I’m sure many readers will have been to the beautiful city of Barcelona and if you have, almost certainly you will have visited the incredible Basilica of La Sagrada Familia, designed by the quite brilliant architect Antoni Gaudi. As well as the church his very distinctive design style can be seen all over the city eg at Park Guell, Casas Mila/Battlo and loads of other places. It’s so easy to label people as a genius these days. Christ I’ve seen the description applied to the likes of Simon Cowell, Jose Mourinho and even Benny Hill. Smart, confident, funny perhaps but geniuses? Do me a favour. But in Gaudi’s case, it is completely justified.
So why am I writing about him today? Well I’ll explain in a moment but first some context. Sagrada Familia has had a long and complex construction history. Originally began in 1882, the design was altered dramatically when Gaudí took over the project following the original architect’s resignation from the project in 1883. The design of La Sagrada Família is iconic because when Gaudí took over, he abandoned the old Neo-gothic plan in favour of a design that was more modern. He hated straight lines and angles because they don’t often appear naturally. Instead, he based his innovative design on the curves and imperfections of nature. Gaudi worked on the project continuously until his death in 1926 (of which more later). Following his death, construction was halted by the civil war, when the majority of the architect’s original plans were lost. The current design is based on reconstructed plans and models. The construction work continues to this day and although the Basilica is in its last stage of construction, it is only around 70 per cent complete, with just eight of its proposed 18 spires built. Once the final 170-metre-high central spire is built, it will be the tallest church in the world, rising almost 10 metres above Ulm Minster in Germany. Incredibly the cost of the construction work is entirely funded by private donations and admission fees from visitors. It attracts more than 4m paying visitors annually. Millions more turn up each year just to look at and admire the building without entering. It is truly a remarkble building and project…
So this is all very interesting I’m sure but what’s the topical point? Well earlier this week I spotted a little feature tucked away on page 13 of my daily paper. Barcelona’s Deputy Mayor announced, quite amazingly, that La Sagrada Familia has finally been issued with a building permit; 137 years after the building began construction. The licence means that the building work on the iconic structure will be allowed to continue until 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death. It’s clear that at the start of the project Gaudi applied for a permit to the local town/parish council (which years later was subsumed by the city authorities) but, according to one story, they never got round to replying. So he just got on with the construction process. Some say a permit was issued but it became invalid when the town council folded into the city stucture. Either way surely the council were to blame. But bureaucarcy doesn’t work like that. The Deputy mayor added that La Sagrada Familia team always knew they could not continue (to build) like this and that they would need to pay accordingly. Really? Last year, the Sagrada Familia team were compelled to pay around £32m to city authorities as a penalty. To compound things the Barcelona city authorities will be paid another £4million in fees as part of the final agreement, putting an end to what the Deputy Mayor described as “a historical anomaly in our city.” Work can now proceed on the completion of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Blimey seems a bit harsh don’t you think?
According to the Barcelona city authorities’ own estimates, in addition to the 4m + paying visitors “some 20 million tourists stand outside just to marvel at the bell towers”. I’m sure they do and almost all will be visitors spending time and lots of money in this lovely city, attracted to Barcelona in no small part because of the influence of Gaudi and his lasting monument, this magnificent Basilica. I calculate that’s around £10 billion in tourist revenue each year. And for how long has Barcelona been a major tourist vacation location, 20 -25 years? As they say in America, you do the math. If I knew what the Spanish was for miserable twats, I’d use it. Los ingrates.
Poor old Antoni must be spinning in his grave which is actually in the crypt of this lovely church. And guess how he died? Busily working at the construction site, he’d popped out one day and stepped in front of a tram running just outside the building. He must have been preoccupied. Fortunately he heard the driver sound the warning horn and stepped back from the line just in time. Only to step backwards into the path of another tram heading in the opposite direction. Splat.
Benny Hill couldn’t have scripted a better routine son.
Great piece of work and research Paul. I know you love architecture