Gaudi architecture enthralls everyone from wide-eyed children to the most sophisticated scholars. Known as “God’s architect”, the distinctive organic style of Gaudi architecture reflects his primary inspirations: nature and religion. With seven works designated as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, the work of the Catalan native and staunch nationalists is beloved around the world.
Luis Gueilburt is an expert on Gaudi architecture and a sculptor who has exhibited his works and monumental sculptures in individual and collective exhibitions. Many of his pieces are held in private and public collections in Spain, Japan, Argentina, Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Peru.
He was a visiting lecturer at the Technical University of Catalonia, Barcelona Polytechnic College, where he taught a monographic course on the life and work of Antoni Gaudi. Gueilburt was responsible for Research Line Gaudi and Catalan Modernisme, the architectural and artistic style of 1900; at The Technical University of Catalonia. He has participated in courses, conferences, seminars, workshops, and conferences on the work of Gaudi in universities and forums in Spain, France, the United States, Mexico, Italy, and Argentina.
He organized the International Conference of Gaudi Studies. From 1993 to 2003 he directed the Centre for Gaudi Studies. Gueilburt had a role in the creation in 2003 of the Gaudí Workshop and was the academic director and collaborator of The Heritage Archive.
I know you’ll enjoy Luis’ insights on Gaudi architecture and his connection to Barcelona.
Discovering Gaudi architecture
Meg: When did you discover Gaudi?
Luis: It's difficult to visit Barcelona and not run into Gaud; his art almost falls on top of you, and it has such power that even if you have no interest in building, you end up being amazed by the small details. Later, after starting out as a visitor and seeing a couple of the buildings, I started to learn more about his work.
When I first came to Barcelona, I learned about Gaud. Gaud and Barcelona are inseparable, and I immediately started researching the artist and his work. At the moment, I was shocked by how touching any piece of his artwork made you completely dirty, and I questioned why these pieces of art hadn't been cleaned of the heavy coating of soot and air contamination. These constructions became even more intriguing as a result of the patina that only time can give them thanks to the dust.
Before 1980, when I was teaching at a school for sculptors, there was a Brazilian architecture student enrolled in a doctoral program in Barcelona's "Cátedra Gaud" for architecture. He then offered me a guided tour of the Barcelona cathedral where he introduced me to Professor Bassegoda. After a few days had passed and Bassegoda had shown an interest in my work, I went to see him. He asked me whether I would be brave enough to rebuild the dragon's grill at Finca Güell after viewing some of my work. I enthusiastically accepted the task after being astonished by the proposal, which I hadn't anticipated. I immediately set about creating a new tongue for the dragon's head, doing some new welding, and repairing a different section of the door. I was quite amazed by this.
The Organic Allure of Gaudi Architecture
Meg: What drew you personally to Gaudi's work?
Luis: The aspect of Gaudi's work that most appealed to me was his perspective on nature, namely the way that he grows his structures from the inside out, much like how biological organisms evolve. Gaudi doesn't duplicate or mimic nature; instead, his structures give the impression of existing inside it because he uses all of his materials in perfect harmony and balance, including colors, lines, curves, geometry, and curves.
Iconic Four Towers of Sagrada Familia
Meg: If Gaudi had finished Sagrada Familia himself, how do you think the towers would look?
Luis: This is particularly difficult to determine since, despite the fact that Gaud left a precise model in Paris during the 1911 World's Fair, only the Nativity facade is displayed and the four towers are comparable. Therefore, the 12 towers that WILL exist after the work is done must also be comparable. However, there will always be variations because, for instance, the bases of the towers on the Passion facade are eliptical, while those on the Nativity façade are circular.
The tower's pinnacle was supposed to be made of stone, but Gaud instead chooses to complete it with armored concrete in another model of his work. The shape has been altered and is now capable of becoming slimmer due to the discovery of this substance.
We don't know since Gaud altered everything he created while he was building it, which is what gives his work its charm. When Gaud is absent, the work suffers; however, it is obvious that he took into account the fact that the building would need to be completed by other architects and projectors after a few hundred years. As a result, even though the figures we currently see were not created by Gaud, they were left to be created by others in the future.
Gaudi As Renaissance Man
Meg: What do you find most intriguing about Gaudi?
Luis: The fact that he is more than just an architect, artist, or engineer intrigues me the most about him. He received a degree in architecture, and sure, he also designed and built structures, but he was a fully realized individual, much like Leonardo Da Vinci. He developed an interest in all forms of art and science. I recently began compiling a list of the subjects in which he attained a high level of mastery. There are only approximately fifteen chapters at the scientific level: he thoroughly researched geology, hydraulics, anatomy, biology, and other fields that he later used to its building. Because of his need for knowledge and his desire to build everything, he was extremely ambitious in the best sense of the word.
Gaudi’s Impact on Barcelona
Meg: What was Gaudi’s impact on Barcelona?
Luis: Indeed, he made a significant impact that is still felt more than ever today. But take a look at how he planned his projects: with the Sagrada Familia, he aimed to create the largest church in the world and situated it roughly in the middle of the city of Barcelona as it exists today (between the sea, the Tibidabo, the Bess river, and Montjuc). What is currently known as the Sagrada Familia area was formerly a 600-person town on the fringes of the city called Sant Mart de Provençals in 1870. One example of Gaud's foresight is the fact that he planned for the Holy Family Choir to hold 1500 people, having already envisioned how the city would grow.
Gaudi the Father Figure
Meg: How do the people of Barcelona see Gaudi?
Luis: Gaudi is to Barcelona what you imagine when you think of a father figure who is so vital to the community and with whom you laugh, weep, and struggle.
Oriental and Moorish Influences on Gaudi Architecture
Meg: Gaudi had a style all his own but his work seems to have Oriental and Moorish influences.
Luis: The Orientalist style, which was a distinctive feature of the Modernist movement and which is evident at Finca Güell, Casa Vicenç, and El Capricho de Comillas among other sites, was present in Gaud's early works, despite the fact that he had deep roots in the Catalan culture into which he was born and was fed by family and religious traditions.
When he imagined the engravings and photographs of his travels in Southern Spain, North Africa, Persia, and many Arabic and far Eastern countries, which he could examine in the library of the School of Architecture, it is clear that the Eastern world must have had an influence on him during his student years. Given the health and economic hardships young Gaud had to endure, his search for inspiration outside the country led him to imagine his journey through the prints of intrepid travelers from the nineteenth century. At the time, the architectural stylistic movement was quite poor because the builders were only masters.
We cannot avoid mentioning the Orientalist spirit that permeates Gaudi's work in Casa Vicens (1883–1885), El Capricho de Comillas (1883–1885), and Finca Güell (1884–1887). However, where this is most easily understood is in the use of ceramics, particularly in the mosaic trencad's technique, which is very similar to Zellig Zillij from North Africa and is widely used in Morocco for coating mosques, minarets, and other public and private buildings. In this technique, the cut ceramic pieces add shine and texture to the geometry of the walls.
Islamic societies forbade the representation of human or animal images, which is why geometry and mathematics have come to be used so frequently in their artwork. This is where Gaudi finds his greatest inspiration and where zellig or zillij finds its greatest fortune. The Moroccans believed that geometry created all of the universe's shapes, and the application of geometry may be seen in zellig patterns. Later, using this method, ceramic shapes would converge to make trencads. In the second century, zellig from North Africa was brought into the houses of the imperial towns of Morocco and Spain, where it developed in the Alcázar and the palaces of the Alhambra. It was also used in mosques, minarets, towers, and even the Giralda in Seville.
Gaudi undoubtedly examines this art and geometric design, putting his own view on it and greatly influencing his style. Given that the glaze on ceramics appears to have originated in China, it is likely that Gaud also took note of ceramic techniques seen in photographs of monuments in China and other Eastern nations where glazed pottery was also used.
He was obsessed with finding a geometry that would make his working process easier, and he was accustomed to dealing with formal geometry where paraboloids, helical, hyperboloids, and other non-Euclidean shapes or warped surfaces were the norm. Incorporating trencadis allowed Gaud to create crosslinked shapes that would stand out against their ceramic coatings.
As shutters are frequently used in Arab and Eastern nations, Gaud frequently incorporated them into the aforementioned early works, along with brick latticework and starry windows that evoke the blinds found in North African and Persian monuments.
We draw the conclusion from these instances that the influence of the eastern, and particularly the Moorish, was so strong that it is difficult not to see architectural characteristics from these sources in Gaud's early work, as well as reasons to believe it played a crucial role in the emergence of the Modernist movement.
Sculpture of Luis Gueilburt
Meg: Can you tell me about your own work?
Luis: My work is framed in a figurative but not realistic style, developed in various supports and materials, such as wood, stone, or metal,
Meg: You made a sculpture that is part of d the Public Art collection of Barcelona, Euclidean, or The Four Elements, located in park Les Corts. Can you tell me about it?
Luis: In a winding channel that passes through the park, it is submerged. It is designed as a monument to the Greek geometer Euclid and is made of stainless steel and ceramic on a limestone foundation. The sculpture is made up of four stainless steel railing circles that are held up in the middle by a vertical tube, as well as various metal clamps that are inserted into the circles and hold cylindrical ceramic pieces. There are thirteen of these elements, which might be a reference to the Euclidean treatise's thirteen volumes as well as to my study of plane geometry, space geometry, proportions, larger magnitudes, and the characteristics of numbers, among other things.
Life Lesson from Gaudi
Meg: Is there a "life lesson" that you would say Gaudi has taught you?
Luis: Gaudi is most often referred to as a “genius”, thus implying something magical or inexplicable about his life and work. Rather, I prefer to use the term “ingenious” to highlight his originality of invention and construction, his resourcefulness, and his overall intelligence. There is a profound life lesson in his working style, which relies on careful accuracy, not leaving aside intuition, and the steady effort to accomplish his goals, this being his most inspiring.
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Publisher and editor of People Are Culture (PAC). This article was created by original reporting that sourced expert commentary from local cultural standard-bearers. Those quoted provide cultural and historical context that is unique to their role in the community and to this article.