After discovering Gaudí, it was clear to me I could not leave Barcelona without seeing another one of his masterpieces. I think that’s the way it is with Gaudí…either you love his stuff, or not. But like Frank Lloyd Wright, and perhaps twice so, Gaudí’s architecture transcends into art.
To quote a friend “that could sound kinda snooty,” until you experience his buildings. For me, it was like walking through a piece of art. His work has a surreal effect he achieves by mixing things that should be completely foreign in a way that is deeply familiar. It’s like a childhood memory that could just have well been a dream.
There are several Gaudí buildings from which to choose, but I was drawn to Casa Milà. Pictures of the building were intriguing and based on our hotel, it was easy to get to.
This building, also known as La Pedrera, was erected between 1906 and 1912, for married couple Roser Segimon and Pere Milà. The stone facade and iron decoration of balconies and windows were considered very controversial for the time.
To some degree I can understand why. It’s like a really great inside joke. For anyone who lives there, they understand it—get its brilliance immediately. For the casual passer by though, it’s odd, quirky, and not what a building is “supposed” to look like. Or, maybe it’s like a magician turned a rolling mountain’s hillside into a building.
Interesting fact: Gaudí actually began sketching the building in his workshop in Sagrada Familia, where he had the idea of the house as a constant curve, inside and out.
The resulting effort is actually two buildings, structured around two courtyards that provide light to the nine levels: basement, ground floor, mezzanine, main (or noble) floor, four upper floors, and an attic—which was originally intended to house the building’s laundry. As with all his far-out designs, Casa Milà is equal parts form and function.
One of the most significant and striking parts of the building is the roof. It is the crown, bejeweled with skylights, staircase exits, fans, and chimneys woven into a dramatic urban landscape. Cleverly (brilliantly), these were built with timbrel (a tambourine like hand drum) coated with limestone, broken marble and glass. Again, all these forms/designs have a specific architectural function, but they are also fascinating sculptures integrated into the building as flora into a landscape.
Now, for anyone who decides to visit, and has a similar reaction to mine, block out several hours. Plan to spend an hour on the roof, taking everything in and admiring Gaudí’s talent. But, don’t miss the Mila’s apartment.
Located on the top floor, this is where you can appreciate the architect’s real genius at interior design. The thought put into each person’s room, its location and proximity to other parts of the house, and how they all seamless flow together is jaw-dropping genius.
For example, the entire apartment is designed in one circle. But the children’s rooms are far away from the dinning and sitting room, so guests wouldn’t disturb sleeping little ones.
Part of Gaudí’s concept for Casa Mila included specially designed furniture for the main floor. An integral part of the modernism movement was the belief that an architect “assumes responsibility for global issues such as the structure and the facade, as every detail of the decor, design furniture and accessories such as lamps, planters, floors or ceilings.”
However, this proved to be a pain point with Mrs. Milà. She complained that there was no straight wall to place a Steinway piano, which her husband apparently played often and quite well. Gaudi’s response was blunt: “so play the violin.” He was infamous for not suffering fools, or putting up with people. Unfortunately, these disagreements resulted in Mrs. Milà ultimately disposing of, or covering much of the original furniture.
When I return to Spain, I look forward to touring some of his other works.Travel Tip: Like everything else in Barcelona, buy a ticket in advance to avoid lines. I recommend going later in the day. Casa Mila is off the beaten path but you will be treated to a stellar skyline before the sun sets. Photography, sans flash, is permitted.