Our days in Barcelona are coming to an end and I want to consolidate any number of museum visits and extended perambulations through this fine city into one final report from the capital of Catalunya before we move on to our next home exchange in Andalucía.
Correction. I intended to consolidate my pictures into one post but failed. This has turned into a final report on a[nother] Gaudí monument instead.
Our visit to the last residential construction Gaudí undertook, la Casa Milà, was subdued in color and moist in the ambient atmosphere. Yet somehow the grey, rainy day suited this large corner apartment building quite well. It is commonly known as La Pedrera, the quarry. A megalith like none other with a soft, curvy outline.
But how do you gain admission to the magic sarsen stone?
One enters the building through the much more modest side doors around the corner in Carrer de Provença. The large gate seen here used to be the entrance to the underground garage for the residents. Certainly a novel concept in 1910!
Even on such a gloomy day, the inner courtyard presented a cheerful mood, though you still got rain in your eyes when you looked up.
The garage door appeared even more impressive from the inside.
At Casa Milà, the tourists are directed to tour the building from the roof downward. One takes a modern elevator from a subterranean level straight to the top, being immediately confronted with oversized fungi as one exits the cage.
The colorful broken glass decoration of these chimney tops may have been a spur of the moment action Gaudí undertook himself on the day after the building’s inauguration party utilizing the many empty bottles laying about … ever practical, our Gaudí!
All in all, a crowded rooftop on a rainy day isn’t my idea of fun, whereas the next step in our tour put the magic back into Casa Milà. Welcome to the attic! We moved from a wet arch with a view of la Sagrada Familía to a forest of 270 arches in warm ochre tones.
As he did earlier in Casa Batlló, Gaudí used catenary arches or parabolic vaults to support the roof terrace. He liked tall attic spaces for climate control in the building and used them as housekeeping spaces for laundry, storage, and maintenance workshops.
In Casa Milà, he used a type of plain brick construction called timbrel for the roof terrace and adapted it for his catenary arches which support the terrace. Timbrel is a very old technique of building gently sloped roof or ceiling arches using several layers of brick over wooden support beams. It was and still is widely used in the Mediterranean region, especially in Venetian and Italian Rennaissance buildings. Since the early 20th century the term Catalan vault has been more commonly used in Spain.
You may have noticed that the roof terrace wasn’t only wet, but also quite ‘hilly’.
Climbing up and down those curving and slippery staircases was an awkward chore and mildly anxiety-inducing in the rain. However, the roof’s shape is in fact determined by the height of the catenary arches beneath it, which in turn is determined by the freeform shape of a building containing courtyards and light wells, and six staircases spiralling around water tanks. The arc of a catenary arch is steeper and higher in a narrow space than the arc of an arch in a broad space. Thus, Gaudí’s unique StairMaster roofscape was dictated by mathematical factors rather than artistic whim. This was demonstrated quite nicely through cardboard models kindly supplied by the Pedrera foundation.
The attic was my favorite space in Casa Milà. The play of light and shadow among the graceful lines and ever-changing variegated hues of the brick structures was a feast for the eye.
Before returning to the ground level of the building, we were herded through one of the restored apartments. The living space was very generous with large reception rooms and spacious bedrooms and fully equipped bathrooms. The apartment also had plenty of room for a multitude of domestic help to do their work behind the scenes.
For entirely different style preferences, both the original owner of Casa Milà and I were unhappy with the decor. Doña Roser Segimon i Artells cared so little for Gaudí’s furniture and appointments that she ripped everything out and replaced it with Louis XVI style furniture. She also painted or plastered over as much of Gaudí’s interior work as she could. Only after his death, mind you! They had many disagreements and Gaudí usually got his way. Allegedly he advised her to take up the violin when Doña Roser complained that the house had no straight wall to position her Steinway grand piano. I, on the other hand, would have kept all the intrinsic design elements and highlighted their unique features with clutter-free minimalist furniture. No lace curtain should ever screen such a monumental wrought iron design as these balcony finishes by Josep Maria Jujol i Gibert, Gaudí’s collaborator, who also designed the high relief door and window surrounds.
After our tour we returned to the patio level near the garage gate,
where we recovered in the Cafè de la Pedrera for a while, taking in more details while sitting down comfortably for a change. The café overlooks both the street and the interior patio, a very relaxing place for people and design watching.
Time to walk home!
Since this post has somehow gotten to be much longer than anticipated, I’ll try to put my last Barcelona report together without a single reference to Gaudí. Somehow.