11 August 2012

Gaudi's own home in Parc Guell, Barcelona

Eusebi Guell, who made his money from the textile industry, commissioned architect Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) in 1900 to draw up plans for Guell Park on Barcelona's hilly outskirts. It was to be a closed residential development for 60 families who had enough money to spend on large modern houses, huge garden plots and shared community resources.

The literature about Guell Park suggests that it was to be a garden city, based on the principles of the British Garden City movement. Guell certainly wanted the project to be removed from Barcelona's smelly industrial areas, but I can't see any evidence of Guell having read Sir Ebenezer Howard's book, or of Guell or Gaudi visiting Britain's existing garden cities. Nonetheless the project was definitely going to look like a park.

Gaudi House Museum, his pink home 1906-25

Gaudi was a modern architect who utilised building methods in advance of his era. He used modular construction techniques and on-site prefabricated materials, and was aware that he needed to build reliable water supplies into the dry land around Barcelona eg aqueducts and underground cisterns. In fact he wanted all the shared community facilities to be built first, before the private homes. Even today, tourists can see the porter's lodge, a reception space for visitors, a chapel and above all, the public square.

The Square was to be the civic, cultural and sporting centre of the community. The bench around the Square was completed in 1913, the last building work done. Reflecting the imagination of Gaudi and Joseph Maria Jujol, the structure was covered in tiles, crockery, bottles and broken pots. In fact the dragon at the centre of the decorated staircase remains as the key symbol of the park today. But for me, the multi-coloured mosaic serpentine benches, as seen in the photo below, provided the best examples of abstract-art-where-you-sit!

Part of the bench around Park Guell´s central square

Yet only three houses had been completed by 1906, two of them sold to families closely concerned with the Park. The third was a show-home to entice the buying public, designed by Francesc Berenguer.

When it was clear that no more houses were going to be built, Gaudi decided to buy the show-home and to make it his own house - the only house he ever bought in his life. Now called the Gaudi House Museum, the pink house has only one room currently displayed as a bedroom; the rather austere single bed indicated that Gaudi's love life and family life were rather bleak. But the rooms in the modernist two-storey house flowed nicely, the bathroom had all the mod cons and the views were a delight.

Among the furniture designed by Gaudi for his other housing projects, chairs have been brought to the Gaudi House Museum to reproduce the atmosphere that Gaudi enjoyed between 1906-1925. The polished timber chairs and settees are still beautiful and perfectly functional.

Gaudi´s own furniture designs

The tower may not be inspected today, but it must have been wonderful in its time.  A wooden spiral staircase in the library opens onto a space surrounded by windows, offering a 360-degree view over  the city of Barcelona. I would sell up in Australia in a heartbeat and move to Spain for that view!

So what went so horribly wrong with the house sales? Perhaps Parc Guell was just a tad too far out of town for the upper middle-class families of 1905 Bacelona. Perhaps Gaudi's reputation as a too-radical modernist preceded him. Or the lack of shops, schools and restaurants on top of Muntanya Pelada was less than persuasive.

In any case, Gaudi was offered the show-home in 1906 and he bought it. When the ever-patient patron Eusebi Guell died in 1918, his heirs sold the entire Park to the City Council who converted it into a public park within four years. Gaudi stayed on his hilltop home until 1925. 

Parc Güell was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1984.

19 comments:

Funhouse Design said...

Thank you for some history on one of my favorite parks!

Hels said...

Funhouse Design

What a shame that Eusebi Guell's original idea didn't succeed.

However enough of the original infrastructure is still in place, and the City Council made the right decision re converting the area into a public park. Enjoy!

Deb said...

I can't remember from your lectures whether Gaudi was married, single, gay or a social hermit. Were women attracted to the architect with the radical ideas?

Hels said...

Gaudi's Extended Biography says Gaudi was vaguely interested in one woman (Pepeta Moreu) he worked with but she wouldn't go out with him. As a love life, it had as much zing as a damp squib. His niece said he never even looked at women.

Gay? it is possible but if he was gay, he didn't have any more success with men than with women.

If I had to guess, I would say his extremely reserved nature and his strong Catholic faith mitigated against successful relationships. No wonder he slept in a monk's bed and only had one bedroom in the otherwise large home.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Helen:
This is all most intriguing and would be somewhere which we should very much like to see for ourselves.

It is strange, as you say, that the community housing project failed. But, perhaps, those able to afford such individually designed houses would not wish to be housed alongside so many others?

Interesting, too, how the idea does seem to be on very similar lines to the 'Garden Cities' of England.

VioletSky said...

I have just visited this park and wished that I had more time to spend there. Really, you stay all day and not be bored.

Hels said...

Jane and Lance,

You must get to Barcelona *nod*.

Guell bought 42 acres of land. So even if all 60 homes and their gardens had been built, the families would not have been squished together like on a housing commission estate. The park feels enormous.

I cannot find if prospective clients inspected the site before 1906 or not, but if they did, they must not have liked what they saw.

Hels said...

VioletSky

I agree totally. As well as the parts of Guell Park that I mentioned in the post, you will also want to inspect and photograph:
house coverted into a public school,
underground water cisterns,
Greek Theatre,
marketplace etc etc.

And allow time for lunch at the Park Guell Cafe.

Emm said...

What a well timed article Hels! I'm going to Spain in two weeks and two days time. We're planning to spend a week on the beach but are hoping for road trips to Girona and Barcelona. I'm really keen on seeing some Gaudi designs and must try make a turn here too.

Andrew said...

Haha at Jane and Lance and community housing project. The furniture is very beautiful, with its simplicity and elegance.

Hels said...

Andrew,

Some of Gaudi's ideas were extremely modern and quite difficult for his clients to live with. But the furniture in the House Museum was beautiful to the clients and is still beautiful to our eyes.

Hels said...

Emm

Barcelona and Girona were wonderful, as long as you love 32c every day and a lot of very keen tourists :)

It is worth going on an organised, guided tour of Gaudi's projects, especially if you only have one day available for him. Casa Batllo, Parc Guell, Sagrada Familia etc etc are worth paying for.

Parnassus said...

I wonder if economic conditions affected this development. I have been reading about a 1920's planned development by the Van Sweringens for the outer suburbs of Cleveland. The houses were intended to be large and expensive, on sizable lots. They bought the land, put in roads, and even built a house or two, but then the Depression came and the development was abandoned.
--Road to Parnassus

Hels said...

Parnassus,

I am not aware of any particular economic depression that happened in Spain between 1900 (when Guell's project was launched) and 1906 (when the last house was completed). But you are quite right, of course. I can think of many huge architectural projects that were stopped in their tracks by depressions, in different countries and in different decades. Or by wars.

Hels said...

An interesting book of text and photographs called "Park Guell Gaudi Barcelona" was written by Josep Liz and printed by Igol, S.A. It is strong on The Viaducts, The Public Square and The Hypostyle Hall, but is a bit skimpy on the House Museum.

ZielonaMila said...

The interesting post and interesting illustrations. I am greeting

Hels said...

ZielonaMila

the whole Gaudi enterprise is a tourist paradise these days, and well worth visiting. I suppose this would have come as a great surprise to Gaudi, had he lived this long.

ankush said...

Excellent post… was just what I was looking for! Thanks again. Apartments in Barcelona

Hels said...

ankush

many thanks. I was last in Barcelona last July and of course loved every minute of the city. There are many Barcelona posts in my blog, to do with Picasso, the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway etc. Not just Gaudi.