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Building a designer city

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As Barcelona grew more prosperous throughout the nineteenth century, it was clear that the city had to expand beyond the Barri Gòtic. A contest was held to design the city’s new quarters and the winning plan was that of utopian engineer and urban planner Ildefons Cerdà i Sunyer, who drew up a grid-shaped town marching off to the north, intersected by long, straight streets and cut by broad, angled avenues. Work started in 1859 and the Eixample immediately became the fashionable area in which to live, as the moneyed classes moved into luxurious apartments on the wide new avenues. As the money in the city moved north, so did a new class of architects who began to pepper the Eixample with ever more striking examples of their work, inspired by modernisme, the Catalan offshoot of Art Nouveau. Three architects in particular came to prominence in Barcelona and, in doing so, introduced a building style that has given the city a look like no other.

Antoni Gaudí i Cornet Born in Reus, near Tarragona, to a family of artisans, the work of Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (1852–1926) was never strictly modernista in style, but the imaginative impetus he provided was incalculable. Fantasy, spiritual symbolism and Catalan pride are evident in every building he designed, while his architectural influences were Moorish and Gothic, embellished with elements from the natural world. Gaudí rarely wrote a word about the theory of his art, preferring the buildings to demand reaction – no one stands mute in front of an Antoni Gaudí masterpiece.

Lluís Domènech i Montaner With Gaudí in a class of his own, it was Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1850–1923) who was perhaps the greatest pure modernista architect. Drawing on the rich Catalan Romanesque and Gothic traditions, his work combined traditional craft methods with modern technological experiments, seen to triumphant effect in his masterpiece, the Palau de la Música Catalana.

Josep Puig i Cadafalch Like other modernista architects, the work of Josep Puig i Cadafalch (1867–1957) also contains a wildly inventive use of ceramic tiles, ironwork, stained glass and stone carving. His first commission, the Casa Martí, housed the famous Els Quatre Gats tavern for the city’s avant-garde artists and hangers-on, while in various Eixample mansions Puig i Cadafalch brought to bear distinct Gothic and medieval influences.

Other modernista craftsmen Modernisme was often a true collaborative effort between the architects and their artisans. Antoni Gaudí, for example, always worked with skilled craftsmen, including his longtime collaborator – and a master of mosaic decoration – Josep María Jujol i Gilbert (1879–1949). The other significant name is that of Eusebi Arnau i Mascort (1864–1933), who provided meticulous carvings for all the main modernista architects – much loved is his tour-de-force carved fireplace in the Raval’s Hotel Espanya. Some projects brought together the cream of craft talent, so at Domènech i Montaner’s Palau de la Música Catalana, for example, the glorious stained glass by Antoni Rigalt and elaborate facade sculpture by Miquel Blay form an integral part of the whole.

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