A Singular Vision

Grand in scale and audacious in form, Gaudí’s masterpiece nears completion
culture, travel, art, history
Written By Lesley Conn
Photography By Matthew Stephan

Antoni Gaudí knew his concept for a new church in Barcelona, Spain, was so vast, so boldly different, that it would not be completed in his lifetime.

And so for more than 12 years, he dedicated himself to creating detailed sketches and 3-D plaster models of the towers, columns, facades and sculptures known collectively as the Basilica of the Sagrada Família. His designs would provide the direction for future generations of architects and stonemasons to follow.

He began work in 1883, yet even today, the basilica’s spires share the sky with construction cranes on-site to finish the final six towers—the tallest reaching 565 feet. Inside, as visitors take in the enormity and colorful complexity of every design, safety nets form a slender barrier between them and the construction workers barely visible in the deep recesses of the ceiling; the whine from their cutting tools bounces and grows on the stone columns, walls and floors.

Known as a devout man, Gaudí adorned the exterior and interior with religious scenes and symbolism, but his deeper inspiration came from nature.

Dozens of columns rise from the floor before sprouting like branches near their tops. Gaudí experimented for 10 years before perfecting the innovative columns.

Between those branches, Gaudí punctures the roof with tubular-shaped skylights—or hyperboloids—that gently filter light into the sanctuary. To visitors as much as 246 feet below, the dappled light resembles sunlight through trees.

Throughout the basilica, Gaudí plays with bold color and streaming light, and nowhere is that more glorious than in three stained-glass facades, where towering windows on either side of the basilica radiate yellows, blues and greens in the morning sun and red and gold and bronze in the setting sun.

Gaudí’s vision is not without whimsy. Several spires are topped with colorful clusters of persimmons, figs, chestnuts and almonds—meant to represent the good works of man. And taking their place among a choir of angels are a clarinetist and a bassoonist—surely the greatest tribute such musicians have ever been afforded.

Construction is in its final phase and should be finished in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death and 143 years after his work began.

“It is not a disappointment that I will not be able to finish …” Gaudí assured. “I will grow old, but others will come after me. What must be always preserved is the spirit of the work; its life will depend on the generations that transmit this spirit and bring it to life.”

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