by John JervisMar 27, 2020
Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí was in no hurry to realise his most beloved project, the church of the Sagrada Família, as it is said that he believed that God was his client. A building distinguished for its perpetually incomplete nature, extraordinary detailing and fantastic architecture - the Roman Catholic church in Barcelona is one of those rare built marvels that transcends the perception that an architect’s vision can only be understood when a building is fully realised.
The Basílica de la Sagrada Família, ever in progress, has attracted millions of tourists from across the world and informed the cultural ethos of Barcelona. Under the charge of Spanish architect Jordi Faulí, the building is due for completion in 2026 to coincide with 100 years of Antoni Gaudí's death.
On the occasion of Gaudí’s 168th birth anniversary on June 25, 2020, STIR brings you rare a conversation with Faulí where he shares nuances from the journey of this project and his role of manifesting a master architect’s vision.
“It is an important responsibility and difficult in some aspect, because we are designing a project conceptualised by another architect, and that too, a very extravagant one,” he tells us.
A history of interpretations
The Sagrada Família has risen from the ground through various interpretations. It was initially diocesan architect Francisco de Paula del Villar who lead the construction of the church in 1882 before resigning the following year due to disagreement with the project’s organising members. Villar conceived it as a Neo-Gothic design and could only chalk the initial plan and build the crypt, before Gaudí, who previously worked under him in junior capacity, took charge.
Gaudí's work that advocated Catalan modernism evolved over the 43 years he dedicated to the project and it is believed that he created three distinct designs that expressed an interesting amalgamation of varying styles.
He [Gaudí] knew that he will not finish the Sagrada Família and he will need another architect in order to complete the project in the future. – Jordi Faulí
Rising from the ashes
Despite building several iconic projects in the Spanish city, which includes the rough-hewn Casa Milà, mosaic-clad Casa Batlló and the undulating Park Güell, the allure of that which Gaudí could not complete, has surpassed the rest.
It is said that ‘Gaudí designed in plans and modelled in plaster’. He managed to construct about a quarter of the building in his lifetime, and it took nearly 130 years to erect approximately 60 per cent of his vision.
Following his death in 1926, and the subsequent destruction of the archival material during Spanish Civil war, it was those survived models, drawings and photographs as well as his disciple’s written testimonies that paved the way forward.
We inquired how much liberty does Faulí allows himself in deciphering what he thinks the project was meant to be, versus, what he thinks it should be.
“We followed the path laid by Gaudí and I believe, it will be most valuable to follow his version of the church,” he said.
Passing on the baton
Faulí says that his approach in constructing the remaining church, which includes completing the central nave and the six towers, has been about following exactly the rules that Gaudí proposed in his vision.
Gaudí applied in architecture, the geometries that he saw in dimension. – Jordi Faulí
He also brings forth an intriguing aspect from the master architect’s process: “Gaudí not only designed the church in little drawings, he also left important parts in the models. Interestingly, these models demonstrated the detailed methods to design the elements that he otherwise had only defined in the drawings”.
“While studying these models, we have discovered not only the exact form of a particular element but also the grammar Gaudí had used to design the entire project. He envisioned us to use the same grammar in completing the rest of the church.”
It is often asked that if the great architect, Antoni Gaudí was alive and still in charge of the building of Sagrada Família, what would he have done? STIR asks Jordi Faulí – if he were to design the building in the late 1800s in place of Gaudí, how would the project have turned out to be?
Resting his case, Fauli says, “The process of design is impossible to prophesize.”
With tremendous support in form of public donations and the culmination of traditional and cutting-edge construction methods, the vision of completing the project has come into perspective.
However, building a stone cathedral with a high precision geometric design and meticulously detailed decorative elements in the 21st century comes with its own set of challenges.
A construction mechanism has been developed to address the wind resistance around the central towers, which are as high as 172 meters. Rows of prefabricated stone panels are being held together by tensioned steel cables running through them that ensure that heavy stone panels do not damage the light trees and branches below. It is said that this method not only defies the weight of the stone and the wind force, but also provides the structure the stability it needs while keeping its former identity intact.
In addition to the ongoing construction of the six main towers, recent updates include modelling of the Central Cross’s prototype and designing of the Glory façade, which is one of three grand facades to the south of the church.
Although the building is expected to be completed by 2026, the future looks uncertain due to the coronavirus pandemic that is currently plaguing the world and has gravely affected Spain as well.
But as they say, half-dreams are always more powerful than those fulfilled – and perhaps a consecrated space can never be walled to finish, as it must keep expanding to house the infinite powers and prayers that it contains.
Article based on excerpts from a narrative by Jordi Fauli, conducted and transcribed respectively by Mrinalini Ghadiok, Soumya Mukerji and Zohra Khan for STIR.