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Architect Antonio Gaudi Essay

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The work of Antonio Gaudi can be seen as visionary. Ahead of his time in many respects, it becomes clear when viewing his work that he influenced many of the great revolutionary artists of the early 21st century. The significance of his life-works as an artist and particularly as an architect reveals extraordinary contributions to the thought processes of the ‘Modernists’. Looking at some two of his architectural pieces, we can discover an entirely new meaning to architecture altogether. Antonio Gaudi displays many of the fantasy elements indicative of the Surrealist movement, although his work was categorised as Art Nouveau.

His progression from Art Nouveau to near-Surrealist work can be seen in comparing the reasonably modest Palau Guell (1886-1890) to Casa Battlo (1906-1908). Palau Guell is a grand scale expression of extravagance which still has many of the attributes of Classicism. It is beautiful and decadent with every aspect of glamour and frivolity related to the Art Nouveau period. Gaudi, I feel has restrained his imagination in the sense that he has not indulged in the same fantasy world we see in his later works.

The Palau Guell is almost a modern incantation of the ancient Greek and Roman Colloseums. Casa Battlo represents a rather unusual perspective of the artistic movement itself. The Casa Battlo in its design resembles more of a candy-castle than a functional building. The exterior of the building is scattered with ceramic designs that Gaudi had plastered into the facade. At face value this gives the viewer a sense of the ‘other world’, a place where children go in their dreams. This was in fact, in my opinion, the beginning of the Surrealist manifesto.

Completely out of keeping with the original idea of architecture, Gaudi creates a building that not only performs a function but contributes to the aesthetic value of the surroundings into which it is placed. The roof of the Casa Battlo is covered in what appears to be scales, almost aquatic in its construction, but at the same time not intrusive. At this stage it is difficult to ascertain in ones own mind whether you like it or hate it. The balconies extending from the large bay-windows are also intricately carved and resemble to a degree, alien-like heads with large gaping eyes.

The vision of Art Nouveau as outrageously decorative, embellished and facetious is clearly visible in this particular piece of Gaudi’s work. The exploration of the fantasy world gives it an uncanny feel of something out of the fairytale Hansel and Gretel and can make you fell uneasy. In the strict sense of the word ‘influence’, I can be certain that I see the predecessor to the Surrealist movement in Gaudi’s work. The idea of dreams rather than reality begins to emerge in his later work which is passionately infused with richly decorative mosaics and other ceramic artefacts.

If one takes into account the impression Art Nouveau wanted to make, I think Gaudi surpassed it with the kind of architectural eloquence worthy of being called a ‘visionary’. Art Nouveau’s mantra of snubbing Classical rigidity was flouted by Gaudi and his contemporaries and led to the influence of architectural movements such as Bauhaus and sculptural artistic endeavours such as Tatlin, Dali and Leger. The previous attempts at breaking from traditional art as explored by the Impressionists served to fuel a more fertile mind in terms of the architecture of Gaudi.

In Gaudi’s work we see the expression of the mind in tactile form. Looking at the features built around Guell Park, evidences of the movement into the exploration of colour in architecture is also visible. The water fountains are embellished with mosaic fish and other aquatic-like creatures that by some people’s standards would be described as ‘kitsch’. However, for me this fantasy world does exactly what it was intended to do: create a feeling of euphoria and joy. It is not functional beyond the aesthetic. Gaudi is ahead of his time.

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