires will be among the smallest of the completed work, with four more along the Glory facade, one over the apse, four at each corner of the crossing and the largest one surmounting it, with a height of 170 meters.

Sagrada Familia: Gaudí's cathedral is nearly done, but would he have liked it?

Bon Nadal & Bones Festes!
posted by the man of twists and turns (27 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
The length of time this has been under construction reminds me of the framing story in David Macualay's book/series Cathedral.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 1:41 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

We were just there in September, luckily on such a rainy day that we had no trouble getting inside. We spent most of a day looking at it's interior, the fascinating museum about it in the basement, and the exterior. I was stunned with its beauty. If it is never, ever finished, it is nonetheless a masterpiece.

Also, everything else we saw by Gaudi in Barcelona -- and after seeing Sagrada Familia, we made it our goal to see it all -- was equally astonishing and wonderful.
posted by bearwife at 1:48 PM on December 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

posted by growabrain at 1:51 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I first saw it, in 1991, I couldn't believe that anyone other than a theme park impresario could allow such a thing to be built, and on such a scale. And there was half as much of it then as there is now. I loved the park with the giant aloes, and the scruffy mixture of people you'd see there, and that hasn't changed, even as millions have rolled past to look at a building site, albeit the maddest building site you could ever see.
posted by tigrefacile at 2:17 PM on December 24, 2012

I'm ambivalent, Happy Holidaze!
posted by sfts2 at 2:18 PM on December 24, 2012

Having been raised Southern Baptist in New Orleans, I was floored when I visited Montreal and saw the number and scale of basilicas in Quebec. New Orleans, being a Catholic city, has some nice old churches but holy crap. One thing I have to give the Catholics, when they get the idea to build a house for God they pull out all the stops.

Whereas when Protestants build a church, they increasingly seem to put out a call for bids on price per square foot. As I like to joke, we* love God so much we built him a really huge warehouse!.

*I haven't been SBC for a really long time, but the church that managed to kill my belief in Christianity did in fact look like a warehouse with a sheet metal steeple.
posted by localroger at 2:23 PM on December 24, 2012

Prior to my visit to Barcelona in October, I asked a designer friend who is from there to advise me on how to maximize my available weekend for Gaudi sightseeing. That is, if I could only see any one building, which would it be... expecting the Sagrada Familia, I was surprised to receive a reply recommending the Casa Mila instead. He said the cathedral had been under construction for too long, under too many people and now just a mish mash of styles, not the complete essence of Gaudi's work such as that seen even in the Casa Mila's door handles.

Flickr sets - Gaudi, other Barcelona architecture, and simply things that caught my eye (mostly design oriented details).

No other city have I visited resulted in three sets chock full of photographs, just from 2 short days!

What a rich meal for the senses a simple walk through Old Barsino can be... sigh.

Thanks for the post.
posted by infini at 2:28 PM on December 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

His use of models, especially the famous string models, allowed him to develop new ways of arranging the columns and support structures.

That seems like the most basic sort of tinkering around with an idea, not the massive insight it is. Aside from being a nearly perfect, elegant solution to some tough engineering problems, that those string models work at all just absolutely blows my mind.

There are three doorways, dedicated to Faith and Mary, Hope and Joseph, Charity and Jesus.

Oh, come on. Joseph should be more strongly associated with faith than Mary, right?
posted by Appropriate Username at 2:44 PM on December 24, 2012

The string models are my favorite thing in the cathedral.
posted by OmieWise at 2:55 PM on December 24, 2012

This may be apocryphal, and Orwell admits as much in Homage to Catalonia, but when the anarchists held Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, they destroyed every church they could. With the exception of the Sagrada Familia, claiming it was so ugly it was an effront to religion.
posted by John of Michigan at 3:16 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a model made of fine chains, reflected in a mirror, displayed in the attic of Casa Mila
posted by infini at 3:32 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Somewhere, there's an alternative universe where modern architecture followed the path of Gaudi rather than Le Corbusier, and all cities look more like Barcelona.

Lucky bastards.
posted by zompist at 3:33 PM on December 24, 2012 [14 favorites]

Luckily he did influence organic forms and ergonomics for product design.
posted by infini at 3:34 PM on December 24, 2012

This is a very well put-together post. Thanks for sharing.
posted by 4ster at 6:16 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Part of why it's taken so long, from its Wikipedia entry:

Parts of the unfinished basilica and Gaudí's models and workshop were destroyed during the war by Catalan anarchists. The present design is based on reconstructed versions of the plans that were burned in a fire as well as on modern adaptations.

I may have read it in print somewhere because i'm not immediately finding reference to it on the web, but I seem to recall that some of the plans were salvaged by enlarging photographs of Gaudi's workshop that they happened to appear in prior to their destruction.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:27 PM on December 24, 2012

I was in Barcelona this October for business, but had the weekend available to go look at stuff. Yeah, La Sagrada Família blew me away. That place is a freaking wonder of the world.

I went to a bunch of other places too, and only afterwards realized every single place I went to see was designed, at least in part, by Gaudi.
posted by aubilenon at 6:35 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was in Barcelona this past spring, and la sagrada familia was amazing. I also really enjoyed Parc Guell.
posted by maryrussell at 8:02 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

For the longest time I thought Gaudí was the source of the word gaudy.
posted by deborah at 1:00 AM on December 25, 2012

Suggested Music whilst browsing the article.
posted by nostrada

Suggested music while browsing the church.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:32 AM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Teshigahara’s nearly wordless documentary about Gaudí’s buildings is fantastic, with an appropriately otherworldly soundtrack by Takemitsu.

I was able to visit Barcelona in 2005, and La Sagrada Familia was the one Gaudí creation that compelled me to go back for a second day of gaping in awe. Even if individual elements of the design have become a mish-mash over the years, the whole is unmistakably Gaudí!
posted by mubba at 10:24 AM on December 25, 2012

It's a fascinating building, and has an extraordinary impact when you first walk in. You'll hate me, but I have to say it also has its flaws.

One of the great merits of gothic architecture is its lucidity. You can see at a glance how it works. The interior of the Sagrada Familia, with lots of different kinds of column, branching in different ways, loses that clarity in my opinion.

Second, imo Gaudi never came up with a coherent decorative scheme. The nativity facade just looks a mess, gaps filled in with the sculptural equivalent of noise. The sculpture on the passion facade is admirably decisive by contrast and gives it some real strength, but there's no integrating scheme, there are just sculptures isolated in empty spaces.

Then there's the undermining jokiness, like the terrible fruit and veg stuck on top of various places. Possibly an example of a besetting Catalan weakness for whimsy, but there's some frankly ugly stuff in places. Even examples of humour that I rather like, such as the column-bearing turtles, are weakly conceived: the problem of how the column relates to the turtle shells just hasn't been addressed, let alone solved, as though the joke would excuse everything.

Still undeniably one of the most interesting and important buildings in Europe.
posted by Segundus at 1:53 PM on December 25, 2012

I saw La Sagrada Famila when I was in Spain during my teenage years in the 80s, and seeing the additional work between then and now really gives me a sense of proper cathedral-construction timescale.
posted by immlass at 4:22 PM on December 25, 2012

I saw La Sagrada Famila when I was in Spain during my teenage years in the 80s, and seeing the additional work between then and now really gives me a sense of proper cathedral-construction timescale.

They've accelerated a lot recently with the advent of computer drafting and milling. I think their projected completion date is now sometime in the 2020s, where before they got all the computer guys in they were still looking at a hundred years of future work.

The interior of the Sagrada Familia, with lots of different kinds of column, branching in different ways, loses that clarity in my opinion.

Actually, I think that considering the explosion of sculpture and decorative elements on the Nativity facade, the interior is remarkably restrained and functional. And, as the post mentions, there is a narrative to the Passion facade, and it isn't just some random assembly of items. The interior and the columns were really fascinating for me - there's a hierarchy of sizes and materials according to the loads the columns have to carry and what they represent; so the four columns at the crossing that represent the gospels and will eventually carry the Jesus tower are the largest, and made with the strongest and most sumptuous (?) stone - porphyry. Moving out from there, the columns are made from basalt, and then all the columns along the aisles are sandstone. Other than the fluting on the columns (which is interesting mathematically in itself), there's really not that much decoration on interior surfaces, but they maybe just haven't gotten to that yet.

I was there in May of 2011, and it'll be really interesting to see all the windows that were clear at that time replaced by colored glass.
posted by LionIndex at 8:43 AM on December 26, 2012

I've been looking through this flickr slideshow while listening to Yes' Close to the Edge. Fitting, somehow.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:26 AM on December 26, 2012

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