Casa Batlló, Antoni Gaudí’s original fantasy
In the famous Manzana de la Discordia (Discord’s Apple) of Barcelona is Casa Batlló, one of the representative buildings of Antoni Gaudí’s original fantasy.
From Plaza Cataluña --city center of Barcelona-- you just walk through one of those great avenues conceived to show off their beautiful plumage. We are talking about Passeig de Gràcia, the great via that within the city’s new urban projects of the late nineteenth century, left behind variegated medieval streets and gave an air of modernity and elegance to Catalonia’s capital. Passeig de Gràcia is not long but has enough attractions to spend a long day in it: on the one hand, the elegance of its shops, and secondly, there are excellent representatives of an architectural style that has given the city an important place in architecture’s history.
When you have traveled almost half the extension of Passeig de Gràcia, it’s time to look to the top of the buildings. If three modernist buildings are included in the panoramic, one next to the other, and each one with its own distinct style, it means you are right in the symbolic center of Catalan modernist architectural movement. Names of the level of Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Antoni Gaudí are attached in one hundred meters.
In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth, Catalonia enjoyed great wealth, partly thanks to business done in America, which led to the bourgeoisie of the time to look for new buildings --which faithfully showed their ecomomic level— located outside the old town, what many tourists call Barrio Gótico (Gothic Quarter). In this stretch of Passeig de Gràcia coincided those three great architects and each of them reformed a building based on free strokes under the tutelage of his own philosophy. From their different proposals, it was conceived the idea of calling this section of the street as the Mansana de la Discòrdia (Discord’s Apple). The last building to be renovated was the one in the hands of Gaudí and, apparently, he won this artistic battle or, at least, that’s what indicate the gaze of hundred of visitors who gather every day in this modernist piece of Barcelona: Gaudí achieved the most innovative and disruptive building.
The owner of the property that Gaudí renovated was Josep Battló, a textile industrialist who gave him total freedom to get the best building in the street. If Batlló were still alive, he would continue being amazed at the work of art his property was converted: Casa Batlló. It was in the early twentieth century that Gaudí got the task of remaking it, practically at full maturity as an architect, which helped him to present a bolder proposal with the confidence of enjoying absolute artistic freedom. From the original building there was nothing left; he added a fifth floor, built the basement, remade the staircase completely and removed any straight line that existed in the construction. And Mr. Battló could make use of his very well dressed property, one of the best examples of Catalan modernism that became reality in an artistic proposal.
The building’s façade is a big trap of time. It’s very difficult to watch it only for a few minutes, or just keep walking as if you had not seen anything unusual. Even people who live in Barcelona always dedicate it a fleeting glance, although they go through there every day. It’s a journey of fantasy that runs through tiles of different colors –some say it’s confetti—and a series of masks that function as balconies, or vice versa, giving rhythm to the visual adventure. Others say they don’t see any masks but fishes living in the depth of the seas. The roof, according to those who bet on the carnivalesque façade, is the hat of a harlequin. But there is another view of the front of the building --totally Catalan--, which insists that Gaudí is refering to the legend of Sant Jordi, patron of Catalonia, in his great victory over a dragon: the roof is the dragon’s back; the tower is the warrior’s spear, and the balconies and the window on the first floor are the skulls and bones of the dragon’s victims.
Those who defend the carnivalesque as well as the patriotic allegory, always resented that their fantasy could only be fed by the outside of the building. Although one could look out and guess or invent what was inside, there was a need to go deeper into this giant sculpture. When the work was completed in 1906, the interior was reserved for the owners, so there was only the option of inventing it from the street. But in 2002, Casa Batlló opened its doors to the public. Passeig de Gràcia now has a magical access to Gaudí’s universe. Now you may know the mistery of the building’s fantasy and walk and travel among Gaudí’s ideas “of indisputable logic”, as said by Antoni Gaudí himself.
Casa Batlló’s visit starts by climbing a ladder which is like a fossilized skeleton that leads to the first floor and light cube (lights’ patio in Spain), a work of creativity that plays with light through the mosaics’ colors, and with light and proportion through windows of different sizes. The main floor is the materialization of Gaudí’s own imagination, where his creative freedom runs in every detail and captures with total simplicity his argument about originality: “…it consists in returning to the origin; so, original is what comes back to the simplicity of first solutions”. To be fair, we must consider that this architectural paradise includes the work of several people, who knew how to handle wrought iron; or carpenters able to create stunning reliefs, and glass artists who did an impeccable job in the stained glass windows. And, of course, the work of ceramic artists who created one of the most famous façades in the world.
There is a shop on the first floor, where you can find all kind of objects related to Casa Batlló and its architect, but before visiting it, you should go to the roof –few floors up—and see in the way some originality of the building, or guess who are the persons inhabiting the departments, wondering why they are so fortunate to have a property there. Before reaching the top of the building you may visit the attic, with an aisle that gives place to a series of arcs which are a clear example of Gaudí’s words: “Architecture is light’s ordination; sculpture is light’s play”. A small spiral ladder leads directly to the roof and to the back of the dragon who Sant Jordi managed to get rid of. With Gaudí’s tiles and Eixample and Passeig de Gràcia views, Casa Batlló let us interpret the architect’s magic –after 100 years-- and enjoy Barcelona city from the top of one of the most representative buildings of Gaudí’s universe. In summer, it’s essential to be on the roof in the evenings: the place is transformed into a terrace-bar with drinks and live jazz music, in a totally modernist environment.