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Casa Batllo

Casa Batllo At Paseig de Gracia 43, lies a sleeping giant of modernist architecture, Casa Batllo. Its appearance is as amorphous as the free flowing lines and shape of the building itself. Depending on the weather and lighting Casa Batllo may change colors and leave an entirely different impression on the viewer. One critic describes the building facade as, having the same effect as a throwing a stone into a pool of water lilies. [1] Many others believe the facade is an allegory for the Catalan legend of St. George, known for travels around medieval Spain slaying dragons.

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It is a testament to the celebrated architect, Antoni Gaudi, that one building could be so inspiring in so many ways. He accomplished this end by effectively sampling natural forms. The building is composed of disarming familiar natural forms, but they are arranged in a completely new and surreal way. Furthermore, these forms lend themselves to a myriad of individualized interpretations dependent upon the interpreter. All of this is just the beginning, in my opinion, of what makes Casa Batllo the premier building exemplifying the modernism movement in Barcelona.

Casa Batllo was commissioned by Josep Batllo Casanovas in 1900 and constructed from 1904-1906. He employed Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi, and building contractor, Josep Bayo Font. His original intention was demolishing the building and starting anew. However, Gaudi was able to convince Batllo that a refurbishment was possible. I believe the fact that Casa Batllo was a refurbishment and not a complete new construction served Gaudi well. It gave him the constraints and restrictions of an existing structure that challenged him to create the best solutions within the context of an existing problem.

It also prevented some of the more criticized aspects of his designs from surfacing, as this was evident with the negative critical reaction to Casa Mila, or “La Pedrera. ” It is important to understand the context of the building both geographically and historically. It rests on the corner of the “block of discord. ” The “block of discord” extends down Passeig de Gracia between Carrer Arago and Consell de Cent. The block derives its satirical name from the dissimilar styles of the adjoining buildings within the block.

Three buildings down from Gaudi’s masterpiece is Casa Lleo Morera, designed by Domenech I Montaner. Next door is Casa Mulleras, by Enric Sagnier Villanecchia. Continuing down the block there is Casa Delfina Bonet, by Marceliano Coquillat Llofriu. Finally, Josep Puig Caldafach designed Casa Amatller, which would later become the adjoining neighbor of Gaudi’s inspiring edifice. Casa Batllo was the last of the escalating architectural works that created a utopia of modernism. It was a “keeping up with the Jones” type of mentality.

Each casa was built in attempt to upstage the neighbors. Gaudi and Battlo also had to circumvent several building codes to erect Gaudi’s vision which paid no attention to municipal building regulations. In one specific way, the bottom two floors of Casa Batllo extend an illegal sixty centimeters into the street. In 1904, Gaudi applied for building permits based on his vague plaster model of the proposed street facade. In 1906, the city ordered all work ceased due to of the lack of a construction permit. However, this was too late; construction was nearly completed.

Fifteen days later, Josep Batllo was back at the city council ready to receive to permission to rent out the upper floors. The breathtaking exterior begins with the massive sandstone columns sampling from such natural forms as bones or flowers stems. The first three floors were where Gaudi concentrated most of his expensive materials, particularly the elaborately carved sandstone. The first two floors extend farther to the street than the others. Thus, this creates a leaning effect that is only accentuated the facade’s ceaseless undulations. Casa Batllo features no edges or right angles.

Gaudi demolished the original bottom floors, but decided to use the existing facade of the building for the upper floors. However, it would in no way resemble the original; Gaudi had the old brick chipped away and replaced with a mosaic skin of lime, mortar, and broken pieces of tile and glass. This is a technique often used by Gaudi called Trancadis—meaning broken pieces. The balconies decrease in size as the eye ascends the edifice, and resemble eye and nose front of a human skull. They protrude from the facade’s most notable feature, its rippling covering.

Each broken piece of mosaic was directed to its destination by Gaudi in the street, acting as maestro of the construction. This produces the overall effect is that of a shimmering soft underbelly of a serpent’s skin. As one critic described it, “When the sun hits the front of the building during the day, the facade magically materializes and dematerializes in a celebration of color. ” [2] This is all crowned by a hard tile roof that swoops and dives with the facade. Gaudi emphasized the curves and bends of the roof by using the color and shade of the tile to specifically accent the roof’s movements.

It should be noted that the roof does a superb job of capping the near formless facade by producing horizontally undulating lines that effectively run perpendicular to the other waves. This provides the necessary contrast to the free form facade; thus, giving it shape, as a beach or harbor gives shape and form to the sea. Finally, Gaudi concluded the facade on top with a medieval turret topped by a Catalan cross. The cross is the highest point of the building. The cross is also the object of some debate and speculation as to Gaudi’s message with this building. The cross is said to be the handle of St.

George’s sword. This would make the turret the shaft of the blade. The roof is representative of the hard skin of a dragon’s back, and the facade is its soft underbelly. The sandstone columns are the bones of the dragon’s victims, so are the balconies, which are skulls. Thus, the entire facade is symbolic of St. George, the patron saint of Catalunya. This theory may not be as is improbably as it seems. Symbolism was a major part of the modernism movement. Gaudi was almost obsessive about the use of symbols, which will become abundantly clear in last years of his life and his work on the Sagrada Familia.

The interior of Casa Batllo is equally impressive. Its greatest technical achievement is the superb use of natural light. The exaggerated windows facing the street earned Casa Batllo the nickname “the house of yawns. ” Gaudi also expanded the existing patio and added huge skylight. The elevator shaft and stairwell also ran through the center of patio. All of this was part of a brilliant solution to the problem of evenly distributing light throughout the house. Beyond technical solutions, Casa Batllo instills visitors with a surreal feeling.

The interior mirrors the exterior; again, Gaudi deliberately removed angled features, such as the walls, and replaced them with curved shapes. The spaces inside are open and expansive. Particularly, the living room may be even further expanded by simply opening two large wooden doors on both sides. Some specifically dreamlike features are the stained glass windows. They are framed in non-traditional shapes of beautiful metalwork, presumably connected to Gaudi’s family heritage as metalworkers, and the elaborately carved sandstone.

They give off a palpable floral sensation from within the house, in addition to their obvious technical benefits. All of this in concert creates a truly dreamlike state when one is in the house itself. Gaudi speaks to us still from Casa Batllo. However, he in not speaking Catalan, but he is speaking to us in an organic language easily recognized by anyone familiar with nature. Gaudi said, “Everything that any architect could need…is already in natural forms in nature. ” This is surely the source he referenced when designing Casa Batllo. In conclusion, Casa Batllo is the premier modernist building in Barcelona.

This is because of Gaudi’s brilliant technical solutions, his use of new materials and techniques, his eclectic sampling of other architectural styles such as arabesque and medieval, his voracious quoting of natural forms, and heavy use of symbolism. However, the truly impressive thing about Casa Batllo is not the presence of these individual elements, but the unequivocal unity with which they were assembled by the all too masterful architect, Antoni Gaudi. ———————– [1] http://www. casabatllo. es/. History of Casa Batllo. [2] Grossman, Rachel. “Inside Casa Battlo”. ArchitectureWeek


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