In 1999, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) awarded the citizens of Barcelona its Gold Medal. The RIBA Gold Medal award is usually given to an individual in recognition of a lifetime’s work in architecture. This was the first time the award was given to a city. The President of RIBA, David Rock in his citation said:
” Barcelona is now more whole in every way, its fabric healed yet threaded through with new open spaces, its historic buildings refurbished yet its facilities expanded and brought up-to-the-minute. Past and present, work and play are happily intermeshed in a new totality.”
My recent visit to that city was all what I hoped for and more. Barcelona is also the city of Antoni Gaudi and Joan Miro. In some ways their work defines this city; to walk its streets is also an homage to their great works of art. Sagrada Familia and all of Gaudi’s buildings in Barcelona are famous for their uniqueness, earning admirers among art geeks and philistines alike. Gaudi’s genius was uninhibited, it knew no bounds. Standing underneath the arches of Sagrada Familia is a humbling experience. Visiting this great building uplifts your spirit and renews your belief in the nobility of a man’s bold vision. What Gaudi created in Barcelona has no precedent or parallel in the architectural history of the modern world.
Barcelona has many buildings built by Gaudi, several of them in the prosperous neighborhood of Exiample along Passeig de Gracia. Casa Batlló, located on a tree-lined boulevard, was built in 1877 as a home for a middle class family. It was restored by Antoni Gaudi and Josep Maira Jujol in 1904. The building is locally known as House of Bones and has this organic look that is characteristic of Gaudi’s art and architecture. There are no straight lines, the facade is decorated with broken ceramic tiles of orange and green hues. The balconies are reminiscent of empty eye sockets in a skull, and the roof is curved like the back of a scaled lizard with a turret to one side topped with a cross representing the cross of Saint George the patron saint of Catalonia.
Casa Batlló, is a Gaudí masterpiece, that is now also a museum. The museum recently exhibited an audio-visual mapping of the building’s facade, celebrating Gaudi’s masterpiece and the city of Barcelona. The audio-visual mapping on the facade of the building brings to life all the symbols and icons which inspired Gaudi’s work, including the dragon of Sant Jordi, masks, water, and vibrant colors.
Brent Toderian wrote an excellent article in Atlantic Cities, called 6 Ideas Every City Should Steal From Barcelona. In it, he points out that Barcelona’s wide avenues combined with narrow side streets are perfect for walking. According to Toderian 50 percent of all street space in the city is dedicated to pedestrian walking space and that is one feature that makes the city so livable and dynamic.