You might say that Antoni Gaudí was an architect of the cloth. From 1883 until his death in 1926, the Catalonian master oversaw the construction of the Roman Catholic basilica Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain. When people asked him why it was taking so long, he purportedly replied, “My client isn’t in a hurry.”
Nearly nine decades after his death, construction is still ongoing, and a new video released by the basilica (below) reveals how it will unfold over the next two years. By 2016, workers will have finished the sacristy and raking cornice and installed new stained glass windows. And if a video released last year (at the bottom of this post) can be believed, the building could be completely finished by 2026. It took less time to build Notre Dame.
The journey hasn’t been easy, though. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Gaudí’s original plans for La Sagrada Familia burned in a fire that destroyed his workshop. A few plaster models, drawings, and photographs were salvaged from the cinders and used, along with notes from Gaudí’s students, to piece together the rest. Through political change and architectural innovation, construction has marched on.
Yet the basilica has never been more at odds with its time. Aside from the fact that the West has grown increasingly secular, much has changed among Christians themselves since the 19th century, when Catholics and Protestants alike constructed costly imitations of Medieval cathedrals. Today, as Pope Francis underscores the need to care for the poor, it’s harder for Catholics to justify the continued construction of a church structure built entirely on expiations (monetary donations many believe will atone for their wrongdoings), not to mention the €12.50 admission fee coughed up by 2 million visitors every year.
Given Gaudí’s acclaim as an architect, it’s easy to ignore this murkier aspect of the building’s funding. The basilica remains an important architectural work; its crypt, constructed between 1884 and 1889, is even listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The selection of Gaudí to design La Familia Sagrada represented one of the few modern instances wherein the interests of the church and art world collided, but it may now be in both their interests to halt construction altogether. Over the past few years, many onlookers have raised concerns that the basilica’s contemporary additions fall far short of Gaudí’s vision. In 2008, more than 400 architects and historians signed Fomento de las Artes Decorativas‘s manifesto demanding that construction be stopped. And in 2011, architecture critic Rowan Moore argued in the Guardian:
The great Catalan architect famously adjusted his buildings as he went along, modifying details in response to unusual stones found in the quarry and forever testing his ideas with full size mock-ups … [La Sagrada Familia] is no longer a work of Gaudí. It cannot overcome the central paradox, which is that Gaudí’s architecture was organic, living and responsive, whereas posthumous simulation of his ideas makes them fixed and lifeless.
Continued construction not only raises questions about the ethics of the basilica’s funding during a time of severe austerity in Spain, but it reduces Gaudí’s masterpiece to the architectural equivalent of an overworked canvas.
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