Gaudi and the Highlander Principle

Gaudi and the Highlander Principle June 25, 2013

Happy birthday to Atoni Gaudi, the mad builder of Barcelona.  When I was visiting my sister when she lived there, we toured La Sagrada Familia, which he started in 1883 and which is still unfinished.  Gaudi’s trademark style is the “sandcastle” look and feel

with mind-bending curves and Seussian angles

with bright colors and unexpected juxtapositions of heavy geometric shapes.  I don’t actually know what the conventional wisdom is about Gaudi’s architecture, especially La Sagrada Familia.  Do traditionally-minded folks recoil in horror, because it’s so . . . well, gaudy?

and really does look like some insane person built a sandcastle and then enlarged it and painted it with Prang Tempras?  Or do people easily recognize that his stuff, while weird and disorienting, is architecturally brilliant, and transmits a sensation of giddiness and exaltation?

Maybe it’s easier to tell in person how fantastic it is.  I always wonder about that, when I see pictures of some ucky new church or piece of sculpture that the Catholic internet hates.  Architecture is, after all, designed to be seen in person, in the actual light and from the actual perspective of someone who’s actually there, and photos don’t necessarily catch anything of that experience.

On the other hand, Gaudi falls under the Highlander Principle of art:  there can be only one.  It was really great one time.  But that’s it!  One guy can get away with it!  No more!  The same goes for Jackson Pollock, John Cage, and, in a way, G. M. Hopkins.  You love the experience, but you don’t necessarily want any imitators or influencees.

What do you think of Gaudi?  Have you seen his stuff in person?

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  • I have seen several of his buildings in Barcelona and I’m a huge fan! But you’re right, we can’t have all buildings looking like his. I loved learning about his devout Catholic faith too. There was a great piece about the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi, and his devotion to the Church on 60 minutes not too long ago.

  • Allison McChain

    Seeing this edifice in person an amazing encounter with genius and faith. No picture, no book, no tv show can capture its beauty. I will be in my 70s when it’s finished and I made my kids promise to take me back there to see it if I can’t go of my own power. (Also, once you’ve seen some Gaudi and you watch Disney’s Snow White, you see how that architecture was inspired.) If you see it in person, I think you’ll agree that his influence would only benefit the world. Architecture is a three dimensional, physical, personal experience. You can’t judge this kind of originality and genius from a photo.

  • bearing

    Gaudi is proof that there is, indeed, such a thing as innovation in beauty.

  • richard

    Thanks for the link to bio.true story. I read about Gaudi years ago. I may be mistaken but there was at one time talk of completing the structure. However at my age the memory plays tricks.

  • Monica Rafie

    Gaudi is why Barcelona is so beautiful, I think. When we were there, my husband remarked, “Gee, if only modernism had gone this way!” But like I said on your fb, I was stunned, shocked at how beautiful SG actually was because somewhere along the way I’d gotten the impression that it was a horrible beast of modern architecture and anathema. I don’t know Spanish (or Catalan, for that matter), but I join my voice with Gaudi who might be mumbling at such naysayers from his grave: Ignorante!

  • roughplacesplain

    Seeing Sagrada Familia in person made all the difference for me – the interior, especially, is breathtaking, taking traditional Gothic vocabulary and making it come alive. When I was an art history major, I pretty much dismissed Gaudi (as the professors did, following the “mad builder” meme.) But he was actually a brilliant engineer, which has been proven by the efforts of architects and engineers who are now reconstructing his plans (destroyed in the Spanish Civil War) as they finish building the church. We ended up spending 5+ hours in Sagrada Familia (and could have spent more). -nancyo

  • pagansister

    Have only seen the church from pictures and on a couple of TV programs. It’s beauty is almost indescribable from what I can see from those sources. What a brilliant, creative mind.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    I love Sagrada Familia because it looks organic, like a coral reef; like it has grown rather than being built. I know it’s still in the process of construction and that the finished church will not be exactly the one that Gaudi had in mind, but then again – that’s the Church: living and breathing and changing.
    And Gaudi at least had the idea of a church as a church, not a gathering space for a faith community or a knock-off of a warehouse or airport terminal.

  • Amanda

    I’ve been to Barcelona and I am an architect…. I can tell you that, in general, the architecture and design community loves Gaudi, but no one could ever attempt to duplicate his work.

  • Elena Murillo Caballero

    Yes!! I have been there, experienced the space, and as a Catholic and an architect it is the most exciting sensation I have ever had… explaining everything to my children was precious because now they can also understand this genius, this incomprehended genius… I do agree with you, there only is and only must be ONE Gaudi…