Until 17 July 2022, the Musée d’Orsay presents: Gaudí exhibiton. For the first time in fifty years in France, a large-scale exhibition is devoted to this master of Art Nouveau. It will show the remarkable creativity of this singular artist, who was the bearer of the upheavals at work in Catalonia at the end of the 19th century, and who expressed himself as much in the details of his furniture as in the scale of an extraordinary architectural project: the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Let’s go and find out!
The scent and formal beauty of a flower are no more than the mechanisms for attracting insects and thus ensuring the reproduction of the species. Nature creates beautifully decorated structures without the slightest intention of creating works of art.
At this stage we must consider another point in relation to Gaudí’s character. It has been explained how the concept of structure was formed in his mind from the beaten copper shapes that his father produced in his workshop. But among Gaudí’s ancestors there were no architects or even bricklayers. This meant that he was not burdened with three thousand years of architectural culture, as occurs in families of architects.
Although the history of architecture has taken many turns, and seemingly very different styles have followed each other in succession, in actual fact from the early Egyptians to the present day the architecture of architects has been based on simple geometry involving lines, two-dimensional figures and regular polyhedrons combined with spheres, ellipses and circles. This architecture was always produced from plans – plans which have always been produced with simple instruments like the compass and set square and from which the masons have always worked.
Gaudí, however, saw that Nature made to preliminary drawings and appeared to use none of these instruments for constructing its beautifully decorated structures. Moreover, Nature, whose field covers all forms of geometry, rarely uses the most simplified one which is common to the architects of all ages. Without any architectural preconceptions, but at the same time with great humility, he considered that there is nothing more logical than that which is created by Nature, with millions of years of trying out forms until they were perfected.
He tried, with much thought and reflection, to discover the geometry that could be used for architectural construction and that, in addition, had been habitually employed by Nature in plants and animals. His research covered both plane and solid geometry, but in order to follow more clearly his line of thinking the two will be dealt with separately here.
It is a well-known fact that the arch, as a development on the lintel rearranged in voussoirs, was used in the Ancient East and also by the Etruscans, who passed it on to the Romans. Arches in ancient architecture were basically semicircular, or else were segmental, elliptical or basket arches.
In Nature, when an arch forms spontaneous – on a mountain eroded by the wind, or due to rocks falls – it is never semicircular nor any other shape drawn by architects using a compass.
Natural arches are appreciably parabolic or catenary. Strangely enough, the catenary arch, which follows the curve formed by a chain suspended freely from two points, but inverted, and possesses excellent mechanical properties that were already known by the end of the seventeenth century, was scarcely ever used by architects, who considered it ugly, influenced as they were by long centuries of architectural tradition that had accustomed them to shapes drawn with a compass.
Gaudí on the other hand, thought that if this arch was the most mechanically perfect and was the one produced spontaneously by Nature, then it must be the most beautiful because it was the most simple and functional. Simple as regards its natural formation, but not when drawn with architectonic instruments.
In the stables at the Finca Güell (1884), the waterfall in the garden of the Casa Vicens (1883), in the blanching room at La Obrera Mataronense (1883), Gaudíused this type of arch with confidence and with supreme elegance, and hecontinued to employ it in his more modern buildings such as Bellesguard (1900), the Casa Batlló (1904) and La Pedrera (1906). With regard to solidgeometry, he noticed the frequent occurrence in Nature of ruled warpedsurfaces – that is to say, curved surfaces generated solely by straight lines.
All natural forms of a fibrous composition, such as a cane, a bone or the tendons of muscles, will, when they are twisted or warped and the fibres remain straight, produce so-called ruled warped surfaces. A bundle of sticks dropped on the floor will form these warped surfaces, and the tents of the North American Indians are built of poles covered with skins which form ruled warped surfaces…
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