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For the first time in its 130-year-old history, the first house designed by Antoni Gaudí will soon be open to the public. Casa Vicens, built between 1883 and 1885 in the Barcelona neighborhood of Gràcia, will open in October as a museum following a major two-year restoration led by a trio of Spanish architects. With an interior as decorated as its dizzying facade, it’s one more stunning stop for visitors to check out on the city’s so-called Gaudí Route, which comprises a dozen other publicly accessible buildings by the Catalan architect, from the dragon-like Casa Batlló to the towering La Sagrada Familia.
Commissioned by tile manufacturer Manuel Vicens i Montaner as a summer home, Casa Vicens remained a private residence until 2014, changing ownership only twice in its history. The Jover family, who purchased it in 1899, decided to sell it in 2007, and the family bank, MoraBanc, purchased it seven years later with the intention of opening it up for public visits. Restorations led by architects José Antonio Martínez Lapeña, Elías Torres, and David Garcí began in 2015 to transform the four-story building into a cultural center that both showcases Gaudí’s original designs and hosts permanent and temporary exhibitions.
Casa Vicens represents one of Gaudí’s earlier works, designed by the architect when he was only 31, and when he was heavily influenced by oriental arts. An early masterpiece of Art Nouveau, it stands out from many of his more famous buildings, which feature mind-melting curves, for its linear structure and Moorish elements — from its many interior and exterior arches to its incorporation of vegetative designs and decorative tiles. Gaudí found inspiration while at the Barcelona School of Architecture, where he had a chance to study photographs and prints that documented examples of architecture in Egypt, Morocco, India, and the Iberian Peninsula.
The house has undergone a number of transformations over the years, most significantly in 1925 when the Jovers enlisted an architect to nearly double it in size. Now listed as a UNESCO World Human Heritage Site and an Asset of National Cultural Interest, though, Casa Vicens may only receive certain structural edits. For this two-year project, none of the spaces originally designed by Gaudí were modified, but those constructed in the 1925 enlargement were altered to better accommodate crowds and serve new functions in the forthcoming cultural center.
In addition to transforming certain sections into exhibition spaces, a bookstore, and a gift shop, as well as the garden into an outdoor cafe, the restoration team also worked on beautifying the building’s decorative elements. Gaudí covered Casa Vicens’ facade with cheery, ceramic tiles decorated with marigold and dianthus motifs, and many had to be replaced through a detailed process to replicate the careful casting technique of the original manufacturer. The building also houses a variety of lamps, some of which are attributed to the architect’s contemporaries, and many of these, too, required restoration. The dining room itself presented a massive undertaking: it features 34 paintings Montaner had commissioned Barcelona artist Francesc Torrescassana i Sallarés to create, and these were carefully revived to their original colors by a team of painters. Gaudí, however, maintained control over most of Casa Vicens’ appearance; the jewel-like structure we observe today, sandwiched between two modern, monochrome buildings, emerges from his idiosyncratic vision.
“In Casa Vicens, Gaudí recreated the figurative worlds that were fashionable at the time, but in a highly personal way,” the project’s organizers said in a statement. “The house is built following Catalan construction traditions, which the architect interpreted in unexpected ways, while he also incorporated decorative and symbolic elements, also in his highly personal way. As a whole, it heralds and displays the creative freedom that would become the hallmark of his entire future oeuvre.”
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