Our latest Gaudí adventure took us to the splendid Passeig de Gràcia, eine wahre Prachtstrasse, a simply magnificent boulevard.
A few houses further up the passeig we found our destination La Casa Batlló right next to a colorful sort’a funky Renaissance style townhouse with Gothic applications. However, Gaudí easily beats any comers in the no-holds-barred modernisme architecture!
We entered the house through a modest vestibule at street level, which immediately introduced some of the main themes throughout this Gaudí designed home. Above all, no straight lines ever, anywhere. Period. No right angles. Period. Allowed are waves, curves, bumps, knots and the most up-to-date technology available in 1904.
Notice also a very distinct pattern on the walls and ceilings, as well as in the freeform window glass of the vestibule. We’ll talk about that a little later.
La Casa Batlló was a renovation architect Antoni Gaudí undertook for Barcelona textile industrialist Don Josep Batlló i Casanovas and his wife Doña Amalia Godo Belaunzaran, who bought the townhouse in 1900 solely for its location in a very fashionable area of Barcelona. The house was never to their liking, in fact, they planned to raze it and start from scratch. The Batlló couple wanted a residence emphasizing their standing in Barcelona’s high society. They wanted a unique home, one that would be impossible to duplicate. Ironically, their dull, five-floor property built in a post-neo-classicism style at Passeig de Gràcia 43 had actually been designed and built in 1877 by the selfsame Gaudí, whom they ultimately commissioned to design the improved version. How astounding that the influential and powerful Batllós would hire him out of an impressive pool of available architects to create their dream home! However, in the intervening years, Gaudí had established himself as a significant force and great innovator within the outstanding community of builders in Barcelona. He had designed several projects for the leading Catalan tycoon Eusebi Guëll i Bacigalupi, 1st Count of Guëll, including the Palau Guëll, the Guëll palace and was in the process of designing Parc Guëll, which was donated to the city and turned into a public park system in 1926 and became a UNESCO heritage site in 1984.
For the Batlló home, Gaudí convinced the owners to utilize the existing structure and altered it according to his vision. This vision incorporated what is now called Catalan Modernisme, but not just as a decorative feature of a home, as the Art Nouveau style of the early 20th century was commonly used, but as a way of actually building a home. Gaudí’s understanding of nature went much deeper than simply mimicking swirly leaves and curly vines. As we have already seen in his basilica, he applied the physics of nature to the mathematics of construction. This naturalist architecture was so different, so unique indeed that it convinced the Batlló family. They gave him free reign and [apparently] an unlimited budget.
From the foyer, we climbed the curving staircase with its green tufted runner to the Planta Noble, the bel étage, the main floor with the family’s reception rooms.
As we’ve mentioned before, there is another distinctive component of Casa Batlló. It is the wall treatment. Every single square centimeter of wall and ceiling space in the entire house, usually flowing into and out of each other without any sharp creases, is covered or painted in a unique and uniform pattern. What kind of pattern? All I can say, to me it most resembled the typical pattern of the broken ceramic tiles, Gaudí loved to apply wherever possible. It’s a technique called ‘trencadís’ in Catalan, whereas the original French term is ‘pique assiette’, broken dinner plate, in which broken pieces of ceramic dinnerware were used to create a mosaïc decoration on just about any part of a building and the occasional dragon. Gaudí used to buy these shards from the discarded merchandise of ceramics plants. But that’s just my take, feel free to speculate! In addition to the pattern outline, which varies in color from white to gold, the background of the wall also varies in shades and hues.
Don Josep’s private office with its golden skylights and recessed light tunnels offered an introduction to the most unusual series of modern day reception rooms imaginable.
The main reception room of Casa Battló was indeed as idiosyncratic as I imagine the family hoped to receive from their one-of-a-kind architect. Much has been made of specific features in this main salon, above all the meaning of the colored glass inserts. however, when the audio guide mentioned that the room was designed to be converted into a chapel for private services [the altar used by the Batlló family will be placed in the Básilica de la Sagrada Família], a triptych idea took root in my mind. Obviously, both Gaudí and the Batlló family were very religious and here we have a salon cum chapel with side chambers to either side – a classic triptych arrangement.
Other, more readily accessible features are the wood work of window frames and doors. Since Gaudí abhorred straight lines, the doors connecting the side rooms to the main reception room in the center had to be curvy and wavy in a distinct three-dimensional pattern.
The fold-away doors had to be curved and wavy also, quite tricky carpentry!
The central ceiling fixture in the main room was also impressive in a Jules Verne sort of a way. An oversized whimsical statement within the nautilus ceiling.
I was most impressed with the mechanics of ventilation Gaudí installed in Casa Batlló. First of all, he enlarged the main air- or light shaft in the center of the original building to almost courtyard dimensions, thus allowing all hallways and rooms without access to either the front or back of the building to regulate airflow and ventilation according to individual need. In addition to ventilation slits, almost all windows and some doors [* see the brass hinges on the inside of the front door] have side panels which open.
In the reception rooms, it’s all about seeing and to be seen. The entire front of the main salon and the two side rooms is fashioned in floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing the residents and their visitors to observe the action up and down gorgeous Passeig de Gràcia, while putting themselves in full view of their perambulating neighbors below. Again the ventilation question is answered in brilliant fashion. Below the windows, almost at floor level we see narrow, zigzagging slits arranged diagonally in groups of eight. Above them is a row of free-form fixed windows, and above those in turn, at about waist level, is a row of windows which can be opened individually or together with the aid of a pulley system, so that the room almost turns into a veranda overlooking the street. The concluding row of windows is fixed again and displays the famous Gaudí color inserts.
Before we move on to the second family floor with its dining room and terrace, let me mention that one can rent either the entire house or parts thereof for private events. I imagine, the cost would be staggering, but … celebrating in Casa Batlló would be worth it, right? Here‘s a link.
We encountered so much woodwork, gorgeous woodwork throughout the house. I wonder if today’s artisans can still produce such quality?
The next big stop on the audio tour was the family dining room with access to a private terrace. Warm, intimate, a quiet family space – oddly without a butler’s pantry nearby, let alone a kitchen – with a few peculiarities build in, naturally.
Peculiarity number one. The dining room is separated by tall double doors from smaller rooms on the right and left, which according to the guide were used as bedrooms. To fall into bed after a three-hour lunch? A smoking room for the gentlemen or a morning room for the lady of the house seemed much more appropriate for the period.
Peculiarity number two. This is the dining room ceiling onto which Gaudí centered a bumpy circle. The reason for this unusual ornament was lost in the mists of time …
The back wall of the dining room contains the most gorgeous Art Nouveau window I’ve ever seen. It is simply perfect in every way.
The window allows diffuse light to fall into a private office on the other side of this wall. The room’s only other source of light are ventilation shutters to the light shaft beyond.
Let’s return to the dining room and peculiarity number three. Tho double columns smack in front of the doors to the terrace.
Since they trompe-d’œil-ed the columns in the same pattern as all other interior surfaces, albeit a little more colorful, I can’t help but think of a giraffe trying to get out to graze in the garden. The guide didn’t offer a better explanation, so I’m sticking with my theory. As you squeeze by its legs, you’ll find the terrace tranquil and spacious, I can very well imagine wonderful family fiestas out there, and I hope the giraffe was allowed to join the fun every now and then.
In the next photo, please look all the way up toward the highest roof arch in the very center of the house. Do you see the vertical bars within the mosaïque finish of the arch? Soon we will see it at the roof level.
But first I have to edit those pictures! Good night for today et à la prochaine.